Monday 26 September 2016

Dáil war stops as all sides stand united in mourning

Published 18/06/2015 | 02:30

Patricia Howe, from Bray, Co Wicklow, signing the Book of Condolence at the Town Hall in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Patricia Howe, from Bray, Co Wicklow, signing the Book of Condolence at the Town Hall in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The Tricolour flies at half-mast over Government Buldings

There aren't many events which have the power to unite the Oireachtas, to silence the eternal sniping between the ever-warring parties, to engender a rare air of solidarity.

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But the heart-breaking tragedy in Berkeley, which took the lives of six young men and women and which left seven others broken and maimed on an American city street has that power. The sorrow, the shock and sense of loss which swept the country also suffused the corridors of Leinster House.

With the Tricolour at half-mast on the roof, nobody under its shadow could summon up the heart for the usual pitched battles. The guns were stilled as Leaders' Questions began.

The Taoiseach, as he instinctively does when empathy is required, went to the core of the wave of emotion sparked by the horrific deaths. "When you look at the papers this morning, don't you see the faces of your own children, sons and daughters at the start of this great adventure of life?" he asked the sombre faces around the chamber.

Visitors lay flowers on a makeshift memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Visitors lay flowers on a makeshift memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Flowers and cards are left for victims from the Library Gardens apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Flowers are laid at a memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Flowers and cards mark a makeshift memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Flowers and a framed photograph mark a makeshift memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States (R) speaks to the media with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (L) following a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Visitors lay flowers on a makeshift memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States (L) helps Neil Sands, President of the Irish Network Bay Area, lay an Irish flag atop two wreaths at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Neil Sands, President of the Irish Network Bay Area, pauses for a moment after laying an Irish flag atop two wreaths at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Visitors react as they visit a memorial near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (C) stands next to Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States (L) and Berkeley Police officers before a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (L) hugs Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, following a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (L) participates in a wreath-laying ceremony with Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Neil Sands, President of the Irish Network Bay Area, lays an Irish flag atop two wreaths at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (L) hugs Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, following a wreath-laying ceremony at the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
A man makes the sign of the cross over his heart after laying a bouquet of flowers near the scene of a 4th-story apartment building balcony collapse in Berkeley, California June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Mary Elzy says a prayer for victims of a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, left, listens as Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland of the Western United States, speaks to reporters in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, left, hugs Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland of the Western United States, after placing wreaths at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Toni Mikulka places flowers at a makeshift memorial for victims of a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A flag of Ireland is draped over wreaths at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Flowers and a map of Ireland are left at a makeshift memorial for victims of a balcony that collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, left, hugs Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland of the Western United States, after placing wreaths at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, left, and Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland of the Western United States, walk in front of a building where a balcony collapsed in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Neil Sands of the Irish Network Bay Area places a flag of Ireland over wreaths at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland of the Western United States, left, and Neil Sands of the Irish Network Bay Area place a flag of Ireland over wreaths at the Library Gardens apartment complex in Berkeley, Calif., Tuesday, June 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

And so there were no objections, only unanimous assent when the Taoiseach proposed that the party and group leaders would make statements on the tragedy after Leaders' Questions, followed by a suspension of the business of the House until the afternoon. There was that feeling of wanting to be doing something, anything to declare support for those in distress on a distant shore.

"This is not a day for normal engagement," agreed Micheál Martin, who confined himself to asking Enda for assurances that the Government would continue to offer every support to all affected by the tragedy. "We as a State must ensure that every possible assistance is given to the families".

Read more: Berkeley tragedy: 'When you look at the papers, don't you see the photos of your own children?' - Taoiseach

Gerry Adams, a man graced with exquisite empathy, saw no reason not to proceed with his line of questioning as planned, quizzing Enda over the plight of the Clerys' workers. After Leaders' Questions, even seasoned political speakers grappled to find words to express their sadness at the cruelty of fate; a band of bright young adults laughing under a night sky, horizons of possibility stretched before them, dashed brutally to earth in an instant.

A subdued Tánaiste recalled her own excitement when she travelled to America as a J1 student. "For a lot of young people, it is a summer of love and a summer of fun," she said.

Then everyone stood for a minute's silence: TDs, visitors in the public gallery, Oireachtas staff and journalists. No sound could be heard, save for the loud ticking of the chamber's clock measuring out time - time which six bright and beautiful sons and daughters of Ireland should have had so much more of, to laugh and love and live.

Irish Independent

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