Niall O'Connor: Sinn Féin's 'show of force' must not distract from job of forming coalition
Published 12/03/2016 | 02:30
Everything was done with a sense of military precision. One by one, Sinn Féin's 24 deputies entered the Dáil chamber like an army embarking on a well-planned mission.
There were few smiles or handshakes with other TDs, many of whom were jubilant but nervous - understandably so having been elected to the Dáil for the first time.
And as the 157 TDs present stood from their seats to mark the start of the 32nd Dáil, it became clear that Sinn Féin was determined to put on a 'show of force'.
The now enlarged party occupied a sizeable chunk of the chamber, with leader Gerry Adams sitting on the front row, alongside his deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.
And it was Ms McDonald who took up from where she left off during the last Dáil term in relation to her treatment of the Ceann Comhairle.
As all deputies, including those in Sinn Féin, paid tribute to the outgoing Ceann Comhairle Séan Barrett, Ms McDonald sat on her hands and looked away.
Perhaps she was recalling her many clashes with the Fine Gael politician during the 31st Dáil and did not feel the need to show her appreciation.
But if it was an example the younger Sinn Féin TDs were looking to follow, they may well have instead observed Pearse Doherty's performance.
The party's finance spokesperson constantly questioned the application of the Dáil rules by Mr Barrett's successor, Séan Ó Fearghaíl, who quickly learned his authority will always be challenged by Sinn Féin politicians.
As the hours rolled by during an at-times tedious first session, the sense of discipline displayed by Sinn Féin deputies was evident at all times.
After each vote took place for Taoiseach, Sinn Féin members registered their positions before assuming the exact same seats.
And while other deputies took a break with their families and supporters in the Dáil bar or restaurant, Sinn Féin's representatives remained in situ. But the scene for the 32nd Dáil was truly set when Sinn Féin attempted to force a debate on water charges - and accused Fianna Fáil of running scared.
Micheál Martin and his colleagues were correct in their decision to vote with Fine Gael because Sinn Féin's motion was out of order.
Nonetheless, the Fianna Fáil leader was given the clearest indication yet of his rival's strategy to embarrass.
But it is imperative that Sinn Féin's play-acting does not distract either Mr Martin or indeed Enda Kenny from the only issue worthy of consideration.
They and their colleagues were given a mandate to form a stable government.
Any failure to exercise that responsibility will prove unforgivable in the eyes of voters.