Lise Hand: New TD gets crash course in politics
THE red coupe was heading toward the exit, out through the big gate on to Kildare Street.
Around the car park it went, and then promptly turned onto the wide sloping ramp which leads onto the plinth of Leinster House -- that's the pedestrian bit with the benches and flowerpots and the short set of steep steps at the far end.
Good grief -- where was the driver going? Surely there would be a quick and sheepish reverse once the steps hove into view?
But no, Mary Mitchell O'Connor simply channelled her inner Daisy Mae Duke and proceeded to navigate down the steps regardless. Bump, bumpity, bump, bump.
Oh dear. Nor had the newly elected Fine Gael deputy even the forlorn hope that she could make her getaway undetected.
For outside the gate, the large posse of busily snapping photographers had the task of identifying the Dail daredevil made immeasurably easier by the fact that her election photo was emblazoned on the bonnet and sides of the car.
Talk about making an exit, and no doubt sparking off a whole round of women driver jokes (coincidentally on the very day when insurance companies have been instructed to desist from offering cheaper car insurance to women drivers).
Inside Leinster House the staff were all scratching their heads. They had thought they had seen everything, but this was a new one altogether. Over the years, a couple of unwary vehicles had executed a similar wrong turn but had always turned back before the end of the plinth.
So what explanation did Dun Laoghaire TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor (already dubbed The Stig) have to offer?
"I should've gone to Specsavers," said the dismayed deputy. "I was going along happily when I suddenly saw all the photographers' cameras going mad, and to be honest I thought they were photographing someone coming out behind me," she admitted.
Mary was eager to explain that she had an impeccable driving record.
"I'm not a reckless driver at all," she stressed. "I'll probably take the bus from now on," she reckoned, God love her, first day and all.
But maybe this spectacular example of a discombobulated deputy was inevitable, given that the 31st Dail sees no fewer than a staggering 76 newly elected TDs pour into parliament, and among the full complement of 166 deputies are 15 Independents of every political creed and colour.
The pot-pourri parliament was summed up by a witty denizen of the Dail who was standing inside the front door of Leinster House yesterday morning as many of the newbies arrived.
"Welcome to the 31st Dail," he said, "otherwise known as the Ming Dynasty."
Oh yes. The 31st Dail will be a disconcerting place for anyone accustomed to the maintenance of the political status quo, what with the place alive with the diverse likes of Shane Ross, Mick Wallace, Micheal Healy-Rae, Joan Collins, Stephen Donnelly, a returned Joe Higgins, Gerry Adams and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.
And the place was quite a bustle yesterday. There were sightings of defeated and doleful Fianna Fail deputies departing with filled boxes, although party leader Micheal Martin was sporting a more cheerful smile than could be expected.
And the corridors were busy with groups of new arrivals trying to figure out what they were supposed to be doing.
"My head is spinning from so much information," said one befuddled recruit. "I'd no idea how much I'd have to get my head around".
But it wasn't just the deputies who were on a steep learning curve.
All the ushers and restaurant staff were scrutinising print-outs of mug-shots of the new faces in order to speedily update their formidable intelligence network.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, frantic work was under way to allocate offices to the newcomers -- and in some cases coax long-sitting tenants out of some rooms -- and also to work out the seating plan for the Dail before it sits next Wednesday, March 9.
And this will be no easy task -- in fact it would probably be easier to draw up the seating arrangements for the royal wedding in Britain, given the differing opinions among many of the feistier Independents.
Luckily swords aren't part of the required dress code for the Dail chamber -- in fact, given the preference for casual attire of some of the new members, jackets and ties may be absent in some cases.
Meanwhile, the negotiations for the formation of the next government rolled on.
But at least Enda has an extra bargaining chip now. He can demand that Fine Gael hang on to the Finance portfolio -- otherwise Mary Mitchell O'Connor gets Transport.