Lise Hand: Sinn Fein's new Dail sheriff arrives in town with posse of willing deputies
IF you went down to the Dail yesterday, you'd be sure of a big surprise. For yesterday's the day that Grizzly had his picnic. For out on to the sunny plinth strode the newly-elected deputy for Louth, Gerry Adams TD (no doubt looking nervously over his shoulder in case Mary Mitchell O'Connor reappeared).
The beaming Gerry was surrounded by his considerably swelled parliamentary party. Nine new deputies were elected last week, bringing the number of Sinn Fein representatives to 14 -- a surprise result that exceeded the expectations of the opinion polls and the political pundits.
There were some familiar faces, of course, including those of Caoimhghin O Caolain and the party's enfant terrible Pearse Doherty, who has become a bit of a superstar since first snaffling the Donegal South-West by-election last November and then topping the poll in the constituency a mere three months later.
But there are all sorts of new faces -- Cork East's Sandra McLellan couldn't stop beaming as she stood behind Gerry, whereas Mary Lou McDonald looked more relieved than anything else, having finally won her Dail seat at the third attempt.
Two men wearing still-bemused expressions were dark horses Brian Stanley, who scooped a seat in the Cowen country of Laois-Offaly, and Michael Colreavy who unexpectedly did the honours for Sinn Fein in Sligo-North Leitrim.
Gerry was a very happy bear altogether, and jauntily approached the waiting press pack, his trademark red scarf tightly wrapped around his neck.
"Sinn Fein are here to do the business. We have returned a very, very strong team," he declared. "We're here to deliver, not just for the people who voted for us but for all the people of the State and across the island."
But there wasn't going to be any cake handed out at this picnic as Gerry sounded a grim note.
"People who were unemployed before the election are still unemployed -- the people who are bearing the burden of the Universal Social Charge are still bearing that burden, the banks are still waiting for their dig-out," he said.
"The test of the government will be is it going to give this big money this month to these toxic banks, is it going to abolish the Universal Social Charge and reverse the cuts?" he asked. "Sinn Fein are here to put an end to what passes for politics in this part of the island."
And no wonder Gerry looked pleased with himself, for without a punch being thrown he has calmly taken over as leader of the parliamentary party -- an honour hitherto held by Cavan-Monaghan's Caoimhghin O Caolain, a chap legendary for never employing three words when he can deploy 20.
Gerry confirmed that he had indeed taken over the top gig. Beside him, Caoimhghin stared stoically into the distance. "Yes," Gerry said, before swiftly moving on to dispel any naughty thoughts about trouble in the newly expanded ranks.
"We're here as a team, a very, very strong team. We'll all work together as a team, I've always been a team player," he revealed, sounding remarkably like pre-election Enda.
But, as Enda discovered almost to his cost last summer, there are always some players on the team who are more ambitious than others. Breathing -- literally -- down Gerry's neck yesterday was Princeling Pearse Doherty, who has polished his Angry Young Man act to burnished perfection over the past few months of his short Dail career.
At one stage when Gerry was being grilled by a reporter on the party's stance on the Universal Social Charge, and appeared to flounder a little in the face of the onslaught, Pearse promptly stepped in. "I think you're being disingenuous," he rapped the reporter.
"The Universal Social charge; Sinn Fein have been very clear throughout the election campaign that we would abolish the social charge and we have shown where we would get the additional money by introducing a third rate of tax," he continued fluently.
'LET Pearse finish," asked Gerry as the questions kept coming. And Pearse eventually finished -- he's definitely a chap with a Cassius-like lean and hungry look.
So had Gerry been elected leader of the parliamentary party by acclaim or did he get the gig simply because as president of Sinn Fein he had a bigger job title than poor Caoimhghin?
Gerry was a little vague. "Well, the ard-comhairle will ratify all of these positions, it's quite normal," he insisted.
So there won't be any heaves? "No, not at all," smiled Gerry a shade nervously. "We're a good team," he added, as behind him Pearse was wearing his usual expression of absolutely no amusement at all.
Gerry had better keep on his toes from the word go when the 31st Dail kicks off next week. Otherwise he may have reason to beware of the Ides of March.