Sunday 25 September 2016

Nicola Anderson: Still in uncharted waters - apart from one convert who 'does the right thing'

Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30

Change of heart: Independent TD Katherine Zappone. Photo: Tom Burke
Change of heart: Independent TD Katherine Zappone. Photo: Tom Burke

Seven hours after dispatching a tweet vowing that she would be abstaining from the vote for Taoiseach, Katherine Zappone made a self-conscious surprise turn left for Enda.

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Frances Fitzgerald escorted her up to the book, beaming with the triumphant pride of an evangelist preacher who had just saved a soul.

The press bench rubbed their eyes. What significant development was this?

Aengus O'Snodaigh was innocently loitering without intent on the 'yes' side too, though - so maybe she hadn't actually voted at all.

But then Michael D'Arcy, the Fine Gael Wexford TD, gave her a big kiss on the cheek and Mary Mitchell O'Connor gave her a grateful squeeze. So it was true, then. She was in.

Theologian Katherine took her seat and sat with the air of a woman whose conscience was clear. She seemed not to know quite what to do when the vote came around for Micheál - but after a hurried consultation with Eamon Ryan, scurried up and swung right for 'no'.

Still in uncharted waters then, but at least somebody seemed to think she could read the constellations - whether it was by stick or carrot, though, we did not know. She explained later that she felt it was the right thing to do. One conversion after 47 days of devotions. This Reformation could take a while.

Katherine hadn't signed the hastily drawn document of 14 Independent TDs who had sworn at lunchtime to abstain from the vote.

The 14 deputies included the Independent Alliance, the so-called 'Rural Five', the two Healy-Rae brothers, Shane Ross and Maureen O'Sullivan.

"A few of the Fianna Fáilers were going the wrong way but they were hauled back," chuckled Jan O'Sullivan, who, like everybody, had kept an eagle eye on the voting procedure. The atmosphere around Leinster House, leaden with intrigue for the past month, had the hushed air of an enclosed order.

The channels were closed - but in any event there was nothing to say, with the sands shifting hourly under our feet. The wind was gone entirely from the sails of the newcomers who just wanted this latest Groundhog Day charade of a vote to be over with. We almost pitied young Noel Rock as he rose to his feet for the third time to give virtually the same speech.

We almost knew it off by heart. Noel bore the chorus of strangled groans and yawns with dignity. There had been more than 50 hours of discussions, he said. But actually that was the figure he gave last week, so presumably there has to have been a bit more than that since. He used a bedtime story voice of cajoling and wheedling. But it was no use because nobody cared.

Fine Gael might say it was bedtime - but they aren't the boss of us, intimated Fianna Fáil. Or at least not yet.

Noel threw in a bit of Theodore Roosevelt, who had apparently once said: "The best thing you can do is the right thing, the second best is the wrong way and the worst way is to do nothing at all."

The Independents raised their eyebrows. Someone snorted in the Fianna Fáil camp. Catherine Byrne rose to second the motion - again for the third time. There was a cackle of laughter around the chamber.

"It is time to set aside our egos," instructed Catherine.

And then, once again, the floor was open to Lisa Chambers who again gave almost precisely the same speech to talk of Micheál's "qualifications" for becoming Taoiseach.

Election promises had to be honoured, or we will never have the trust of the people, she said. "If we've learned anything from the last few decades it is that we need to change the way we govern our country," said Lisa. Once again, she was seconded by Thomas Byrne.

"The choice is between two men but it's really between two ways - one way or the other," he said.

He believed there would never be a majority government ever again in this country, that the future is partnership governments.

Then it was Joan's turn.

"Here we are again today and not as happy as can be," she said, talking of the need to face the challenges of the future, flaying Fianna Fáil for abolishing rates in the 70s as "a bad decision".

She seemed to conveniently forget that she had been part of the Rainbow coalition in 1996, which abandoned attempts to enforce water charges last time round.

Fianna Fáil's fury rose up in a wave.

"What are you doing?" they bellowed at Joan.

"The Labour Party in 2011 did not hesitate when the country was at risk," she continued.

"She's still a cheerleader for Fine Gael," scoffed the hecklers.

"The Civil War is over," Joan preached.

Their reply came as quick as a whip: "The revolution is over as well."

They were all feeling very hard done by.

"We're the meat in the sandwich," Shane Ross lamented.

A sandwich that is growing staler and less palatable by the minute in the eyes of the public.

Irish Independent

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