Monday 29 December 2014

Enda enters lion's den – and is feted by Seanad pussycats

Published 24/10/2013 | 02:00

'I COME in peace," announced the Taoiseach as he rose to address the Seanad yesterday afternoon.

Hmmm, that's what the first settlers in the US declared to the natives inhabiting the place, and that didn't work out too well for the American Indians.

Enda didn't arrive into the House bearing the usual accoutrements of an Irishman on the doorstep who fears he's in for a bollocking from an injured party within – ie a bunch of garage carnations and a hangdog expression.

Typically he breezed in, wide smile at the ready and escorted – as is traditional – into the chamber by the Captain of the Guard (who luckily happens to be a strapping chap, just in case it all kicked off). It could've all turned a bit rowdy, considering that this is the first time that the Taoiseach has set foot in Injun Territory since his referendum proposal to abolish the Seanad had been defeated by a beady-eyed electorate.

Instead, he stood and munched away on a small but perfectly-formed piece of humble-pie. "I come in peace not war," he began on a light note. "Bearing gifts, I hope," interjected a jovial Terry Leyden.

Enda immediately reiterated how he accepted the verdict of the voters and now wanted to move on and discuss how to blow the dust off the Dead Zoo of the Oireachtas. He was deliberately low-key. The message was clear – nothing to see at this site of the political car-crash, folks, move along smartly now.

It had been his own idea, he explained, to enter the lions' den and kick-start a discussion on reform of the resuscitated dodo. "This is an opportunity, therefore, for members to speak their mind and to reflect on what they think is most appropriate for the workings of the House in the future," he suggested nice and politely, before throwing a quick warning barb. "I don't have any interest in some of the bombastic triumphalism I might have heard in various quarters over the past period," he added.

Well he needn't have worried. It looked a bit ominous at first when the first speaker, Fianna Fail's Darragh O'Brien, began with a swift kick to both Enda and Fine Gael.

"The people rejected your proposal," he reminded the Taoiseach. "To use your own phrase, Paddy does like to know the story. Paddy knew the story and saw through some of the very cynical and dishonest methods that were used, in particular by your party, in this campaign," he sniped, as the Taoiseach kept his head down, sipped a glass of water and looked busy.

But after this brief flurry, it was all sweetness and light. He was, they all cooed, "magnanimous" and "a reforming Taoiseach". And what's more, he had shown "integrity in defeat" and "considerable grace and statesmanship".

It's hard to credit that only a few weeks ago many of them were shouting the odds about how the self-same Taoiseach was single-handedly dismantling democracy in Ireland.

The most remarkable Damascene conversion of all was courtesy of Fianna Fail's Marc MacSharry who had declared the Taoiseach to be "a clown" during one heated oration on the future of the Seanad.

"As someone who often subjected you to intemperate criticism throughout the debate on the referendum, I wholeheartedly apologise for any offence that may have been taken, although I am sure none was," he said to Enda, who immediately rearranged his visage into a benign look of no-offence-taken.

After almost two hours of speeches from 25 senators, the Taoiseach rose to reply. He may have enjoyed all the flattery but he hadn't had his head turned by it.

Instead he listed – at some considerable length – the innumerable reports over the years dealing with Seanad Reform stretching from 1967 to this year, all with different conclusions as to how the broken House should be fixed.

He quietly poured cold water over any notion the denizens of the Seanad might have that a quick fix is on the way. Once chewed by the electorate, twice shy it seems. The Taoiseach will take his own sweet time over this reform, and what do to with the lot of them.

At one stage Senator Pat O'Neill cheerfully told him: "You said you come in peace; we say, 'How'."

How, indeed.

Irish Independent

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