Saturday 24 February 2018

40 days and 40 nights in political wilderness for the party leaders

There's an air of leaden despair in Dáil vortex, writes Nicola Anderson

Pete Cryan from Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, protesting at Leinster House Photo: Tom Burke
Pete Cryan from Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, protesting at Leinster House Photo: Tom Burke
Michael Lowry, Danny Healy-Rae and Michael Healy-Rae Photo: Tom Burke
Independent Alliance deputies Sean Canney, John Halligan, Finian McGrath, Shane Ross, Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, and Michael Fitzmaurice Photo: Tom Burke
Ruth Coppinger Photo: Sam Boal/
Lisa Chambers Photo: Tom Burke

It's a bit of a stretch to call this anarchy - but frankly, not really enough of a one. But anarchy amongst politicians, in the face of an obediently democratic electorate - that's a new one, surely?

What's next? Are they going to start throwing stones through the windows of local establishments?

It's been 40 days and 40 nights - and still not so much as a wild locust has crossed the stubborn lips of Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, so intent have they been on continuing with their political hunger strike, starving themselves of the 'drug' of power.

Joan Burton grinned and dug Alan Kelly in the ribs at the mention of the unfortunate phrase yesterday.

Kelly winced painfully and flushed a violent crimson.

He may never be allowed to forget that one.

The really unnerving thing about the current political impasse is the lack of apparent panic at the centre of this screaming vortex of black chaos in Leinster House. The new deputies are in despair over being cast into limbo and just sit there, lifelessly, trying to see the light but failing.

And those with experience are far too calmly resigned that this is the situation, with, apparently, precious anyone could do at present to resolve it.

A fog of frustration and intrigue settled on the Dáil chamber as the deputies realised - once again - that nothing was going to hang on this vote.

There had been enough leakage to keep them informed - and everybody already knew who was going to vote and what way.

Nothing could happen anyway - with Enda Kenny and Michéal Martin sitting down last night to finally talk it over.

So it was all A Waste of Time. It's usually a classic that goes down quite well in the Dáil chamber - but this time, even they had had enough. This was patently clear when Gerry Adams, rather startlingly, opted out of the race to become Taoiseach, saying, quite sensibly, that he didn't have a chance of getting the numbers and so didn't want to make the situation drag on for longer than it should.

In the Independent seats, Michael Lowry, looking rather pale and wan, had apparently been left to his own devices, with a whole row of seats to himself, following the ruling that he is to stand trial next year for tax offences.

But he voted for Enda, as he had promised to do.

Richard Boyd Barrett vented his frustration. While the big parties continue with their political charade, an escalating social emergency of housing continues.

The homeless cannot wait to be dealt with, he insisted.

Twice, he appealed to them to support a motion calling on NAMA to halt sales of property and to change its mandate to solving the crisis of affordable housing.

Twice, he was told that it was impossible.

There was only one agenda on the table and that was voting for a Taoiseach. Nothing could happen until then.

Somebody's phone went off in the chamber, sounding like the tingling of piano keys in the leaden atmosphere.

Mary Lou agreed with Richard - there was a real crisis taking place in the real world, she pointed out.

Ruth Coppinger, too, called for the Dáil to meet on other occasions to try and discuss the ongoing housing crisis.

John Deasy lost patience, crying: "Ceann Comhairle - what are we doing here?"

Danny Healy-Rae told them of a blind constituent putting on his clothes 'upside down and inside out' because of the crisis in home help.

Enda sat there, his thumbs twiddling slowly, round and round.

They voted against a motion to adjourn the Dáil until April 14.

And then Noel Rock, the new TD, rose to his feet for the second time in the 32nd Dáil to propose Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

To his credit, he sounded as enthusiastic as if he was doing it for the first time.

There was a lot of careful party political talk about this process "taking time" but that "any process built to last will take time."

And there was a direct hit at hardy opposition players "hugging their opposition benches tight."

"And good for them," declared Rock.

During the vote, the Fianna Fail negotiating team huddled by the wall, discussing something in great animation, everyone hanging on the words of Jim O'Callaghan.

Everyone watched to see who was sidling up to whom.

A note was passed to Michael Noonan.

Progress was happening - but slowly. They will 'beat the record' set in 1992 of 45 days, declared Michéal Martin.

Enda lost the vote - down six from last time, after Labour declared they would abstain.

Lisa Chambers, again like last time, rose to nominate Michéal Martin, saying it was very clear the people voted for change.

He too lost the vote.

But amid the chaos, one not so insignificant historical step was taken, with the first woman ever nominated to the position of Taoiseach.

Yes, it was Ruth Coppinger with only 10 votes. But it was a first of sorts nevertheless.

Irish Independent

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