MATTIE shot out of his seat like a greyhound on steroids, and scudded across the Dail chamber clutching some foreign object in his hot little paw.
What could it be? It looked rather like the sort of roundy straw basket wherein rubber chicken and chips are served -- or, come to think of it, exactly like the receptacles that sit on the counters of the Dail bar, filled with salt and pepper and pink Snacks.
What on earth was the Tipp TD up to? It was the middle of Leaders' Questions and Sinn Fein's Mary-Lou McDonald was in full flow (so to speak) over the septic tanks charges -- a subject very, very close to Mattie's patriotic heart.
Leas-Ceann Comhairle Michael Kitt probably caught the blur of movement out of the corner of his eye and thought that the honourable deputy was perhaps departing in that lofty vehicle, high dudgeon, having lost the legislative war on septic tanks with the man he calls 'Minister Big Phil'.
Not a bit of it. Having roared himself blue in the face during the raucous debates on the Water Services Amendment Bill to no avail, Mattie was upping his game and introducing props into his unique one-man show.
For inside the straw basket was a crisp €5 note. He had obviously been inspired by an unintentionally hilarious shouting-match that broke out between two attendees at a septic tank charges protest meeting in Limerick's Newcastle West recently.
One chap had suggested setting up a "fighting fund" for the protest by taking a fiver off everyone as they left the meeting, provoking a furious response from a most indignant woman.
"Listen here, pal, I'm here because I do not want to pay the €100 charge -- there is no way I'm going to pay €5 going out the door. Who are you?" she yelled.
But Mattie, who had been a speaker at the meeting, evidently thought it was a mighty idea altogether, and was set to bustle about the chamber yesterday collecting contributions from his colleagues. It was a bare-faced appeal for a political dig-out that would've done Bertie proud (or perhaps just depressed him that he hadn't thought of it himself).
"Look, I have the fiver," announced Mattie triumphantly, as he headed across the floor to start his collection.
Michael Kitt almost hopped out of his skin at this impromptu piece of street theatre. "Resume your seat," he hollered, pointing at Mattie's just-vacated place. Across the chamber, a chorus of disapproval rose from the government benches.
"You're a clown," shouted Brendan Howlin. "There is no circus without a clown," sniffed Michael Noonan.
"I want no more of this farce. It's a proper disgrace," demanded a bamboozled Michael Kitt.
Utterly unabashed, Mattie slid back into his seat and leaned over and plonked the basket in front of his neighbour, Eamon O Cuiv, and gestured him to pass it along the Fianna Fail bench, like a church collection.
Nor had everyone quite got over this surreal spectacle, when Sinn Fein decided that it needed to grab a slice of the action.
And so up popped Kerry's Martin Ferris to barrack the Tanaiste about just who was going to fork out the cash for any required repairs to septic tanks. "He never answered the question," he bawled.
And he kept on bawling, until a frazzled Leas-Ceann Comhairle caved in and banished him from the chamber.
A circus just wasn't in it. The country's on a tightrope and the Dail is full of Bozos.
Send in the clowns? Don't bother. They're here.