Saturday 16 December 2017

No love lost as St Valentine's Day debate becomes a dog's dinner

Declan Mulhall, from Cloghan, Co Offaly, protesting at Leinster House yesterday Photo Tom Burke
Declan Mulhall, from Cloghan, Co Offaly, protesting at Leinster House yesterday Photo Tom Burke
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'Happy St Valentine's Day," said the Ceann Comhairle, in a tone that was part silk, part dry as the dust from the deserts of Arabia.

As a opener to the day, his remark was up there with the very best in noir fiction page turners.

Which could not be more appropriate given this unfolding, ever-shifting situation which has, at last, placed the victim centre stage and left everybody else scrambling in clod-footed fashion to get their stories straight.

We felt a pang of deep compassion for the staff in the Dáil restaurant who had gone to such painstaking efforts to have everything nice for the day.

The gooey cushion on the chair on the way in, bearing the image of two puppies with the legend: "Pugs and kisses."

The sugary pastel cupcakes.

The lovingly scattered glass hearts.

Even at breakfast, they'd gone to the trouble of cutting a heart out of the toast and replacing the hole with a fried egg.

A sharp-eyed customer spotted that the bready inserts thriftily turned up later at lunch in the form of crispy-fried heart croutons.

But neither sugar, "warm lovers' salads" nor yeasty sacrifice could cut it on a day like this, and the talk in lowered voices was of the empty war chests and how nobody can possibly afford an election right now. Priorities, after all.

The simpering layer of romance only added a surreal undertone of gently simmering menace to a spiralling situation in which each jigsaw piece, laid down over the hours, seemed to lead to one sickening conclusion: Lies are being told here.

As the day went on, it became frustratingly impossible to keep up.

Was there even any point in trying when it was so patently clear that it is not possible to believe each of the parties individually because together, they do not form one coherent picture?

Frankly, it was a dog's dinner.

The deputies in the chamber knew this and the atmosphere became ever edgier, ever more restless.

The eyes of the Fine Gael backbenchers shifted warily up to the press benches and swept the room, seeking out the verdict that they already knew. The Taoiseach was on the ropes.

Enda's temper vented at a familiar target.

"You're an absolute hypocrite," he hissed across at Gerry Adams, who had said: "As long as you hold office, there will be no truth or justice for Maurice McCabe."

In the frontbench, the Tánaiste looked exhausted and on the brink, brittle in her answers, her expression almost pleading. Simon Harris was on hand for support, but at one point in the Shinner discourse, they smirked and all of a sudden, it seemed too much to bear.

Fianna Fáil was just as antsy.

The only ones sitting in grim calm were Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, by this point unshockable.

Of the Independent Alliance there wasn't a sign, having retreated to its bunker to formulate its plan of campaign.

The earlier portion of the day had been deceptively civilised in the chamber.

"The entire country has sympathy with Maurice McCabe and his family," declared the Taoiseach.

What's required is a process to ascertain whether or not there had been a deliberate attempt to smear Maurice McCabe, he said.

"There's nothing worse in this country than being called a sex abuser," he pointed out.

That, at least, was the truth.

He issued an apology for telling RTÉ radio that he had a conversation with Children's Minister Katherine Zappone before her meeting when in fact he had not.

By evening, things were considerably less clear.

"We're not in a court of law," said Catherine Murphy wearily, after three hours of heated debate. She wanted "the four people in question" to give every assistance to the tribunal to allow the McCabes to get on with their lives.

This, surely, is the crux after all the mistruths, all the half-truths and all the bluster.

Irish Independent

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