Sunday 25 February 2018

Old-school smokescreen descends on a shiny new Dáil beset by protests

Gardaí move protesters back from the front of Leinster House on Kildare Street to behind barriers on Molesworth Street yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Gardaí move protesters back from the front of Leinster House on Kildare Street to behind barriers on Molesworth Street yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The new Super Junior Minister needs to try harder. Much, much harder.

An output of five cigarettes a day? Hopeless.

If Finian is going to start pulling his weight around here, he needs to up the ante.

Elevate himself from a mere dabbler and dilettante to a hard-core and committed member of this shiny new cabinet.

What's required here is lavish and decadent chain-smoking at the level last seen in the days of Frank Cluskey if the Government is to create the necessary cloak to allow it to conduct its affairs in peace. Is Finian up to the job?

It will necessitate new ciggies being lit directly off the old, smouldering fags resting in ashtrays dotted around the chamber, colleagues dispatched home with their hair reeking of tar and tobacco.

Mind you, an immaculately coiffed Frances Fitzgerald was doing a grand job herself without Finian's obliging puffing. A proper old-school smokescreen was hanging low over the room.

The presence of the thin blue line marching most firmly - and most embarrassingly - on Leinster House for the first time in the history of the State barely got a look in, in the face of the old controversies swirling around the force.

The timing was unfortunate and the glum-faced marchers knew it.

In order to distance themselves from the hardcore Irish Water and Republican protesters on Kildare Street - who had somehow managed to lithely amalgamate their concerns - the gardaí congregated on the Merrion Square side where, unsurprisingly, they were the most obedient crowd of protesters the Dáil has ever seen, as they handed over a letter demanding the reversal of pay cuts made in 2008.

Meanwhile, two gardaí stationed at Kildare Street each took an arm of a female water protester who had escaped the pen and determinedly frog-marched her back.

"Get your hands off her," screeched another woman.

Someone mischievously suggested to John Halligan - who hasn't paid his own water bill - that he go and join 'his people'.

"Oh they're not my people," he said immediately.

But inside, it was wall-to-wall O'Higgins Report.

And with Enda off planting a tree in Washington, there was no respite for the Tánaiste, so brand new she's still in her wrapper.

Anyone expecting an energetic, sparkling and efficient first day of the new 32nd Dáil was to be bitterly disappointed.

The carpark was virtually empty. Likewise the chamber.

With Enda away, it seemed the rest of them really did feel the cat could play.

And it was tipped to be the last day of the sunshine - so what did we expect?

Well, more than this, that was for sure.

The Tánaiste's voice seemed to ring with the desperation of not actually being able to say all that much about what she was being forced to talk about.

There was relentless repetition and promises of a general debate on the report.

And much hurried acknowledgment that the main point was that the suffering of the victims not be forgotten.

The presence of Vincent Browne, soaking up every word in the press gallery, probably didn't help Frances's nerves.

Richard Boyd Barrett had a word in the ear of the Ceann Comhairle, but went back to his seat shaking his head in annoyance.

Bríd Smith later explained that they had been trying to get in a question about when the findings of a long-completed NUI Galway report on changes to the lone parents' allowance would be released.

Frances would have been delighted with the change of topic. And it might actually have proven to be something the general population could get in on. But no such luck.

Irish Independent

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