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Thursday 22 February 2018

Sure aren't we all just the most fantastic lot of senators ever?

Lise Hand

Senators, clockwise from top left: Thomas Byrne, with wife Ann and children; Eamon Coghlan and Dr Martin McAleese; Averil Power (left) and Lorraine Higgins; Ceathaoirleach Paddy Burke, and David Norris; Martin Conway and his wife Breege Hannify-Conway; Michael Comiskey, with his wife Elizabeth and mother Annie; Imelda Henry (left) and Marie Louise O'Donnell. Tom Burke

BY GOLLY, but it was a stonking start for the 24th Seanad altogether.

Senator David Norris opened proceedings with a mighty speech. It was like 'Braveheart' ("they may take our lives, but they'll never take our FREEDOM") meets 'Henry V' ("Once more unto the breach, dear friends").

It was full of erudite fire and intellectual brimstone. After all, the grim Sword of Damocles is poised over the Seanad's collective neck, ready to fall, if the Taoiseach has his wicked way.

As if to remind the 60 new (and newish) senators of the precariousness of their existence, Enda confirmed in the Dail yesterday morning that a referendum on the abolition of the second chamber would happen next year.

And so the Senator Who Would Be President played a blinder in front of an unusually packed house.

He gave it some welly.

"Today, the Senate faces its greatest challenge since the 1930s. To put it bluntly, we are confronted with the possibility of extinction," he declared.

"This is a rather awkward half-time for the Senate," he said, invoking our own Prince of Wales, Jonny Sexton and his rallying cry in Cardiff.

"At half-time, it was 22 to 6 and all seemed lost. However he did it, Jonathan Sexton used the half-time to inspire his team to a magnificent victory."

Nor was he finished -- gazing sternly at the rapt troops before him, the Caesar of the Seanad practically exhorted the honourable members to begin doing press-ups and star-jumps on the carpet.

"Like an army, the Senate should be reorganised, drilled and disciplined, keeping ourselves honed in mind and body for the coming conflict," he proclaimed with gusto.

Well now, this was great stuff. Obama was only in the ha'penny place by comparison. Who knew that Seanad could be so much fun?

Alas and alack, it all went rapidly downhill after that tour-de-force.

For it took no more than about 10 minutes to elect Paddy Burke unopposed as the new Cathaoirleach -- but then it took almost two hours of interminable speeches for a succession of speakers to offer him felicitations, heap praise on each other and generally indulge in an unbridled orgy of self-congratulation.

One new member -- former TD Thomas Byrne -- managed the not-inconsiderable feat of welcoming himself to the Seanad.

Fidelma Healy-Eames topped this by gushingly informing a bamboozled Paddy Burke: "You've a great smile."

But she was then trumped by Mary White, who heaped praise on Dr Martin McAleese, declaring him to be "an iconic human being in our country" as the modest chap tried to sink lower in his seat.

And these are the folk who want us to save them from the chop by convincing us how relevant they are to the parliamentary process?

Amid the breakout of back-slapping was a genuine and widespread welcome for the Taoiseach's 11 nominees, many of whom are creative and deserved selections.

But this prolonged outbreak of self-regard simply reminded all and sundry that this House needs a radical makeover of Moneygall proportions if it is to have a hope of survival.

As David Norris succinctly put it: "We have allowed this great institution to become separated and remote from the people we are paid to serve."

"We have all been chosen," exulted Fidelma.

Yes you have, missus -- so now go and Do Something.

Irish Independent

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