| 7°C Dublin

Tropical debate is a wash-out as new term gets off to noisy start

If you see any tourists wandering around Dublin and seeking directions to our national parliament, simply tell them to follow the sound of whistles, drums, a bit of semi-synchronised roaring and, eh, the neighing of a horse.

For the Dail was back in action (or back inaction, some may argue) yesterday -- not so much with a bang, as with a bit of grumbling, giving out, shape-throwing and protestation. And that was just inside the chamber.

And it was a right old hive of activity outside the gates of Leinster House. Tanned TDs and sun-kissed senators arriving back to work after their eight-week break were greeted by a profusion of placards as different demonstrations descended on Kildare Street.

The noontime protest slot was particularly colourful; Margaret Hanrahan had trekked on horseback from her home -- an equestrian centre in Tipperary -- to protest against the repossession of her property by the bank, while a group of retired workers from Tara Mines were picketing against the pension levy. And in the afternoon, almost 1,000 people marched to Leinster House protesting against cuts in Special Needs Assistants.

And all this before Michael Noonan even sharpened his axe to hack another €4bn out of the public finances in the forthcoming Budget.

One suspects that the metal crash-barriers which are pressed into service during protests will be up and down like a fiddler's elbow between now and the end of the year.

And inside the Dail chamber it wasn't taking the deputies long to jettison their holiday sparkle.

A disgruntled Communications Minister got the new term off to an electrifying start by announcing that the Government had agreed to relinquish a minority stake in one of the State's most glittery assets -- the ESB -- to the highest bidder.

This decision, Pat Rabbitte was at pains to point out, was ordained in the Gospel of Ajai, aka the memorandum of understanding hammered out by the Troika and the last government.

But surely the day could only get better -- after all there was a whole shiny new schedule to look forward to. The reformed Dail now includes the intriguing-sounding Topical Issues debate, to replace the moribund Adjournment debates during which the gentle drone of a deputy discussing potholes would be broken by the snores of the only other TD in the chamber.

But, according to ebullient government reformers, this new Topical debates hoohah would provide cut-and-thrust oratory between deputies and ministers which would have Cicero weeping into his toga with pride.

It would be hot and heavy and exotic. More Bali than Ballymagash. It would be Tropical Debate, in fact.

Except, eh, not so much. For the inaugural Tropical Debate was almost derailed from the get-go when Independent TD John Halligan went off on a one-man rant at the outset on the amount of time he had been allocated to speak on the recent job losses at Talk Talk in his hometown of Waterford.

He sprang to his feet and began haranguing the Ceann Comhairle.

"I'm a TD representing Waterford and you're allowing me one minute and 10 seconds," he roared at Sean Barrett, who was aghast that the whole thing had gone up in a heap with such blinding speed.

"Resume your seat," he barked at the disputatious deputy.

But John wouldn't be told. And four minutes after the curtain was raised on the Topical Debate, it descended again. A vote was taken to remove John from the House, but he dug in his heels and wouldn't leave.

Business was suspended and then a few handy-looking ushers began to hover, just in case the Waterford man was to be literally carried from the chamber.

But John had made his point and exited quietly under his own steam, leaving his two constituency rivals, Labour's Ciara Conway and Fine Gael's Paudie Coffey to voice their concerns about the job losses in Waterford in accordance with the rules.

However, minutes after his expulsion from the chamber, John was on the airwaves, continuing his protestations on local radio.

It was a cranky start to the new term. But never mind the neigh-sayers, at least there was a horse outside.

Irish Independent