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Fiach Kelly: Seanad's dancing pandas give late late Leno the runaround

THE Seanad is a place for serious debate, for stroked chins and furrowed brows. A place where men with grey hair and none and women of the world chew over issues of the day with tastebuds more refined than their uncouth brethren in the Dail.

And so it was supposed to be again yesterday, as senators worked on a Friday -- a rare occasion -- to give the Finance Bill due consideration at a time when the Upper House is fighting for its very survival.

(They also sit today, the poor unfortunates, so think of them in there windbagging as you eat your Saturday fry.)

So, with the Dail off for the day and TDs scuttling around the country looking for votes, all eyes fell on the Seanad.

But, rather like the famous pandas in the 'Kit-Kat' advert, the mature Seanad debate disappears just when you go looking for it.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had to sit waiting outside the chamber for an hour while senators spoke on topics of their choosing during the order of business.

Ivor Callely was trying to make the most of what could be his last contribution in the Oireachtas, but Cathaoirleach Pat Moylan was having none of it. "I will conclude with a passage from the Bible, which is very relevant at this time," pleaded Ivor, in reference to his court battles. "These may be my last words in the Seanad."

"We do not want to hear a passage from the Bible," insisted Pat.

But Ivor squeaked it in anyway: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Senator Mary White raised the issue of health charges and Seanad leader Donie Cassidy fully agreed that drug charges were too high.

"I am on a particular medication," said Donie.

"Viagra!" Fianna Fail senator Mark Daly joked to Fiona O'Malley two rows behind. Donie, who didn't hear the gag, continued on and said some hospitals were charging €147 for medication he was getting for €43.

FG's Jerry Buttimer made a whole lot of noise about his constituency rival Micheal Martin appointing cronies to State boards and claimed the Finance Bill is a legacy of "gargantuan tax increases".

He then sat down and immediately tweeted what he said, just in case nobody was paying attention to the Seanad, which a whole lot of people weren't.

Eventually, Mr Lenihan came in and proceeded to lash Labour for what he called the "Late Late Show Doctrine".

It says "that one opposes all tax increases and expenditure cuts, after which one then tells people that one will not change matters if one enters into office".

One was most impressed with the wit on show.

"This is 'The Late Late Show' doctrine as enunciated by Deputy Gilmore on that show," Leno continued. Then Mr Lenihan went off for a few hours and, in fairness, the level of debate was better than the Dail proceedings on the same bill.


FG's Liam Twomey said Micheal Martin reminded him of "the sort of two-timing eejit we meet in every part of the country" who didn't realise the electorate had given him the boot.

"Over the past week, Deputy Martin has been putting on his smarmy smile, going down to the local service station, buying a bunch of €1.99 flowers and running around the corner to see if he can convince her to let him back into the bedroom."

But Leno wasn't impressed when he returned in the evening to conclude the debate. "I waited in the Seanad for a long time today but you concluded with expedience, I see," he gently chided the senators when he came back at ten-to-five.

Not that the senators weren't doing anything in the intervening period. The pandas were out dancing while you were away, minister.

Irish Independent