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JOHN WHELAN

THE 31st Dail promised change but, so far, has mostly failed to deliver. We should be grateful, then, to the 24th Senate, particularly as it brings us standout Labour senator John Whelan, who has made his mark.

A former journalist, late of this parish, where, as you know, we do not suffer fools gladly, Whelan has shown himself to be nobody's fool, least of all a fool in a system that has made a virtue of mediocrity.

He is from the midlands, after all, where common sense is fed as a supplement to mothers' milk, and he is in good company down those parts, to his north and east. Labour can be grateful to its rural wing.

In Westmeath, there is Willie Penrose, probably the most popular and quietly effective politician in the country; in Kildare South, there is Jack Wall, a rock of sense.

These are middle-aged men, who have seen it all before, and have lived to tell the tale, unaltered by the vagaries of the day.

The more youthful Whelan completes the triumvirate; based in Laois-Offaly, where thanks to a redrawing of constituency boundaries he is likely to take a Dail seat next time out.

He shone most recently before an Oireachtas committee where he turned the spotlight on the RTE authority chairman, Tom Savage, but he is no one-trick pony. Expect Whelan to buck the trend next time when Labour's luvvies will fall like nine-pins.

Richard Boyd Barrett

WHEN the Taoiseach is reduced to sneering, you know you are doing something right. The new standard bearer, Richard Boyd Barrett encompasses much that is right about the Left, not least that he is true to himself.

He may be no Gandhi or Martin Luther King, nor does he seek to present himself as such, but he is above the contempt of Enda Kenny. "I am not sure what tablets he is on," Kenny said of the Dun Laoghaire TD in the Dail last week, to general hilarity on the backbench of non-entities.

At issue was whether Boyd Barrett should be "ashamed" of himself for encouraging householders not to pay the household charge. Kenny said this with a straight face.

Election promises are another thing, of course. But Boyd Barrett said nothing about that this time. He didn't have to. Author of the five-point plan, Phil Hogan, meanwhile, was hard at work in sunny Rio de Janeiro.

There should always be a place in Leinster House for an authentic voice of the Left. Some say it's Sinn Fein, others say it is Mick Wallace. Nobody bothers to pretend it's Labour anymore.

Due nod to Joe Higgins, but the true voice of the Left in the 31st Dail is Richard Boyd Barrett, a distinction which he is likely to hold for generations to come. That is as it should be.

Sunday Independent