| 8.4°C Dublin

Lise Hand: Megaphone Barrett finally in with a shout

Christmas is coming early for Richard Boyd Barrett. For this week when the Dail returns he gets the chance to officially excoriate the Government in the chamber without being barked back into order by a choleric Ceann Comhairle.

There has been a changing of the guard among the Dail's Technical Group, and two new speakers have been chosen to quiz the Government during Leaders' Questions and the Order of Business.

Dublin North-Central Independent Finian McGrath has been replaced by Donegal South-West Independent Thomas Pringle, and Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party has passed the left-wing baton to Dun Laoghaire deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, a chap associated with more initials than the average consultant medic, from the PBP (People Before Profit), ULA (United Left Alliance), to the SWP (Socialist Workers' Party). The third Technical Group deputy, Dublin South's Shane Ross, is retaining his spot as a speaker.

It will be interesting to see if Richard will be able to raise his game in the Dail chamber to land some effective blows on the Government in the expert manner of his predecessor Joe Higgins.

For after a year, perhaps his most memorable achievement in the chamber has been to become the first deputy of the 31st Dail to be asked to leave the House by the Ceann Comhairle last May after he refused to withdraw a comment during Leaders' Questions.

To date, Richard has presented a carefully-burnished image of a rowdy provocateur. Clad in his usual uniform of jeans and checked shirts, he looks a lot younger than his 44 years and his continuous interruptions during Dail sessions are often more reminiscent of the unruliness of student politics than of parliamentary debate.

But it adds to his image of the hard-left defender of the working-classes, a man who eschews the political elite to be among his own proletariat people.

But of course, his 'own people' are firmly from the middle classes, and his upbringing was a reflection of this; raised in Dun Laoghaire, his father worked as an accountant and his mother as a hairdresser (in 2007 it was revealed that his birth mother is actress Sinead Cusack) and he was educated in the exclusive fee-paying school, St Michael's College.

He then went to UCD to study English literature, but a year in he decided to take time off and travelled to Israel to work on a kibbutz. And it was here that he experienced his political realignment; he arrived in Israel a fortnight before the first Intifada and he claims to have witnessed what he described as brutality from the Israeli forces and the plight of Palestinian refugees.

Upon his return to UCD, he threw himself into the politics of the SWP -- his good looks apparently earned him the soubriquet of 'Richard Boy Band' and helped woo a number of middle-class girls to the cause.

And although he did spend a few years in employment -- he briefly taught English in Spain and worked on a building site in London, and tutored in UCD for three years -- he ultimately graduated summa cum laude as a professional protester who can brandish a megaphone at the drop of a mortarboard hat.

He has immersed himself in the politics of protest with relish on a dizzying range of issues.

There have been local issues, such as a campaign to save Dun Laoghaire's Victorian baths, and protests against the Iraq War, NAMA, the bank bailouts, the policies of the troika, and currently he is opposing the household charge.

Another day, another protest -- even yesterday, Richard was doing what he does best.

This time he was in action outside the European Commission building on Dublin's Dawson Street, among a dozen or so people demonstrating on behalf of Palestinian child prisoners. It would take more than the sort of disturbing outbreak of violence witnessed at his last such engagement at the Labour Party conference in Galway on Saturday, to dampen his ardour for a bit of a rally. In the aftermath of those ugly scenes at NUIG, Richard deployed the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil strategy -- he had been further back in the protest and hadn't seen the ugly scuffles.

It's much easier to oppose everything through a megaphone than in the more forensic arena of the Dail chamber. Several months ago, after listening to one lengthy lecture from Richard on how the Finance Minister should manage the economy, Michael Noonan was withering. "You know, I'd like to sit you down and have a coffee and explain it all to you," he suggested, clearly unimpressed with the deputy's analysis.

And as he steps up to the speaker's mic in the Dail this week to denounce the Government's fiscal policies, the deputies across the floor from him probably won't be slow to remind 'Rich Boy' Barrett of his middle-class roots.

He looked distinctly uncomfortable when at the sharp end of a ribbing last month from Fine Gael's Dublin South-East TD Eoghan Murphy, who also attended St Michael's College.

Congratulating the rugby team of his old alma mater for winning the Leinster Schools Junior Cup, Eoghan nodded over to Richard: "I know he would like to join me in congratulating St Michael's," he suggested.

Fianna Fail's Timmy Dooley joined in. "The deputies certainly deviated in the political paths they chose after that," he observed.

Can Boy Band become a proper parliamentarian? This would be a good time for him to grow up.

Irish Independent