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Lise Hand: Sooner credits roll on Night of Living Dead Dail, the better

There could've been very little joy in the soul of the Taoiseach as he took his usual seat in the Dail chamber yesterday.

At least he was in his own seat, given that the political earthquakes of the past fortnight have thrown up a completely changed and fissured landscape in the Dail chamber.

For seated in a line across from him, along the top row of the opposition benches, was the Green Party. And behind him, former Transport Minister Noel Dempsey and former Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe cut forlorn figures in the middle of the government backbenches.

Nor was there much comfort to be derived from looking along his own frontbench where his entire Cabinet were arrayed -- the not-so magnificent seven must've been fighting off the waves of agoraphobia over all the empty space around them.

And Brian Cowen would've been even more deeply chagrined had he been able to hear the animated discussion going on behind him during the afternoon's Order of Business.

For so deeply in conversation were Carlow-Kilkenny's Bobby Aylward, Mayo's Beverley Flynn and Laois-Offaly's Sean Fleming, that the trio failed to notice that a microphone in their immediate vicinity was glowing a treacherous red.

And so the live mic caught their intense debate over who was going to run in their leader's seat in Laois-Offaly.

"If the Taoiseach's running there's a seat in the bag before the very start, so then we're fighting for the rest," reckoned his constituency running-mate Sean Fleming.

"If he's not running then we're even fighting for the first seat -- locally we'd be in fierce trouble," he pondered.

"Will Barry stand?" wondered Bobby, referring to Brian's local councillor brother. "Oh yeah, I'd say so," replied Sean, "he won't be as strong as Brian."

Sean was mulling over whether they'd run two candidates in each county. "Ah they won't run two in Offaly -- they'll run two of ye in Laois and one in Offaly," surmised Bobby.

"For f**ksake they'd be mad," moaned Sean.

Hang on -- had we all missed something? Had the Taoiseach, aka Brian Cowen, Teachta Dala for Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail deputy of 26 years standing, quietly thrown in the towel without anyone noticing?

Nope -- it was simply a case of the Clara king is dead, long live the Cork king. For although Brian hasn't made his intentions known as to whether he intends to climb into the gladiatorial arena and engage in hand-to-hand combat in the general election, his party is already throwing election shapes.

And while Fianna Fail's leadership contest was allegedly in full swing, in reality it was looking more and more like a foregone conclusion with Micheal Martin ahead by a long brass neck thanks to a formation of declared parliamentary supporters stacked up over FF HQ like planes over Heathrow.

It was a peculiar sort of day in Dail Eireann. The only business left on the Order of Business schedule was the passage of the Finance Bill over the next three days, and so this odd configuration of deputies seated themselves in unfamiliar places around the chamber.

The opposition leaders took it easy on a subdued Taoiseach and contented themselves with half-hearted jibes.

"It is an Order of Business which will bring to an end a dysfunctional and now diminished Government and will bring that to an end by the end of this week," declared Eamon Gilmore dutifully.

And John Gormley TD got to his feet to underline his party's role in bringing about the brief truce between the warring factions.

"I do welcome the fact that a modicum of commonsense has broken out in this chamber and at least we now have a temporary little consensus if I can call it that," he sniped, in clear reference to a previous Fianna Fail Taoiseach Charlie Haughey's view of a Fianna Fail coalition with the PDs as being "a temporary little arrangement".

Brian Cowen began what looked like a valedictory address to the Dail but what turned into a cranky go at his political detractors.

"My mandate has been questioned time out of number by various opposition leaders, much of it uncritically quoted upon and peddled in the media as again something that had some constitutional validity. It is a vacuous and stupid statement," he snapped, looking weary and fed-up.

The all-important Finance Bill debate then began but a dispiriting amount of debate time appeared to be used up by a succession of resigning deputies using the time to say sayonara to everyone.

It was a bit like the interminable acceptance speeches at the Oscars -- minus the tears, the sparkly frocks and the references to the Almighty.

But inevitably the day ended in a bit of uncertainty as this zombie Dail staggered hollow-eyed to the finish-line, with rumblings from a trio of Independent deputies that they may take a hissy-fit today and withdraw their support for the Finance Bill.

It's the Night of the Living Dead Dail. The sooner the credits roll on it, the better.

Irish Independent