Lise Hand: Jaws hit the floor as genuine shock takes the place of faux outrage
THERE was a slight feel of a deserted village to Leinster House for the first half of the day. Most of the front bench were spending the morning at the annual 1916 commemoration in Arbour Hill, and various TDs and senators were out and about the constituencies, knocking on doors with eager local election candidates.
And in the Dail chamber it seemed like business as usual. Alan Shatter was on his feet, wearing his Minister of Defence chapeau, answering questions with his customary blend of confidence and pugnaciousness.
There was even a trademark snipe at Clare Daly who was quizzing him over the use of Shannon Airport by US military aircraft. "The deputy might have been a fan of Osama bin Laden but I am not sure what relevance he has to this matter," he suggested to his unimpressed opponent.
Nobody at all had any inkling that Alan was having one last barb for the road. He slipped quietly out of the chamber as the Taoiseach entered for the next scheduled session. There were plenty of empty seats in the chamber as the Taoiseach rose to speak. Without preamble, Enda began. "With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I would like to make a short statement to the House."
Ears pricked up. This was usually the harbinger of some piece of news. The Taoiseach continued: "I wish to announce, for the information of the House, that I am advising the President to accept the resignation of deputy Alan Shatter as a member of the Government. I have accepted the minister's resignation with regret."
Cue the clack of jaws rebounding off the floor. This was the proverbial thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. After all, the Justice Minister had just survived a motion of no-confidence tabled by Fianna Fail, and the dust appeared to have settled somewhat on the various controversies with which he had become ensnared.
But it appeared that the Guerin Report into garda whistleblowers was a criticism too far.
The Opposition were caught on the hop, and scrambled to find an appropriate reaction. As Leaders' Questions progressed amid bitter complaints from Micheal Martin and Gerry Adams that they had been given no warning of the bombshell, the Fine Gael benches filled up with lines of sombre faces.
Funereal vibrations were emanating from the front bench. After all their stout defence and vigorous circling of wagons around their beleaguered colleague, Alan had fallen on his own arrow.
Afterwards, Micheal hustled on to the plinth to make a statement.
He felt "vindicated", he declared – after all, it had been the information he had passed on to the Taoiseach which had led to Sean Guerin's report. But he didn't want to tap-dance on the grave of the fallen minister.
"I'm not happy that any minister has to resign," he insisted, before in the next breath adding that Mr Shatter had been the possessor of "an eternally adversarial approach to politics".
Inevitably, rumours of Alan's successor began to swirl. Someone thought they saw a new shirt being conveyed to Leo Varadkar's office, but they were mistaken. Some reporters started a hullaballoo when Charlie Flanagan was spotted going upstairs in the company of the government press secretary. But he was only en route to the RTE Dail studio.
There was an air of genuine shock for once on the corridors, instead of the usual faux outrage. Just after 6pm, Mr Shatter got into his ministerial car for the last time and drove away almost unnoticed.
What a quiet exit for such a dramatic character.