Monday 19 August 2019

Máiría takes her seat in the Seanad - and she has lots to choose from

Mairia Cahill
Mairia Cahill

Lise Hand

The bongs of the division bell seemed to be booming on the corridors longer than was either polite or usual. By this stage - almost 10.40am - the Dáil was in full (or perhaps half) swing, so the Seanad had to be the culprit.

And sure enough, the bells were dolefully tolling in a Trojan effort to get a sufficiency of senatorial bums on seats to reach a quorum from among their 60 members. And what is the quorum? 20? Or is it as modest as 10?

Nope. The number of warm bodies required in the Upper House for the first item on the day's schedule - Commencement Matters - is a paltry half-dozen. But a six-pack of senators could not be rustled up on the third and final day of their working week.

On and on the bell bonged, while Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke waited patiently outside the door. Inside the chamber, Labour's Seanad leader Ivana Bacik was making some hurried calls. Fine Gael's Michael Comiskey had turned up, as had Labour's Aideen Hayden and Independent Sean Barrett.

And waiting to deal with the first Matter was junior minister Simon Harris, twiddling his thumbs in the chair of honour and doubtless counting the balls of tumbleweed drifting through the empty rows.

But then there were six, as Fine Gael's Martin Conway eventually scurried in. The bells fell silent, as Michael Comiskey launched into the first Matter which concerned the transfer of some performing rights for amateur drama groups from an Irish organisation to a London agency. "Local drama festivals are extremely important to local towns and villages," he declared.

Simon dealt with the Matter as best he could. "Sure isn't he involved in amateur dramatics every day," reckoned an observer.

One of the senators who received a summons by text was Máiría Cahill who took her seat in the Seanad this week. "I was driving through the Port Tunnel at the time," she explained, adding that she is currently commuting between Leinster House and her Belfast home. "I got home at around 11.30pm on Wednesday night, and then was up at 5.30am this morning. So I'm just trying to find a balance."

She's reluctant to uproot herself and her five-year old daughter Saorlaith from their base, given that the Seanad will most likely be dissolved within the next six months. "Though I've just found out there's a crèche here - and apparently a gym," she laughed.

Máiría said she has found everyone very welcoming. "Sinn Féin have been fine for the most part. Obviously there's no interaction between myself, Mary Lou and Gerry Adams, but the senators said hello and are pleasant," she said.

And she wasn't afraid to look for guidance when it came to her first vote. "There was a motion from Fianna Fáil to call Leo Varadkar back from Belfast [over the scrapping of the UHI], so I asked what happens if the vote goes through, and I was told, 'Well, he'll have to come back from Belfast, and you'll be sitting here until he does'."

Although she hadn't intended to, Máiría spoke on her first day and requested a debate on sexual offences and abuse. "I have said all along I want to campaign on these issues," she said, pointing out she also asked for a debate on the North. "But I've no interest in having fight after fight, because you never get anything done. There's a lot of realpolitick here which doesn't happen in the North because they're dealing with legacy issues and the sham-fighting that goes on in Stormont."

Sham-fighting in the Seanad? Sure you'd need a quorum for that.

Irish Independent

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