Sunday 15 September 2019

No sign of a barney in the Dáil as TDs unite over terrorist attacks

Frances Fitzgerald
Frances Fitzgerald

Lise Hand

It felt like ominous storm clouds were gathering, both literally and metaphorically. There had been a bit of a break from the gloom when the green carnival in Lansdowne Road on Monday night gave everyone a reason to feel chipper. The word 'France' evoked positive vibrations for the first time in days.

But by yesterday, as Storm Barney loomed, the cold bite of reality was back.

The scheduled business for the Dáil was scrapped for a four-hour session of statements on last Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris.

While President Hollande was communing with Presidents Obama and Putin over ramping up attacks on Isil, and David Cameron was weighing up launching air strikes on Syria, the Oireachtas halted its usual in-fighting to express solidarity with the people of France.

Jean-Pierre Thébauld, France's ambassador to Ireland, was in the distinguished visitor's gallery, as the assembled TDs rose to observe a minute's silence.

"We stand four-square in solidarity and sympathy with the people of France in the face of these murderous terrorists and their misguided actions," said Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett.

There was sustained applause for the ambassador and the embassy staff afterwards. The Taoiseach led off the tributes, condemning the slaughter as "an absolute betrayal of the common humanity of man".

"This barbarity will not be allowed to triumph over civilisation," he declared.

The Tánaiste posed some philosophical questions. "Why would men look to treat their fellow men and women with such callous cruelty? Maybe they are psychopaths, maybe they are common criminals.

"It is clear that this was more than individual acts of deranged people. This was a political act, a gesture of hatred, a challenge."

Joan Burton echoed the thoughts of everyone with a shred of decency in the wake of the carnage.

The previous evening in Dublin, the Aviva Stadium had been stuffed to the rafters with football fans, who afterwards poured into bars all around the city to argue over who'll be taking the horse to France, to drink victory beers, have the craic with the few Bosnian fans, and look forward to next summer. It's unbearable to imagine gunmen gloating in their midst as they let loose a hail of death with the sole aim of killing happiness. This incomprehension tinged every speech during the afternoon.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald's speech showed the careful line she must tread - on one hand downplaying any notion of an immediate threat to Ireland, while also underlining the need for vigilance.

"The expert advice is that while an attack is possible here, it is unlikely. Nor is there any specific information that an attack is planned.

"However, we must remember that we share the values of those countries where attacks have taken place. We are part of a western civilisation whose values are repugnant to the zealots who engage in international terrorism."

Her predecessor in Justice, Alan Shatter, also had a few suggestions as to how security measures could be increased in Ireland.

"We need greater use of CCTV to monitor our streets where there are major vulnerabilities. It is used to great effect in the UK but to lesser effect in other European capitals.

"We need targeted interference of jihadi websites and other social media outlets," he declared.

The French ambassador eventually departed to drop into the Seanad, where a minute's silence was also observed.

There was one moment of light relief, though, when the few deputies still in the chamber stifled grins at the heartfelt contribution from Labour's Eric Byrne.

The Dublin South-Central TD solemnly "put into the public record" the lyrics of John Lennon's 'Imagine'.

"You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one," he intoned.

Mon Dieu. Sometimes in our parliament, one minute's silence just isn't long enough.

Irish Independent

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