“The Taoiseach does not have confidence in me.”
The statement hung in the air. There was a sharp intake of the breath as TDs — knocked back and winded from the unexpected blow — straightened in their seats and glared at each other.
A sense of bewilderment began to ripple across a sparsely populated Dáil.
Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley wasn’t quite sure if he had properly heard the statement. Equally, confused and furrowed expressions exchanged between the five Fine Gael backbenchers who were in the chamber.
This wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. The number of TDs who had showed up to listen to Denis Naughten explain away a dinner with a businessman proved that.
It appeared that not even the Taoiseach had got the tip-off, with not a single senior Fine Gael minister present.
But now those who had turned up were witnessing a political catastrophe.
Notebooks were snatched and swivel chairs went flying across the room as journalists, expecting a relatively mundane exchange before the Dáil rose for the weekend, sprung out onto the press gallery to get a proper vantage point.
Still, there was a sense of “Is this really happening? Is he going to say what I think he is going to say?” about the whole spectacle.
Eyes widened and heart rates rose in line with Mr Naughten’s quickening pace and increasing volume.
It was becoming clear that the shake in his hand when he initially stood up to speak was not down to nerves but was a boiling anger that had been simmering since he had spoken to the Taoiseach earlier in the morning.
“I am left now in the impossible, stark position a politician never wants to find himself or herself in. Do I make the decision myself to resign or wait for the decision to be made for me?” Mr Naughten asked as his loyal team of advisors and parliamentary assistants looked on from the public gallery.
“What do I do in circumstances where the opposition has not sought my resignation? If I was a cynic, which I am not, I believe this outcome is more about opinion polls than telecoms poles.
“It is more about optics than fibre optics,” he said, his words tinged with increasing bile.
'If I was a cynic, which I am not, I believe the outcome is more about opinion polls that telecom polls. It's more about optics than fibre optics' - Denis Naughten pic.twitter.com/EBBVbZYTLz— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 11, 2018
Those words began to sink in. Why wouldn’t they? The backbenchers present were clinging to every phrase as each sentence seemed to bring them closer to a general election.
“For my family, for my constituents, and more importantly for the 1.1m people waiting for this essential service, a vital service for ordinary people in rural Ireland, I have given An Taoiseach my resignation,” said Mr Naughten.
And with that, Mr Naughten turned on his heels and left.
There was no applause, no political jibes, no heckling. Just silence. Politicians are adept at feigning surprise and outrage; they have a unique talent in making everything incredibly, unbelievably, extraordinarily shocking.
In the past week alone, “shocking” has been used in the Dáil to describe the third-level education budget, the fact that a naval ship didn’t leave port, the announcement that an extra €1bn had been found by Government, the decision not to raise carbon tax, the lack of progress on a loan scheme for farmers, and tax reliefs for landlords. The list goes on.
Only the day before, the Taoiseach had accused Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on of having a history of “claiming that things are incredible”.
“This is a pattern of yours and unfortunately it’s not a good one,” the Taoiseach shouted down from his very high horse.
But there was a stunned silence as the doors of the chamber swung on their hinges.
All they could do was gawk as Denis Naughten, having announced his resignation, climbed back up the blue carpeted steps and exited the Government.