Dáil soap opera farce more toytown than tense

As the Sinn Féin sit-in wore on the atmosphere in the Dáil chamber became slightly surreal — though it was always more toytown than tense.

In what had more than the whiff of stunt politics about it, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald complained — as usual — that Tánaiste Joan Burton had not properly answered her questions on the penalties for water charge non-payment, and the Ceann Comhairle — as usual — over-reacted and ordered her out.

Ms McDonald was in no mood to budge, and the chamber was clearly not big enough for both of them, so the Ceann Comhairle walked out, leaving the disgruntled deputy in position — precisely the opposite of what he had intended.

With the session suspended, Tánaiste Joan Burton whipped out her mobile phone and seemed to be having a nice old chat as she rested in the Taoiseach’s chair as if waiting for a bus — in fact she was waiting for Mary Lou to move.

It was to be some wait.

Once Joan got off the phone and did what Mary Lou refused to do and walked out, it was Leo Varadkar’s turn to sit on the Enda seat of power.

“I’m in charge,” he beamed, “I’ve waited so long for this day to come.”

Across the chamber, the Sinn Féiners were not looking so happy as they dug-in for the stand-off. At this point Gerry Adams left the chamber. Had he sacrificed himself for Mary Lou? Would this do?

But Mr Adams was soon back beside her — evidently, he hadn’t gone away, you know.

As it was well into lunch time by this stage, the Government chief whip Paul Kehoe shouted up to the press gallery that he would organise some emergency sandwiches, but after all those Fine Gael promises of a “democratic revolution” could they really be trusted to deliver?

As news of the protest spread, one online gaming firm was giving odds on when Ms McDonald would last until under the very tasteful hashtag: BladderWatch.

With no TD physically removed from the chamber since the 1970s, it looked as if the Ceann Comhairle was going to leave her there and maybe sneak back in later and switch off the lights.

Attempts by the captain of the guard to negotiate a peaceful end to the situation came to nothing as other parties branded it a blatant attempt at distraction politics intended to divert attention from the sex-abuse cover-up allegations swirling around Sinn Féin.

Four hours in and it was hard to tell if Ms McDonald was the hostage of Leinster House, or holding everyone else hostage; whatever the truth, we were all stuck there in limbo and the Finance Bill was abandoned.

In the end, the Ceann Comhairle returned to the chamber to formally dissolve the session — but Ms McDonald has a ban for three sitting days, so the whole soap opera farce begins again on Tuesday.

The group of school children in the gallery who had come to watch parliamentary democracy in action did not look impressed with the ego-fest they had to endure instead.


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