Michael Clifford: No time to cry for Dáil’s shiny happy people

In the hour before the 33rd Dáil got under way, shiny happy people gathered at the gates of Leinster House and praised democracy’s strange and wondrous ways.

Michael Clifford: No time to cry for Dáil’s shiny happy people

In the hour before the 33rd Dáil got under way, shiny happy people gathered at the gates of Leinster House and praised democracy’s strange and wondrous ways.

A warm, giddy feeling permeated the air, floating around many of the 48 new members of Dáil Éireann. They had made it here to the Big House where laws are made under history’s gaze.

But what awaited them in this new untamed world of a multi-party parliament with no Government in sight?

Change, that’s what. Change is the word, it’s got groove, it’s got feeling, but God only knows what exactly is its meaning.

The shiniest, happiest of all the political parties were the Shinners. Up until 30 minutes before the noon kick-off, the party’s new boys and girls were kept penned inside Buswells Hotel, where, rumour had it, tutorials on the use of Twitter were being conducted.

Speaking of which, Réada Cronin was keeping the head down in the wake of her resurrected Twitter outrages, while her fellow Kildare TD, Patricia Ryan, was looking suitably refreshed and rested after her foreign holiday during the election campaign.

Once the Shinner newbies were suitably briefed in Buswells they spilled out onto the steps of the hotel for a shiny, happy group pic. And then they trooped across the road for the grand entrance to the citadel.

Inside the grounds there were more pics, one with their backs to the Big House, one facing it, all in which the Blessed Mary Lou was front and centre enjoying this, her greatest moment, leading her 36 TDs into a new dawn.

This was their day. The election has elevated Sinn Féin from the periphery to the front ranks. The “talks about talks” which the party’s negotiators have been engaged in for the last 10 days may be a redundant dance, but the mere fact that they are engaged in it demonstrates how close they have come to governing.

Ms McDonald spoke at the gates about “the politics of exclusion” being practised by those who heretofore laid claim to the citadel — Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. She all but waved around a piece of paper saying “mandate for change”.

But in reality, yesterday was just a major leap forward towards governing for her party. Arrival may be delayed for a few years but they are now on the fast track.

Others were also entitled to bask in the glow of achievement yesterday.

The Green TDs lapped it up, Catherine Martin and her husband Francis Noel Duffy, and Nessa Hourigan and her family lingering by the gates before advancing in.

They were not, however, standing on ceremony. When you have a planet to save and some Charlie big potatoes of politics queueing up to woo you, there is no time to waste.

While some parties change, other stay the same. Before proceedings got underway, the Healy Rae party put on a little show for the foreign press. Danny grabbed an accordion, and off they went.

Beside him, his son Jackie belted into song, next to his uncle, Danny’s brother Michael. Up the Kingdom.

The photographers got some choice shots. You can have your seismic election, your Shinner Gale, your Green Wave, your ‘Up the Ra’, and ‘down with that sort of thing’. You’ll never have another clan like the Healy Raes, for better or worse.

At noon the 33rd Dáil was in place. Across the chamber, various moods could be discerned among the various factions.

On the Government benches, a sense of deflation settled over the Fine Gaelers. Next to them, the Greens and Social Democrats sat with a sense of wonder at their place in the new order.

The Shinners just looked a tad disorientated, their benches overflowing — and the poor old Soldiers of Destiny had a frazzled air about them.

Later, after the House adjourned to count the votes for the new Ceann Comhairle, Micheál Martin led the soldiers of destiny his party out onto the plinth to face the massed ranks of the media.

Answering questions about who was talking to who, and who wanted to govern and what have you, he said at one point: “In my view, I’m not sure any party has a pathway to opposition, given the numbers.”

That is where we’re at. Some parties are looking for a pathway to opposition.

As the day wore on, the shiny, happy people began to drift towards boredom.

The pomp and ceremony that ushered in their new tenure as tribunes of the people was soon replaced by a succession of speeches during the nomination for Taoiseach.

Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin, Mary Lou McDonald, and Eamon Ryan were all nominated. If one of them had had the gumption to change their name to ‘Change’, they would have been a shoo-in.

There was precious little levity at this point, although Brendan Griffin offered a slight glimmer.

“Many people (today) have quoted writers,” he said, touching on references that were made to John B Keane, Shakespeare, and others over the afternoon.

“I want to quote Axl Rose — ‘Welcome to the Jungle’.”

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin with party colleagues talking to the media at Leinster House for the first day back as the Dail returns from the elections. Photo: RollingNews.ie.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin with party colleagues talking to the media at Leinster House for the first day back as the Dail returns from the elections. Photo: RollingNews.ie.

There was little else to gladden a heart. Two hours of partisan speeches which raked over election campaigning and touched on change at every opportunity.

It was, to all intents and purposes, a phoney war. The real business gets under way from here on in.

The smart money still says that we will have a Government by Easter consisting of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Greens and AN Other. Mr Other may well take the form of a raggle-taggle band of independents.

There will be protests that such a Government does not represent change.

And then everybody will get on with things, in this new world of politics that is already changed, changed utterly.

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