Rock star welcome for Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon

Senators lost the run of themselves yesterday with the visit of Scotland’s first minister to the Upper House, writes Juno McEnroe
Rock star welcome for Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon

There were heaps of praise for the Scottish National Party leader. The giddy senators gave Ms Sturgeon sustained rounds of applause — a rare sight in the sleepy chamber.

It was the first ever visit to the Seanad by a sitting foreign government leader, we were told.

Ms Sturgeon quietly listened to the humbled senators talk about bonds between the two nations; challenges over Brexit; and their admiration for Scotland.

She spoke about the “special and unbreakable” bonds between the Irish and Scottish: both share more than 1,000 years of history and there are cultural and historic links between the two. Senators faced the Cathaoirleach’s bell more than once for speaking over time. And the praise and pledges of support for Scotland went on and on.

In the wings of the press gallery, Scottish reporters privately said it was “amazing”, watching these Irish politicians falling over themselves and pledging to do what they could for a sister-Celt nation.

But realistically, what can the senators do? It will be up to Taoiseach Enda Kenny what he does when he enters the room with the other 27 EU heads of state when negotiations on Brexit finally begin, though he has already faced criticism before for seeking to represent Scotland’s position.

But there was little that could stop the Braveheart-esque feeling in the Upper House yesterday.

Cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan noted there was just 20 miles of water between the two countries. “We are Celts,” declared Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly.

Female senators were proud Ms Sturgeon was there, with Fianna Fáil’s Catherine Ardagh saying she is a role model for elected women.

Half of Ms Sturgeon’s cabinet is made up of women — a point likely not lost on Government chief whip Regina Doherty who sat in the gallery looking on.

“Scotland’s day [of independence] will come,” added Senator Ardagh.

The SNP’s drive for independence is not the bloody one witnessed here. This was a key point cited by senators, including Labour’s Aodhan O’Riordain. He was inspired, he said, by her. It is “deeply moving”, he added, as is her nationalism. This contrasted to the worrying support for Brexit in Britain.

“Those who pretend to care about services but really have a xenophobic heart,” said Mr O’Riordain.

Fianna Fáil’s Mark Daly said the SNP’s nationalism is “not corrosive”, like that of Vladimir Putin’s.

What can we do, asked senator after senator, to help Scotland stay in the EU? Unfortunately, this is just the problem. We don’t know yet, they don’t and either do the citizens in the North who, like Scotland, voted to remain in the EU.

It all felt a little too much, but Ms Sturgeon said she was “touched by the warm” expressions: “I will draw great strength in the years ahead,” stressed the first minister.

But she needed that strength immediately afterwards in the room next to the chamber as senators bombarded her with requests for photos. That wasn’t enough; several jumped in and took selfies. It was like a pop concert. Then the ushers reminded everyone where we were: The Oireachtas. We can expect a return invitation for Ms Sturgeon to the Upper House again. Let’s hope the seats are full next time though.

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