At 10.39am, a panicked text was sent out with an URGENT catchline.
Ten minutes after the Dáil was due to start, just two Fine Gael members were in the chamber — Limerick’s Tom Neville, and minister of state David Stanton, who had to be there to bring forward legislation.
A last minute text was sent out in a bid to drum up a few more Fine Gael TDs to meet the quorum of 20. “URGENT: Please attend the Chamber NOW or business will collapse,” it read.
On the other side of the chamber, a gaggle of Fianna Fáil deputies joked and chatted; they were relatively well represented in comparison, with 10 members.
A full 30 minutes after business was due to commence, the Ceann Comhairle decided to wait until 11.15am before calling it a day.
“Can the names of all who attended be recorded,” Independent Dr Michael Harty earnestly asked.
“Where is the shop steward?” Dara Calleary jibed across to the lonely Fine Gael benches.
But as the minutes ticked down, the jokes turned to dismay as TDs, many from far-flung constituencies who had cancelled clinics and stayed up to attend, began to realise they may be sent home without getting to speak.
And so there were cheers when Finian McGrath arrived in followed by a flustered chief whip Regina Doherty.
It didn’t go unnoticed that the shepherd had failed to gather her flock.
When business eventually got going, Mr Calleary said: “I understand that the person in charge of business was on her local radio station talking about Fine Gael leadership, which is a matter for the Fine Gael party. When it impinges on the business in the House, it is not good enough.”
With her husband waiting in the Dáil car park after rushing her up to the chamber, it is understood Ms Doherty confided in party colleges that she feared the blunder would cost her her job.
There was a further telling off from the Ceann Comhairle, who described the morning’s 40-minute delay as “unprecedented”.
“Some members need to be aware of their responsibilities to be here in the chamber when legislation is to be debated,” he said, adding: “There is a particular responsibility on those who have the formal responsibility of ensuring attendance that they see that that attendance actually happens.”
And with that, Ms Doherty scuttled out of the chamber.
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