Enda Kenny had the pallor of one about to take a bungy jump under duress. He knew no more than the rest of us whether white smoke would spiral from the conclave, says Michael Clifford
If yesterday was a harbinger of things to come, the 32nd Dáil will be edge-of-the-seat drama.
Enda Kenny was elected Taoiseach after the House spent nearly two hours trading banalities in the political equivalent of driving around the block. Everybody was waiting on Mick Fitzmaurice and the way you might cut turf.
For a while it looked as if we were en route back to another election. On the Government benches, there were vacant seats for Michael Noonan and Simon Coveney.
On the opposition benches, there was no sign of Fitzmaurice, Shane Ross, or the other members of the Independent Alliance.
Word rippled through the chamber that they were all tucked away trying to hammer out Fitzmaurice’s problems over the EU’s ban on turf-cutting on raised bogs. At least we had moved on from water. Where once politics was focused on surf, now it was turf.
After Kenny was nominated by Noel ‘fourth time lucky’ Rock, and seconded by Catherine Byrne, the fare switched to speechifying in the name of keeping the Dáil alive. Speaker after speaker rose and issued forth and all deputies pretended to listen.
In reality, many of them had their heads bent into phones or iPads, looking for clues on Twitter as to where the talks were at.
This is the new politics. The Dáil, we have been told for the last 70 days, is going to come alive with the authority befitting a house of parliament. The old way of an executive disregarding the Oireachtas would no longer be tolerated.
And here we were, on the day when the show was finally to get on the road, and the whole Dáil was driving around the block while all the real action was going on elsewhere.
“I’ve never seen an incoming Taoiseach looking so unhappy,” Ruth Coppinger of the Anti Austerity Alliance declared. How right she was. Enda Kenny had the pallor of one who is about to take a bungy jump under duress. He knew no more than the rest of us as to whether or not white smoke would eventually spiral from the conclave to determine who would, or would not be, allowed to cut the turf.
The de facto leader of the incoming Government, Micheál Martin, didn’t look too hot either. He has performed a perfect high wire act over the last 10 years, and was within touching distance of installing the administration of his choice.
He had managed to fashion a programme for government that resembled one of the great giveaway budgets from the Celtic Tiger days, replete with everything apart from the big tax cuts.
Now his best-laid plans were looking as if they might be swallowed up by a bog or two.
“Today represents a major turning point for Irish democracy,” he said, his eyes darting nervously towards the door, willing the lads to arrive for the vote.
“It marks a decisive shift away from a Government with the absolute power to control our parliament.”
At that very moment the parliament was in thrall not to a Government but a collection of absent Independents.
On it went, the clock ticking towards another election. At any point, it was open to those decrying the prospective Government to call the bluff, and sit down, pre-empting a vote that Kenny would have lost.
Nobody there, not even the groups most implacably opposed to Fine Gael, chose to do so, presumably for reasons of self-preservation. For the one thing that united the whole house was the intent of avoiding another election.
Then who should walk through the door but Simon Coveney, ambling in like a Neville Chamberlain, all but waving a piece of paper and declaring peace in our time.
By his application to the exhausting and exhaustive process of seducing Independents, Coveney has undoubtedly inched ahead of Leo Varadkar in the succession stakes.
Next in was Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, a man who had been waiting a long time to make it to national politics and was now heading for junior ministerial office in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
The remainder of the protagonists entered in dribs and drabs, depriving the serried ranks of opposition TDs of the chance for an ironic cheer.
Within half an hour, Enda Kenny had made history by becoming the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to be re-elected.
Once the vote was confirmed, power began to flow from him and towards those who would be king, but Kenny was entitled to bask in the brief glow.
“If economic survival was the urgent priority of the last government, then using a strong economy to improve the lives, the quality of lives of our people, must and will be the priority of the new Government,” he said.
With that, the two-term Taoiseach was up and out the door, cheered all the way to the Kildare St gates as he sallied up to the Áras for his seal of office.
A hint of things to come was evident about three hours later, just before 5.30pm, when Shane Ross confirmed with a tweet that he had been asked by the Taoiseach to fill the portfolio of Minister for Transport.
It was the first time in the history of the State that a minister had announced his appointment ahead of the Taoiseach doing so in the Dáil. Quite obviously, Mr Ross does not regard the breach of protocol as anything to worry about. And why should he? After all, he doesn’t have a party leader to whom he must answer.
He can do as he pleases, and no better boy to rock the boat until it moves to his desired rhythm, or until he jumps overboard.
Hold onto your hats, because this Dáil is going to be one mighty ride — for however long it lasts.
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