All calm in our Special Area of Conservation
All around the chamber, the protected members of the Upper House can puff and preen and pontificate – by special order of the people
The Crested Norris, whose cry will cotinue to ring out around the chandeliers. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
And on the third day, the Senators arose and showed themselves to many.
Bursting with dignity.
The Senators called for calm.
After the resurrection on Saturday they returned, glowing, to the Upper House, which has been newly
designated a Special Area of Conservation. Fidelma Healy Eames is now a protected species. They all are.
Professor Crown is free to roam and tweet unhindered. The cry of the Crested Norris will continue to ring out around the chandeliers. All around the chamber, they can puff and preen and pontificate – by special order of the people.
But with Added Relevance.
That sort of imprimatur could turn a Senator’s head.
But not ours.
As expected, they did not engage in any overt displays of self-congratulation yesterday. But the unmistakable strains of the vindication waltz played quietly in the background.
Needless to say, Fianna Fáil’s Terry Leyden couldn’t resist a little tilt at the press gallery as he made his way to his seat. He was humming a tune. “Will I sing it?” he asked. “Happy days are here again, Oh the sky above is clear again . . . ”
And off he trotted.
His colleagues won’t have been pleased. They had clearly agreed beforehand to be mature and dignified and not indulge in any crowing. Inside, though, they were dancing.
Maurice Cummins, the Fine Gael leader of the House, acknowledged in his opening remarks that the members were, of course, “satisfied” with the outcome of the referendum to abolish them. But he hoped there wouldn’t be “too much recrimination or retaliation” during the proceedings. They would be “professional, productive and collegiate”.
He need not have worried, as Senators took it in turns to remind each other of the need to remain “calm”. Coupled with the reference to retaliation and recrimination, it might have been wise to search the Senators for concealed weapons before allowing them back in.
The members trooped in solemnly, the Fianna Fáil contingent looking particularly sombre. They were just short of pressing crooked fingers against sealed lips as they filed into the chamber.
From the outset – safely ensconced in their Special Area of Conservation – the Senators set to work on spreading the blame.
Darragh O’Brien, the Fianna Fáil leader, set the tone. “What the public want is political reform in all the structures,” he said. This applied to the Dáil as well as the Seanad, along with the office of the President and local government.
But he couldn’t let the occasion go without reminding everyone how he had accused the Taoiseach of
“an act of constitutional vandalism” with his Seanad referendum and was pleased to say that the voters had found him guilty.
But now, they had to move on with their work as parliamentarians. “The campaign is over. People listened to our arguments.”
“Hear Hear!” they cried in cross-party unison.
Needless to say, it was only a matter of time before the sore subject of media coverage was broached.
John Crown was first out of the traps, after making his calm and reflective contribution. “I am delighted to see some people in the press gallery today, because another mandate has been given. The real problem of absenteeism in this House is absenteeism of the press.”
The serious journalists were following proceedings on the monitors in their offices – with another ear to the business happening in the Dáil.
Never mind: the Senators were delighted to see a big crowd of three journalists in the gallery to cover their resurrection. Some even name-checked the media heroes who had come to see them. Unfortunately, we were all colour writers. The real hot shots were more interested in what was happening in the Dáil. They prefer to follow the real power.
Katherine Zappone, one of the leaders of the No campaign expressed her delight at the outcome and thanked all those who had voted, whatever way. “To vote is a patriotic act at the core of an expression of Irish freedom,” she declared.
Even David Norris remained calm. It would have been “a tragedy” had the referendum been passed, he cried, before pointing to Enda’s “immediate volte face” on the question of reform once the votes had been counted.
Fianna Fáil’s Paschal Mooney joined in the chorus of approval for his fellow Senators’ great show of restraint. A “period of calm and reflection” was needed now. And anyway, why just pick on the Seanad? “The emphasis should not be on this House alone . . . the Dáil is crying out, crying out, for some sort of effective reform.”
They maintained their dignity, despite the terrible slight perpetrated on them by the Lower House. “I, too, call for a period of calm and reflection,” said John’s colleague, Martin Conway.
They talked for an hour and a half.
Over in the Dáil, the Taoiseach was in great form. He told the Fianna Fáil leader that he only got a “wallop” from the electorate, “not a hell of a wallop. Get your words right”.
Enda said he was “up for” engaging with the party leaders about reforming the Seanad, as soon as possible. But he is a busy man.
Micheál Martin said “wallop” as many times as he could.
Enda said Michéal had never done anything to reform the Upper House.
“You’re going back to 2000, it’s 2014 now!” snorted Micheál, slightly ahead of himself.
Back in the Upper House, things were unravelling slightly.
“People should stop kicking us around,” said Labour’s Jimmy Harte. James Heffernan, Labour turned Independent, berated “two of the Taoiseach’s privileged 11” for arguing in favour of abolition.
“You know where the door is,” said Heffernan, who was elected with a whopping 97 votes.
Then he attacked Sinn Féin for siding with the Yes campaign as Fianna Fáil whooped about the Shinners throwing in their lot with Fine Gael.
They finished with a round of applause for their House leader, Maurice Cummins.
All calm, in our new Special Area of Conservation called the Seanad.
With added relevance.