Giddiness fills the air – but not from blue Peter Mathews

Dáil Sketch: the deputy for Dublin South didn’t appear to be taking well his new status as one of the Expelled

Peter Mathews leaves Leinster House after voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill on Tuesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Peter Mathews leaves Leinster House after voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill on Tuesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Thu, Jul 4, 2013, 01:01

After the rising, Micheál Martin is left with flour on his hands and a baker’s dozen of dissidents to keep under control. Government deputies were all too happy to remind him of this fact yesterday.

“Watch out behind you!” they gleefully shouted when he thundered about the government’s “authoritative streak”. He could do with a bit of that himself.

With the spotlight very firmly on Fine Gael during Tuesday night’s contentious Dáil vote on abortion, the behaviour of the men from Fianna Fáil was somewhat overlooked. The loss of four TDs from the Taoiseach’s party was always going to be the main story.

Yet, when the dust cleared following the departure of Messrs Walsh, Timmins, Flanagan and Mathews from the Government benches, the image of those 13 dark suits rising in unison from the ranks of Fianna Fáil to oppose the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is the one that stays in the mind.

Their leader wanted his men to back the legislation. The overwhelming majority of them decided to defy him.

Including Willie (Or Won’t He) O’Dea, who, late in the day, got in touch with his feminine side and decided to change his mind. It isn’t just a woman’s prerogative, you know.

Still, having clearly demonstrated to the nation that it’s the men who wear the trousers in Fianna Fáil, the happy dissidents fell back in step with their leader and the five colleagues who supported him when normal business resumed on the morning after. If Micheál was embarrassed, he didn’t show it. But when the leader of the Opposition should have been taking full advantage of his main rival’s difficulties, he couldn’t say a word.

It’s hard to make hay over Fine Gael losing four men out of 74 when 13 troops out of your meagre complement of 19 have just mutinied.

The Taoiseach was in Berlin for the day, so nice Richard Bruton was in his place for Leaders’ Questions.


Stress relieved
He didn’t have a difficult time of it. There was giddy air in the chamber, as if deputies on all sides were just glad to have put the stress of the first abortion vote behind them.

Mattie McGrath, featuring for the Technical Group, should have been the star of the show with his entertainingly unfocused attack on the Government.

But while Mattie performed in the chamber, an interesting cameo was being played out at the rail behind the Government benches.

For it was Peter Mathews, coming to terms with his new status as one of the Expelled. The deputy for Dublin South didn’t appear to be taking it well. As business proceeded, Peter sat alone at the top of the stairs, leaning on the rail, chin resting disconsolately on his arms.

He texted a little on his phone, and left briefly on a few occasions. Colleagues came over to talk to him. Charlie Flanagan, the chairman of the parliamentary party, hunkered down behind Peter at one point and lent a sympathetic ear.

Four votes were called during the morning session. The new seating arrangements to take account of the departures from Fine Gael were not yet in place.

Brian Walsh, one of the quartet of the Expelled, took his old seat and voted with the Government each time.

Billy Timmins and Terence Flanagan didn’t come into the chamber.


Blue Peter
As for Peter, he looked dolefully down at the spot in the front row where his seat has always been. But he didn’t go near it and he didn’t cast a vote.

Without a doubt, there was much sympathy yesterday for the Expelled among their former parliamentary party colleagues. But they also pointed out that they had held the party line, in some cases under extreme pressure, and the four who didn’t had to face the consequences.

However, they will have taken some solace from party chairman Flanagan, who didn’t rule out the possibility that they might be rehabilitated in the fullness of time.

Peter’s sad face was in stark contrast to the general merriment taking place below him. This was thanks to Mattie McGrath, who had them rolling in the aisles with his contribution on youth unemployment.

McGrath read his flowery condemnation of the Coalition’s record at breakneck speed as TDs struggled to keep up.

“You’re not keeping to the full stops in your script,” chortled James Bannon.

“It’s like the oration at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa,” smirked Pat Rabbitte.

With our townie eyes, we thought Mattie’s default response to Rabbitte was to move his hands like he was driving a car. In fact, he was pretending to milk a cow – because he is of the opinion Rabbitte can’t pass a cow at a crossroads without milking it.

He lambasted the Government’s record on employment. “I know the truth is bitter, but it shouldn’t be hard to sit on,” he told a baffled Richard Bruton.

“You don’t know what makes employers tick!” More puzzled expressions, as people wondered if Mattie was talking about the intelligence levels of business owners or the working of their minds. “You can hide but you can’t run!” he bellowed, as Rabbitte nearly had a seizure.

How they all laughed. Except Peter.