Miriam Lord: Dáil prayer rules to make sinners of sitting TDs

Bríd Smith and Ruth Coppinger will refuse to stand for Dáil prayer – will they be ejected?

 Will Ruth Coppinger TD be ejected for refusing to stand for prayer? Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Will Ruth Coppinger TD be ejected for refusing to stand for prayer? Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Oireachtas Golf Society held its agm recently in Leinster House recently.

Outgoing captain Eamonn Coghlan, who was one of the Taoiseach’s nominees to the last Seanad, thanked members for the outstanding support afforded to him in what was “a tremendous year”.

His two main highlights in office were his Captain’s Prize Day at Luttrellstown Golf Club and the society’s involvement in staging the 22nd European Parliamentary Golf Championship at Powerscourt.

According to the minutes, Coghlan “gave a special mention to our president, EU Commissioner Phil Hogan, and the support afforded by him to the European Parliamentary event.” Captain Coghlan couldn’t speak highly enough of Big Phil, thanking him “for his generous sponsorship of the new Centenary Oireachtas President’s Cup” and congratulating him for hosting “one of the most successful President’s Prize Days the society ever had”.

The golfers then elected their officer board for 2017.

Killarney-based Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan is the new captain while former Fianna Fáil TD Donie Cassidy is president. Vice-captain is FF TD Robert Troy, and honorary secretary is Noel Grealish, the independent TD for Galway East.

Fine Gael Senator Paddy Burke, the outgoing Cathaoirleach of the Dáil, is honorary treasurer; former Fianna Fáil TD Michael Ahern is assistant treasurer and former Labour TD Jack Wall continues in his role as a proudly noncommunicative public relations officer.

One woman has made it on to the team. Former Labour senator Lorraine Higgins holds the rather grandiose title “director of golf”.

Is it a sin to sit?

The only nonpolitician to make the Oireachtas golf society’s officer corps is John Faherty, who has been elected to the post of assistant secretary.

As captain of the guard in Leinster House, Faherty enforces the sacred rules of the Dáil. These have been drawn up over the years by the TDs, who have always been extremely keen to see them upheld by everyone else, if not always by themselves.

Captain Faherty is the man who regularly dispatches mortified ushers to the press gallery to instruct journalists he spots fiddling with their phones to desist immediately from this newfangled carry-on. It is disrespectful to the House.

As, indeed, is the sartorial outrage of a smartly dressed man offending the democratic process in our modern working parliament by not wearing a necktie.

Meanwhile, below in the chamber, tieless TDs belt away merrily on laptops or have their beads buried in their smartphones, seemingly oblivious to what’s going on around them. Some of the short-sighted ones hold their devices in front of their noses and jab at the screen with their fingers. Now and then, a few deputies might huddle in to look at something amusing on a colleague’s phone and have a little giggle.

The deputies don’t always bother to follow their own edicts.

Now some seem set on a collision course with those rules, following the Dáil’s latest decree. That old chestnut of whether or not to commence the daily hostilities with a nice prayer got another outing this week. After four votes, including amendments ranging from abolishing it outright to substituting periods of silent reflection, the original recommendation of the business committee was carried overwhelmingly with the combined might of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour behind it. Sinn Féin abstained.

The traditional prayer (English and Irish forms) is to be retained and bolstered by a 30-second period of silent reflection.

Until now, the prayer hasn’t bothered people much. Everyone rises anyway when the Ceann Comhairle enters the chamber and they remain standing while he reads it. Some bow their heads in quiet reverence; some are totally indifferent and others think it’s a bit unnecessary in this day and age but it’s always been there and doing no harm.

However, the committee’s unusual decision to make standing for the prayer compulsory – whether this accords with individual beliefs or otherwise – has raised hackles. In the workplace, in the year 2017, is it really the business of legislators to force citizens and guests to their feet in observance of a Christian prayer?

At least two deputies – Bríd Smith and Ruth Coppinger – have indicated they will not be standing on Tuesday. Will they be ejected for not bending the knee by sitting down and refusing to stand?

And will those TDs who supported the proposal find the eviction funny, given that Smith and Coppinger are card-carrying lefties?

What about people in the press gallery or public gallery? Will nonconformists get a warning before they are booted out? Might they have to indicate pious intention to gain admittance?

Never mind, Bríd and Ruth, surely the men have a right to choose? Can anyone find out if it’s a sin to sit?

In the grand scheme of things and when the Dáil has so much on its plate, this is really a very trivial matter. Particularly when burning issues such as handing ownership of a State-funded national maternity hospital to a religious congregation of Catholic sisters have to be considered.

And when the difficult question of abortion and how best to avert political eyes from the daily procession of distressed fellow citizens as they are constitutionally shoved-off by their own State to Manchester, the abortion capital of Ireland, and beyond. Those thousands upon thousands of ordinary Irish women, whose valuable votes these public representatives covet but whose plight they ignore.

And they must keep track of all the inquiries they’ve set up, like the latest one into the Tuam babies scandal.

And work on their ground-breaking and brave speeches about how the time has now come for the separation of church and State.

Viewed against such matters, compelling people to stand for an aul’ prayer in the national parliament is just a storm in a tea-chalice.

Still, we worry for the courageous captain of the guard, whose duty it is to implement the rules of the House and who goes about his work in exemplary fashion. We hope he will not have to instruct his hard-working team of ushers to remove the nonsecularists for refusing to stand in church, sorry, in the Dáil chamber, come Tuesday.

Although, rules is rules.

Labouring the point

The Dáil was back this week after the Easter recess. A lot happened when the House wasn’t in session.

Labour held a party conference. Brendan Howlin skipped around the stage during his keynote address, rocking his trendy microphone headset like a Niall Horan tribute act.

He was very well turned-out. As were his colleagues.

Before heading to Wexford, key members were sent wardrobe tips by party headquarters. “We are not seeking to strictly impose a dress code for conference, but rather to provide you with guidance that will assist us in communicating our overall messages and making you look your very best.”

On Friday evening, there was a gathering “to unveil our new talent to the media”.

Women were asked “to consider wearing strong shades of reds, pinks and purples”, which would provide a strong colour palette for TV and photographers. But from then they should not opt for outfits in those colours.

“For this media opportunity, we would ask men to dress casually. Open-neck shirts and casual jackets or jumpers preferred to formal attire.”

The aim was to maintain “a generally relaxed dress code” in and around the conference hall.

“We would bring to your attention that the backdrop at conference will comprise strong shades of reds, pinks and purples. We therefore strongly recommend against people wearing block colours in these shades, as doing so may result in outfits disappearing against the backdrop.”

Bad enough that party’s ratings have gone though the floor without its big names vanishing into the scenery, too.

Women were advised to wear white, yellow, green, blue or black when speaking from the stage. The men were asked to dress casually again. “We would like to avoid in particular the cult-like feeling that can be created when all men wear red ties!”

On Saturday night, the handlers stressed their preference for a relaxed look while strongly warning the ladies off shades of red or dark pink.

“For men, we repeat our request that people avoid wearing dark suits with red ties, which can have the effect of making all Labour men look like they have dressed in uniform.”

Going, going, not gone

Enda’s two big trips across the Atlantic have been dogged by bad weather.

It’s been lashing rain for most of his time in Canada, with Toronto hit by major floods. But the Taoiseach battled through, in the same way he had to battle through the snow storms in Boston on the St Patrick’s Day leg of his “I’m Not Gone Yet” tour.

At a Tourism Ireland lunch yesterday in the swanky Canoe restaurant on the 54th floor of Toronto’s TD Bank Tower, where people come to admire the fabulous view, there was nothing to see only rain and mist thanks to the storm howling outside.

The Taoiseach played along with all the jokes about him feeling at home in the west of Ireland weather. If it hadn’t been for those pesky journalists from back home trying to show him up in front of super-cool Justin Trudeau by asking questions they were perfectly entitled to ask about when exactly he plans to leave the stage, it would have been a lovely winding-down trip for the soon to exit Enda.