Miriam Lord: Taoiseach is still standing as TDs sit it out

Gold-braid and button brigade conspicuously absent from a scene of potential aggro

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl ignored the protest against the retention of the prayer which is said in both Irish and English by a group of six TDs

 

The Taoiseach – still standing while others sit it out.

No, this is not the current state of play in the Fine Gael leadership stakes, but the latest carry on in the Dáil.

Yesterday in the chamber the man who doesn’t have a prayer, stood.

And the men and women who don’t want a prayer, sat.

Meanwhile, the leadership contenders are sitting it out until at least tonight, when Enda may or may not outline his departure plan to his parliamentary party. He is definitely going, it’s just a matter of the timing now.

The Dáil week began with a bout of what passes for high excitement on Kildare Street, where nothing much happens these days apart from regular demands for the resignation of the Garda Commissioner and speculation over the likelihood of an actual Bill being passed into law.

In truth, it wasn’t much more than a mild frisson, but it was something.

Would those deputies, who vowed not to stand for the traditional prayer because of a new rule obliging them to do so, defy the House? Would they be forcibly removed?

The authorities burst our bubble from the very start when the gold-braid and button brigade were conspicuously absent from the scene of this potential breach of rules at the beginning of proceedings.

Hopeful hacks massed on the press gallery in the hope of some action.

The Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, breezed into the chamber and read the prayer. Government and Fianna Fáil TDs stood for him and stayed standing for it.

There was some conspicuous clasping of palms, with the rows of FF men looking like a soccer defence facing a free kick just outside the box.

A mere half dozen Fine Gael backbenchers turned up, but that had nothing to do with the issue of the prayer and everything to do with not having to impress an outgoing boss.

Labour didn’t turn up. Leader Brendan Howlin bustled in midway through the first set of questions from Micheál Martin (hospital waiting lists).

Sinn Féin, always mindful to put on a display of strength when Gerry Adams is due to speak, managed to muster just four deputies for the prayer.

Some of them could be found outside, cooling their heels with a number of Independent deputies, waiting for the ritual to finish before entering.

Loud tut-tuts

True to their words, Ruth Coppinger and Bríd Smith didn’t stand. They were joined by their colleagues from People Before Profit and Solidarity, along with Joan Collins of Independents4Change.

There were a few loud tut-tuts from some on the Government benches. Enda Kenny allowed himself a smidgen of a smirk. Dara Murphy, Minister of State for Europe, blessed himself after the prayer.

The Ceann Comhairle ignored the seated refusniks. Captain of the Guard John Flaherty was absent.

And so the prayer sashayed into the thirty seconds of reflection. Two Solidarity deputies, unmoved by the prayer, were however moved to hold up posters which read “For Freedom of Religion Separate Church and State”.

Earlier, at a news conference on the plinth looking for attention for their decision to sit down against standing up, Coppinger said making it mandatory for TDs to stand in the Dáil while a prayer is read was “like something out of Father Ted”.

Good old Ted got another run out later during Questions on Promised Legislation when Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams found the combination of Stephen Fry, Uncle Gaybo, blasphemy and the parish priest of Craggy Island too tempting to resist.

It followed news that a member of the public made a complaint to the gardaí following remarks made by the British actor on Gay Byrne’s programme The Meaning of Life.

Well-known phrase

Borrowing a well-known phrase from Father Ted, Adams said: “Will you give citizens the opportunity to say clearly, ‘down with that sort of thing’, and allow Stephen Fry or anyone else to express an opinion without threat of criminal proceedings?”

He called for a referendum on the issue. “Blasphemy should have no place in the Constitution.”

The Taoiseach told him there hasn’t been a conviction for blasphemy in this country since 1855.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday all eyes will be on the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

Will the Taoiseach call it a day? Or will he indicate when he will call it day?

In an astonishing related development, peoples’ suspicions that many TDs are speaking Swahili half the time are actually well founded. It isn’t just that they don’t understand what they are saying.

Proof comes to us courtesy of Fine Gael.

“Enda, Enda,” they cry at parliamentary part meetings when addressing the boss.

“Enda, Enda,” they shout when he approaches.

“Enda, Enda,” they howl at their TVs when the Taoiseach appears.

Indeed, other politicians speak it too.

“Enda, Enda,” they smile when meeting him.

“Enda, Enda,” they sigh, when he gives another confusing reply in the Dáil.

Now, thanks to our Swahili-English dictionary, we have discovered that “enda” means “go”.

It also means “move”, “leave”, and “go away”.

Fancy that.