Deputies get a little out of hand on day of Historic Handshake

Thu, Jun 28, 2012, 01:00

DÁIL SKETCH:For all the goodwill breaking out in Belfast, there was precious little of it in the Dáil

ON A slow news day in Leinster House, Gerry Adams drew quite a crowd to the plinth for his official reaction to the Historic Handshake.

Perhaps he was going to award marks out of 10.

Technical merit? 8.5 (excellent grasp). Artistic impression? 9.5 (genuine warmth conveyed). Overall score? Full marks. (“A real gesture beyond the rhetoric” – Adams).

This marked a great improvement on Sinn Féin’s personal best last year when the party refused to meet the queen of England in Dublin and organised a protest against her visit.

While Gerry very much welcomed the development up North, he felt it couldn’t be compared with what happened last year in the Republic.

“The visit here was different to today’s visit, not least because what happened here – and it was a good thing – was a normalisation of relationships between this State and the British monarchy. In the North it’s a different matter entirely; the island is still partitioned. What we were doing was trying to reach across partition...”

Gerry understood the subtleties, if few around him on the plinth did. Last year, as part of the “normalisation” process, Sinn Féin chose to reach across the partition of crash barriers and riot police and loudly boo.

He rejected a charge that these very different reactions to the British monarch’s presence smacked of hypocrisy.

“We have moved to a different plane,” Gerry explained.

At this point some commentators thought he was referring to his party’s ongoing difficulties with the Oireachtas expenses regime and was indicating a move to budget airlines for members travelling abroad to fundraisers.

Yet while the huge significance of the handshake between Martin McGuinness and Queen Elizabeth was not lost on people in Leinster House yesterday, it wasn’t a major talking point. The economy, Europe and the banks took precedence.

Events in the other jurisdiction merited just one mention, and that was only so Enda Kenny could deliver a vicious one-liner to a flat-footed Adams.

On the eve of the Brussels summit, he heaped scorn on the what he saw as the Taoiseach’s lack of negotiating ability, and accused him of supporting a federal Europe.

After a lengthy reply from Enda, Gerry dropped his guard and declared the Taoiseach was engaging in “extreme revisionism”. Howls of derision greeted that unintentional clanger.

“You’d know all about that!” snorted Minister Reilly. “Never in the IRA!” roared Minister Howlin.

Still on the subject of revisionism, Labour’s Alex White asked, “Are YOU shaking the queen’s hand?”

Which reminded Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan of the man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.

“Shake the hand that shook the hand..,” he carolled across the Chamber.

Gerry was not amused.

Then Enda struck.

You mentioned the phrase “extreme revisionism”, he began.“Well, this is a day of particular significance in the country and, for you, extreme revisionism is something that you could be open about now, because while we differ here on all of these political issues, there is one thing that I have in common with you...”

Gerry sat forward. “Only one?” he smirked. “Only one?”

And Enda continued: “And that is, in the context of extreme revisionism, neither you nor I were ever members of the IRA or the IRA army council.”

The chamber erupted.

Jerry Buttimer burst into applause. Pat Rabbitte, he of the polished quips, looked across at the Taoiseach, mightily impressed. Perhaps even jealous.

There was no coming back from that for Gerry. All he could manage was a wan smile.

For all the goodwill breaking out in Belfast, there was precious little of it in the Dáil.

The same Deputy Buttimer, clearly still smarting from last week’s redrawing of the constituencies, could hardly listen to his Cork South Central colleague during Leaders’ Questions.

As Micheál Martin attempted to embarrass the Taoiseach over the previous day’s shambolic press conference to launch the Personal Insolvency Bill, Buttimer repeatedly drowned him out.

“Don’t be getting shirty about it,” cried Micheál, as his constituency rival led the hecklers’ chorus.

“You’re only a con artist,” roared Jerry. “You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re a fraud!”

He made a terrible racket. Mary Mitchell O’Connor, a primary school principal, was transported back to her days before the general election. She put up her hands and covered her ears. “Stop it. Stop it, please,” she mouthed, to no avail, as the Buttimer contagion spread.

So she turned around and had a few quiet words with her colleague. He shut up sharpish.

In Belfast’s Lyric Theatre one may have felt the hand of history on one’s glove. In Leinster House Buttimer was lucky he didn’t feel the hand of Mary Mitchell O’Connor on his throat.

That’s the dividend of normalisation.