Miriam Lord: Intimacy in mind as parties eye up partners

As election draws near, the atmosphere is going to get more tense

‘While Gerry Adams and Mary Lou like playing hard to get, they aren’t categorically ruling out future advances.’ Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

‘While Gerry Adams and Mary Lou like playing hard to get, they aren’t categorically ruling out future advances.’ Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

It’s becoming like a dysfunctional dating agency in the Dáil. People in Fine Gael making cow eyes at Fianna Fáil and elements in Fianna Fáil batting their lashes at Sinn Féin while the Independent TDs are playing kiss and chase like giddy teenagers.

Tiffs and huffs are breaking out among the Coalition partners as Fine Gael’s finest cast come-hither looks across the floor.

Labour’s Kathleen Lynch took a dim view yesterday when Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney revealed he wouldn’t be adverse to a roll in the Government hay with Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil .

Kathleen sounded very hurt. And after all Labour has done for its accident-prone senior partner since they decided to tie the political knot. Coveney was following on from comments made by Leo Varadkar, his arch-rival for the party leadership, who had already declared he wouldn’t necessarily throw Fianna Fáil out of the bed for eating biscuits.

It’s no wonder Micheál Martin seems in good humour these days. In 2011, his party was at death’s door and despised by voters. Now, sworn political enemies are interested in chatting him up. But the Taoiseach wants nothing to do with Micheál Martin. That feeling appears to be mutual.

Meanwhile, some in Fianna Fáil are cosying up to Sinn Féin. But while Gerry Adams and Mary Lou like playing hard to get, they aren’t categorically ruling out future advances. As the election draws near, the atmosphere is going to get more fraught and the various groups dance nervously around each other.

Envy

Yesterday in Leinster House, we sensed the teensiest bit of envy in some quarters over the acres of nice fluffy publicity afforded to Leo Varadkar when he told the nation on Sunday that he is a gay man. Not that it wasn’t a significant event in the context of Irish social and political history. And not that anyone had a bad word to say about Leo’s decision.

It’s just the fact that he got so much good coverage in the media. They hate that. The Varadkar thing could help boost Fine Gael in the polls, said some. The bookies, having initially lengthened the odds on Varadkar becoming the next leader, have installed him as clear favourite to take over from Enda.

With such goodwill radiating towards their Government colleagues, Labour’s Burton Bounce is beginning to look very flat.

“Joan is thinking of coming out before the next election,” chuckled one old hand yesterday. “But the weather’s a bit cold for her at the moment.” They just can’t stop thinking in terms of the election. It’s the same across in the Seanad.

Some members will be looking for the bump up to the Dáil, others will be merely hoping to retain their seats in the Upper House. To this end, they returned to a radically changed landscape yesterday. We say “returned” because they only started up again after the Christmas break in the afternoon.

In an effort to drum up a bit more interest in their proceedings, the Senators have rejigged their daily schedule.

They have come up with such a far-reaching change that, well, it passed most of us by. What they have done is done away with “Adjournment Matters,” which used to be taken at the end of their daily sitting. Adjournment Matters were the Seanad’s equivalent of the Dáil’s “Topical Issues” – burning issues of local or national interest which can be raised on the day by TDs. Or “Tropicals”, as they have become known.

Rejigging

So. Back in the Seanad, Adjournment Matters have now been replaced by Commencement Matters, which will now be taken as the start of the day, after the prayer. Thus will the Senators get a higher profile in the media, because nobody used to listen to them when they debated these important issues late in the day.

That’s the theory anyway. Good luck with that.

This rejigging of the timetable had a knock-on effect for the Senators, and not a favourable one. The new Commencement Matters pushed back their daily Order of Business session. This is where Senators can stand up and raise any issue they please. Serious or daft. Ned O’Sullivan’s seagulls, for example. Or something important from the previous night’s telly.

However, the Upper House has now pitched its Order of Business against Leader’s Questions across the way. Which means fewer people will now be keeping an ear on their big-ticket event of the day. Never mind. They know best.

Back in the Lower House, it was a quiet day. Gerry Adams took the opportunity to have a go at the Government for showing such deference to the IMF when it visited on Monday. He told the Taoiseach he didn’t think much “of yourself and your Ministers lining up to be patted on the head.”

A few seats down, Michael Noonan looked a bit morose – probably missing Christine Lagarde already.

Honoured guests

In fairness, Enda and Michael seemed no more bockety than usual, despite having genuflected so many times before their honoured guests on Monday. They must have good joints. Adams asked the Taoiseach if he would support an European debt conference, as proposed by Syriza, the left wing party tipped to win the weekend’s election in Greece.

“No!” he said, explaining that Ireland is not Greece. “Ireland is very different than Greece . . . Ireland is in a different place.”

“That is a matter of geography,” sighed Gerry.