Nobody loses the ceann like the comhairle


Dáil Sketch: Electric blankets are so last year. Heated exchanges are all the rage this Christmas.

There is the entry level heated exchange: the Bernard Durkan – an endless supply of hot air but not much use and noisy to run.

A de luxe version: The Bonkers Bannon – spectacular when it spontaneously combusts but proving very slow to ignite since Fine Gael got into government.

And then there’s your top of the range, Rolls Royce of a heated exchange – the Ceann Comhairle. He comes complete with special robes and a bell. So easy to operate, too. Just push the buttons and away he goes. He comes with five handy settings: Jerry Buttimer, Mattie McGrath, Micheál Martin, Richard Boyd Barrett and Sinn Féin.

Wind him up and watch him go! Aficionados of the heated exchange agree that the Ceann Comhairle is getting hotter by the day. In the interests of health and safety, he’s going to be switched off next week in time for Christmas before he has a meltdown.

Yesterday morning in the Dáil was one long series of heated exchanges.

Most of Leaders’ Questions was taken up with the standard Bernard Durkan type. The usual hot air and noise.

A few minor tiffs between the Taoiseach and Micheál Martin on the property tax. That sort of thing.

And Gerry Adams playing the martyr to Enda’s total indifference. The Sinn Féin leader wanted to talk about the cut in the respite care grant. He had tried to raise the subject on Tuesday, but the Taoiseach wouldn’t let him, preferring to muddy the water by reminding Adams of the bad old days.

“So forget about me. Forget about me for a second,” wheedled Gerry. “Forget about Sinn Féin. Forget about all these other issues.” These other issues being the grisly past Gerry Adams would have had, had he been a member of the Provisional IRA.

“I am in the North every week and there is turbulence there at this time” the deputy for Dundalk (when he isn’t on his weekly trips to Dublin and the Wee Six) informed the Taoiseach.

Enda looked blankly at him, before declaring, quite categorically, that there will be no reversal of the reduction in the respite care grant.

He seemed more relaxed than he had been on Tuesday, when his rather crass references to the murder of Jean McConville in response to questions on the budget from Adams struck a discordant note in the chamber.

The Taoiseach said “careful consideration” had gone into selecting the measures contained in the budget and it was regrettable, but certain adjustments had to be made.

Adams was quick to note he didn’t appear “to have given careful consideration – although perhaps you did – to cutting your own salary or the salaries of Ministers and their advisers”. Nor did it seem like that same careful consideration had been afforded to cutting bankers’ huge salaries and pensions.

The session drifted to a close with Richard Boyd Barrett concerned about Ireland’s oil and gas reserves and the chance for us to make money from our national resources instead of the profits going to multinationals. “Will you adopt the Norwegian model?” RBB asked the Taoiseach.

We’re sure the Minister for the Environment would have been very keen on that suggestion, but Big Phil Hogan wasn’t in to hear it.

Back to the heated exchanges in the chamber, which were tepid, at best. All seemed well, until Sinn Féin’s Pádraig MacLochlainn pressed the Ceann Comhairle’s buttons and all hell broke loose.

MacLochlainn got all hot and bothered, feeling chairman Seán Barrett had been most unfair to Adams when he protested over the Taoiseach referring to a past he says he never had. This led to a classic eruption in The Bonkers Bannon mould, causing MacLochlainn to spontaneously, and loudly, combust. The Ceann Comhairle revved up and got stuck in, ordering the deputy from the chamber. “Resume your seat . . . Leave the House . . . Out, Out, out . . . Leave the House . . . GET OUT!”

“I’m not leaving” harrumphed MacLochlainn.

Barrett suspended the sitting, gathered up his ceremonial skirts and swept out.

Sinn Féin deputies rushed into the chamber to be with their comrade. They hunkered down in council on the steps. Aonghus O’Snodaigh conferred with the chief whip. MacLochlainn held discussions with the Superintendent and the Captain of the Guard. And Gerry Adams crossed the floor to talk to Enda.

The Taoiseach stayed in his seat as Gerry whispered to him. Enda never changed his unsmiling expression.

The Ceann Comhairle came back, but MacLochlainn refused to leave. Cue another suspension and another huddle.

Finally, after a monumental waste of time and no joy for their martyred comrade Adams, the fallen Shinner left and normal business resumed.