Everyone noticed how it was David Andrews who got to do the honours


SOME Fianna Fail TDs kept a book, betting on who in the parliamentary party would rise first to speak after the delivery of the two hour resume on the new programme for government.

The "Action Programme for the New Millennium" was not delivered on paper to the packed gathering of Fianna Fail TDs, outgoing Senators and one MEP - Niall Andrews - yesterday. A verbal account was given over 60 minutes by its negotiators, Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey.

There was no ground for combat with the PDs, no quarrels, spats or brawls. Partnership underpinned all. It was at this point that the betting opened at the back of the room and the Seanad canvassing began.

All 77 TDs were present, save two. Mary Cough Ian could not attend, since she had a baby boy just two weeks ago and Albert Reynolds was abroad.

The ebullient assembly included the 22 new TDs and the troupe bowed from the waist, operabouffe", in a highly entertaining welcoming rite.

Then David Andrews, the former (future?) minister for foreign affairs, proposed Bertie Ahern as leader and Taoiseach. Everyone noticed that it was Mr Andrews who did the honours - Mary O'Rourke seconded - a sure signal of his senior station in the new cabinet. It was he who proposed Bertie for leader in 1994.

Mary O'Rourke spoke of Bertie as "the people's choice" and Mr Andrews wryly told his colleagues that he was au fait with the realities of politics. A lot of the younger ones would like to see the back of "us older ones", he grinned. Chance would be a fine thing.

The people's choice rose to speak; the party had changed its modus operandi, he said; they would work to develop Fianna Fail in government as they had done in opposition. He talked about the way it had won 77 seats, maximising the proportional representation electoral system to full effect, something Sean Lemass had done in years gone by.

Bertie invited them all to a hooley in his constituency on Monday night. The venue is Rumours Nightclub and the guests are all the candidates - victorious and vanquished - and the party staff who slogged through the election campaign.

Meanwhile, the coalition government he intends to lead from Thursday next will last to 2002 or 2003, he predicted. (He has already spoken to Independents about their potential support.) He exhorted the gathering, as nationally elected politicians, to concentrate on national politics. Accordingly, local politicians should concentrate on local politics.

After the account of the action programme, a number of TDs asked questions of clarification - including Dick Roche and Sean Haughey. Nobody is quite sure how the bookie at the back fared.