Dáil sketch: Uneasy lies the head that wears the Ceann

‘I would like to state that I am being dragged into a controversy over this matter and I resent it very much’


Is there a plumber in the House? Either House?

The Ceann Comhairle is looking for one. He’s plagued by leaks.

Yesterday, after yet another burst pipe, Sean Barrett told the Dáil he’s had enough. Such is his frustration, the Ceann Comhairle combusted during the Order of Business.

“I’m not going to take it any more,” he fumed to an astonished Dáil.

Leinster House leaks like a sieve.

Thank God.

And while we’re at it, the people behind the group campaigning to retain the Seanad are in the market for an emergency carpenter.

This would a temporary post. They need to have a leg tightened on the three-legged stool that is our democratic system.

The prime movers behind Democracy Matters explained this carpentry problem at the launch of their referendum information document.

The group is hoping the electorate might do the work for them next Friday week.

Senator Feargal Quinn outlined the job requirements at a press conference.

Democracy is “like a three-legged stool and if you take any away any one leg it’s going to be a wonky stool”.

The President’s leg is grand, and the Dáil’s one is holding up wonderfully, but the Seanad’s leg will be sawn off if the referendum is carried.

Former tánaiste, former leader of the Progressive Democrats and former TD Michael McDowell agreed. As a leading senior counsel who was once attorney general, he knows a wonky constitutional stool when he sees one.

Amputate the Seanad and the country risks ending up legless. This is a huge worry to McDowell and his fellow campaigners.

Post-abolition, it would be forever Arthur’s Day in Leinster House. The Constitution could collapse, with not one noble senator standing to make a stirring speech against this.

“I found that in the Seanad, there was reflective, reasonable debate – not the bearpit antagonism such was the norm in Dáil Éireann” he said.

The top-table lineup was completed by the Taoiseach’s nominee to the Seanad, Katherine Zappone, and senior counsel Noel Whelan, who writes a column for The Irish Times.

Coincidentally, two special advisers to Fianna Fáil ministers in the last government were in the hotel foyer – they’ve been tweeting quite a bit against abolition, apparently – but they didn’t attend the meeting next door.

An interested observer at the launch was President Micheal D Higgins’s daughter Alice Mary, who is a big supporter of the Democracy Matters campaign.

RTÉ, by the way, has taken Senator Quinn’s popular Retail Therapy show off the air until the referendum is over.

There wasn’t a big media turnout for the event. This was probably because journalists were still getting over earlier events in the Dáil.

It had been a quiet enough start to the day, with Stephen Donnelly making his debut appearance for the Technical Group. He had a promising start, majoring on his specialist subject of finance. Shane Ross sat supportively by his side.

The Order of Business was uneventful until Willie O’Dea asked the Taoiseach about the thorny subject of the appointment of the next Clerk of the Dáil, a matter which has led to some friction between the Ceann Comhairle and the Government.

Sean Barrett reared up. Highly irate.

“I would like to state that I am being dragged into a controversy over this matter and I resent it very much,” he began, outlining his part, as required by the law, in the appointment process.

To this end, he explained he held a meeting of the Oireachtas Commission to discuss the issue. But it ended up a “shambles” and the upshot is that “I am now in a very awkward position.”

The Ceann Comhairle is going to leave the whole damn thing up to the Taoiseach.

“I am appearing in newspapers. People leaked stuff following a consultation process that took place within the law. The content of the leak was totally improper and incorrect, and an attempt to blacken my good name. I have to sit here and take this abuse without having any right of response.”

Barrett complained he was “piggy in the middle” and he wasn’t having it.

O’Dea, and his party leader, Micheál Martin, rushed to assure him that it was nothing personal. In parliament, nobody disrespects the Ceann.

And the Taoiseach rushed in after them to assure the chairman of the Dáil that he fully respects his “complete independence” and the constitutional responsibilities which he carries out in a proper fashion.

Enda then confirmed that Brendan Howlin is bringing a memo to Government with the aim of bringing “an open and transparent conclusion to this matter”.

You have to have sympathy for Sean Barrett, who can’t speak out like his political charges because of the constraints of his office.

But even a Ceann Comhairle has a breaking point – like McDowell and his stool, Barrett will not stand for any attempts to saw off the Chair’s legs.

*This article was amended on September 27th, 2013, to correct a factual error