First day in the Dáil: Giddy atmosphere as new TDs anxious to get to work

Families and friends accompany 48 new TDs arriving at Leinster House on Thursday

A hospital trolley, vintage car and Healy-Rae singalong greet TDs outside Leinster House as the 33rd Dáil convenes for the first time. Video: Kathleen Harris

 

Emer Higgins of Fine Gael is one of 48 new TDs in the Dáil, for whom Thursday was their first day. The atmosphere was definitely celebratory and a little giddy, with the new TDs like college graduates, or maybe freshers. Many beamed with pride, all surrounded by relatives and friends on what was an auspicious day for them.

Higgins, representing Dublin Mid-West, had recently handed in her notice at PayPal where she worked for six years. She had worked in Leinster House for five years, for the then-tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

“It is so different coming back as here as a TD,” she said, her excitement tempered by nervousness at having to make the speech seconding Leo Varadkar’s nomination as Taoiseach.

Another newcomer was Claire Kerrane, Sinn Féin TD for Roscommon-Galway. She has worked on policy for Sinn Féin for the past number of the years, commuting home to Ballaghaderreen every weekend.

Leinster House was also familiar to her but, nevertheless, “it was very surreal. Even sitting there and seeing all the TDs up close.”

Like Higgins, she says she will focus on local issues as her priority initially. On a wider level, she believes the Fianna Fáil leadership is not in lockstep with its grassroots given its refusal to deal with Sinn Féin.

“We have moved on [from the Troubles] and are dealing with the here and now. There is an onus on everybody to come around a table and talk.”

Defied expectations

Holly Cairns has defied expectations twice in a short political career. Last May she took an unexpected seat on Cork County Council for the Social Democrats by one vote, and in this month’s election she won a seat for her party in Cork South-West. Her grandparents were with her.

“People asked me did I feel nervous. But it does not feel at all strange. It is a very exciting time for the Social Democrats.”

For me today was very daunting. I was aware of of all those who have gone before

Cairns’s situation is unusual in that her partner, Christopher O’Sullivan, was also elected as a first-time TD in Cork South-West, but for Fianna Fáil. “We are quite used to working together on Cork County Council. I did not vote for him to be the mayor [of Cork County],” she said.

Norma Foley of Fianna Fáil is the daughter of a former TD for Kerry. “The old building is the same and that reminds us of the longevity of the Dáil and its history,” she said.

“For me today was very daunting. I was aware of of all those who have gone before. It’s an absolute honour and I’m very glad of the opportunity that has been given me by the people of Kerry.”

Already restless

Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan said she was already restless to be getting on with the process of nominating a government.

“I understand there are the theatrics of this but there are more important things to do. We should start the talks process immediately and begin the process of locking people into agreements.”

She said the talks should be open-ended, counterintuitive, and with absolutely zero red lines.

“We have never suggested anything in housing, health or climate change will be done inexpensively. All will need a huge up-front capital investment. That is really challenging. But we have to move there. And move there quickly.”

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