Miriam Lord: Brexit’s high drama sees Ross feeling absent-minded
The Minister for Stepaside and Hockey is nowhere to be seen as Dáil returns
Protesters outside Leinster House in Dublin as the Dáil resumes after the Christmas break. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
For strong leadership in times of great national crisis, when the people cry out for courage, inspiration and a doughty bulldog spirit, one name comes to mind.
He wasn’t in the Dáil for the first sitting of the new session, which was a worry.
Brexit had reached a critical point. People could talk of little else. Think of little else. They feared their heads might explode.
Kildare Street was on lockdown. Metal barriers at both ends creating a no man’s land of road and pavement, alongside a set of barricades at either side of Leinster House and the road opposite. Protesters were reportedly on the way. Things could get nasty.
“I think they’re the Irish Jilly Juns,” said a helpful garda. “They don’t believe Leo Varadkar should be Taoiseach.”
Faced with the threat of French-style civil unrest from yellow-jacketed demonstrators, the police were taking no chances. But the onslaught never materialised, even if a mass turnout of yellow jackets did. However, almost all the “Jilly Juns” belonged to members of An Garda Síochána, as opposed to conspiracy-fixated agitators keen to overthrow them.
And into this turmoil, this vortex of conflict and worry, barrelled the TDs, back from their Christmas break. At least they had the strength to return. The Senators, who are very emotional and sensitive creatures, were able to follow the twists and turns of Tuesday’s Brexit melodrama from the muzzy warmth of their safe spaces, or second jobs.
A sign on one of the monitors in the Dáil chamber explained their absence: “Seanad Éireann resumes on Tuesday 22nd January at 2.30pm.”
Could things get any worse?
Hordes threatening to storm the gates. No Senators. A gathering Brexit shambles posing grave danger to innocent Ireland. The Taoiseach and the leader of the Opposition discussing whether the country should stockpile vital medicines. Outlining how to strengthen transport links. Talking about the introduction of emergency legislation. Briefing party leaders with the details later in the day.
Anything that needs to be done in the event of a difficult Brexit will be done, assured Leo Varadkar. If financial measures are needed, so be it. He said the Minister for Finance has “special powers” in this regard.
SuperPaschal. He’ll be delighted.
Such excitement. Such tension. Such drama. And at this historic, daunting, dangerous juncture, no Winston Churchtown, aka Shane Ross, in the Dáil chamber. A mere child is in charge.
Leo Varadkar is 40 on Friday.
But in his first set of answers to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin since the December break-up, the Taoiseach calmed frayed nerves with this heartening statement on emergency plans in the event of a messy Brexit.
“We agreed we would put all the necessary legislation relating to Brexit into one large, omnibus Brexit Bill, with 17 different parts to it, that is, effectively 17 pieces of legislation in one, covering a number of different areas.”
Suddenly, we had the explanation for the absence of the Minister for Transport, Tourism, Hockey, Stepaside, Judicial Appointments and Knocking on Constituents’ Doors on Christmas Eve.
He had work to do, for he is the Minister for Omnibuses. And Leo is putting every bit of legislation to do with Brexit into “one, large omnibus”.
Cometh the hour, cometh Winston Churchtown.
We’ll be grand.
Ooh, who are we trying to fool?
The first day back was awful. Outside, nothing happened. It was just as dull inside.
But we can’t blame the TDs this time. When the only game in town is not in your town, it is difficult to concentrate on local contests.
Kildare Street was irrelevant on Tuesday. Westminster and Theresa May’s doomed “Meaningful Vote” was where it was at.
Everyone knew her withdrawal agreement with the EU was doomed, but the hype and hysteria surrounding it was irresistible. The unfolding political pantomime across the pond induced a thrilling pit-of-the-stomach dread in transfixed Irish bystanders, who thought nothing could move them after two years of watching their neighbours losing the plot.
A humdrum Dáil session couldn’t compete with the crackling political excitement of Westminster. No kind of homegrown meaningful could match the shenanigans of May’s Meaningful Vote.
Serious issues were raised during Leaders’ Questions, but there was little engagement in the chamber. Instead, there was a sense of marking time until some semblance of something emerged from London.
There was a row over Dáil speaking time and arguments over when the Dáil should hold its latest Brexit debate. Not soon enough, reckoned Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin.
Catherine Murphy had pertinent questions to ask about the spiralling cost of the new children’s hospital. Never mind the “cost”, argued the Taoiseach, think of the “value”.
Murphy said that, while she sincerely hoped she was wrong, something being the most expensive did not automatically make it the best. How come other countries in Europe can build similar hospitals without huge budget overruns?
As Leaders’ Questions slid slowly into Questions on Promised Legislation, TDs slid out of the chamber, or slid ever more deeply into their mobile phones. At one point, we counted 18 of the 26 Fianna Fáil TDs present flicking away on their handsets.
The Rural Alliance, along with a couple of rural-based Fianna Fáilers, decided to go to town on the Taoiseach for remarks he made on Monday about trying to eat less red meat.
How dare he tell people to eat less meat, with the beef farmers of the country on their uppers and worrying about live exports post-Brexit. “Very, very hurtful,” sighed Michael Healy-Rae.
Varadkar protested that he didn’t tell anyone to steer clear of any steers. He was only speaking for himself and his resolution to eat more healthily while also being more climate-aware.
The good news is that he had a lovely steak for dinner the other night.
No point in going all sensible now, while he’s still young. And to emphasise the point, as everyone else was going doolally over Mrs May’s crushing Meaningful Vote defeat, Leo was enjoying a meaningful dinner with his Independent Alliance Government partners.
Probably with a stirring address on the Omnibus situation from Winston Churchtown for afters.