Miriam Lord: Brexit's procession leaves everyone hopping mad

Meanwhile, Catherine Martin shows she has the Commons touch during historic speech

Over on the mainland (Europe), EU leaders are growing sick, sore and tired of the Brexit talks process. When will it all end? Martyn Selmayr, controversial secretary general of the commission, reflected this general sense of weariness during the week when he told a German business audience “negotiations with the UK are a bit like the Echternach Spring Procession”.

Indeed, Martyn. Just what we were thinking ourselves.

The Echternach Sping Procession is a Luxembourgish parade in which the participants hop three steps forward and two steps back. A sort of continental Lannigan’s Ball. The town hosts Europe’s only hopping parade, a commemoration harking back to a pagan eighth century tradition concerning St Willibrord and a certain Vitus, known as the “Fiddler of Echternach”.

The story has it that Vitus went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with his wife, only to return by himself, the missus having died along the way. Greedy relatives, who had shared out all his possessions in his absence, spread the rumour that Vitus murdered his wife during their trip. The poor divil was sentenced to death. As he was being led to the gallows he asked if he could play his beloved violin one last time.


His wish was granted and Vitus started playing. The crowd around the scaffold started to dance. They danced for hours on end, until their feet sank into the ground, with Vitus, still playing, having long fled the hangman’s noose and the city of Echternach. And all the while, they danced and they danced until St Willibrord was called upon to put an end to this curse and release them from the deadly St Vitus’s dance.

Today’s hopping procession is really a skipping procession: participants skip two steps to the left, two to the right. In the past, skipping consisted of three steps forward and two steps back (thus the widely used phrase of something progressing “at an Echternach pace”).

A perfect analogy for Brexit

Horses of a different colour

They Who Know Everything — aka the Leinster House parliamentary ushers — are holding a Christmas charity fundraiser in a few weeks in Kennedy’s pub on Westland Row, only a short stroll from Kildare Street.

Needless to say, the main parties immediately rowed in with financial support. Or rode in, given that this year the ushers have decided to put on a race-night. They’ve already pulled in over €2,000 through selling runners and riders, with all money raised going to Br Kevin’s Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin. The four main parties each purchased (and named) a horse.

Fine Gael is running a nag imaginatively called "Leo the Lion", Fianna Fáil's donkey is called "Houdini", Labour, with touching optimism, is saddling up "The Red Army" while Sinn Féin will be cheering on "Hopelessly Devoted". No idea why. Maybe it's a supportive message for new leader, Mary Lou. Or maybe Gerry Adams, who has just brought out a new cookbook and was flogging it in America this week, is a big Olivia Newton-John fan.

Both Mary Lou and Gerry were on fundraising duty across the Atlantic for the party’s annual big earner in the Big Apple. The new party president delivered her inaugural address to the Friends of Sinn Féin gala dinner in the Times Square Sheraton Hotel, Times Square, following a lively introduction from Gerry.

Given the party’s recent outlay on a disastrous presidential election campaign, Adams will be working hard to shift as many copies of his pun-tastic peas process “The Negotiators’ Cookbook” as possible.

Meanwhile, individual TDs and senators are running horses on the night. Fine Gael's leader in the Seanad, Jerry Buttimer, called his horse "Morale is Low". Things must be rough these days in pre-election Cork South Central.

A certain Minister of State Moran called his runner "The Boxer" while Government backbencher Noel Rock has entered "Brexit" to see if it finishes or falls at the first. Mary Lou McDonald named her horse "High Hopes".

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern (left), as followers of the Mahon tribunal know, is fond of placing the occasional bet. He sent a few bob in for the cause and his horse’s name was picked by “one of the Fianna Fáil lads” who told the organisers to call it “The Pug”. It seems Bertie now owns one.

An interesting name was chosen by veteran Fine Gael TD for Kildare, Bernard Durkan. He purchased a steed and said he wanted it named "Golden Balls". We know not why. So we'll just leave it there. Br Kevin will be along on the night to support the Dáil and Seanad ushers, and he's even forked out for his own horse – "The Saint", a shrewd investment which should attract a strong betting surge and boost the final tally.

Martin shows Commons touch

A hundred years after Countess Markievicz became the first woman elected to the House of Commons, the Green Party's Catherine Martin made quiet history on Thursday by becoming the first woman TD to speak in the House of Commons.

Markievicz was elected to the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s but she never took her seat in Westminster. Martin, elected to the constituency of Dublin Rathdown, addressed the chamber in the centenary year of women’s suffrage.

The TD remembered the pioneering MP in her speech at an event marking the centenary called “Women MPs of the World” which was attended by over 100 members of parliament from around the globe. Deputy Martin is a founder member and chair of the Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus.

She began her speech with a cúpla focail: “Mná an Domhain agus a dhaoine Uaisle”, but her use of the Irish language in the House of Commons wasn’t a first. That honour goes to Thomas O’Donnell, MP for West Kerry in 1901, whose lengthy remarks in Irish infuriated the Speaker but didn’t defeat the editors of Hansard, who included everything he said and in the proper typeface.

Bertie Ahern threw in a few words when he addressed a joint sitting of the Lords and Commons in 2007, but he spoke in the very grand Royal Gallery rather than in the Commons chamber. The SDLP's Mark Durkan, then MP for Foyle, spoke Irish during a 2015 debate.

Catherine Martin missed out on becoming the first woman to speak Irish in the chamber by a couple of weeks when Welsh MP Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru) called for the introduction of an Irish language act in Northern Ireland.

There had to be a special Commons vote to allow the women parliamentarians meet in the chamber.

“As a female TD representing Ireland, it was an honour to be able to speak about how the caucus is working to strengthen Irish women’s engagement with political and public life.

“What made it particularly special was that it took place during this special centenary, 100 years after the election of Irish woman, Countess Markievicz,” said Martin.

The Monaghan-born politician says she isn’t entirely sure if she is the first woman TD to speak in the Commons chamber, but that’s what she has been told, so until she hears otherwise she will carry the honour with pride. Her constituency colleague, Winston Churchtown, aka Lord Ross of Stepaside and Bus, will be only raging.

Playing the Long game

A definite name on the candidate hit lists of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has decided to go it alone in next year’s local elections and run as an Independent. Samantha Long, who unsuccessfully contested the last local elections for Fine Gael in 2014 and then left the party in protest at its failure to nominate a woman candidate to contest the Seanad byelection caused by Deirdre Clune’s departure to Europe, will be running in the Kimmage/Rathmines ward. This will come as a disappointment to the two main parties as both had been eyeing her up as a candidate next year. She will be familiar to many people because of the story she told earlier this year on “No Place for Women”, a gripping RTÉ documentary exploring how Irish women have been treated by the State in the 100 years since they got the vote.

Samantha and her twin sister Etta were born in Dublin and adopted together from a mother and baby home in 1972 when they were nine months old. In 1995, they traced and met their birth mother, Margaret. They were shocked when they heard about her sad life, discovering many disturbing details about what had happened to her from the time she was placed in state care at the age of 2.

Margaret died at the age of 51, having spent all her life in industrial schools, mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries. This year, Katherine Zappone appointed Long to the Collaborative Forum on Mother and Baby homes, a voluntary position.

She works in Leinster House as assistant to Senator Michael McDowell and is also administrator of the nine-strong Seanad Independent Group. So there should no shortage of advice from that quarter when she launches her campaign.

A man of many talents

The annual mass for deceased Oireachtas members and staff took place in the Members' Private Dining Room in Leinster House on Wednesday morning. There was a good attendance for the service which was celebrated by Fr Eamon Aylward, cousin of Fianna Fáil TD for Kilkenny, Bobby Aylward.

Fr Eamon has officiated at this mass for the last number of years. We hear from a congregation member that it a lovely mass, but he confessed he was taken unawares, and somewhat aback, by the closing hymn. Senator Ronán Mullen rose and sang a passionate rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”

“I never heard anything like it. It sent shivers down me.” A man of many talents is Senator Mullen.