Leinster House was paralysed by gripping indifference on Friday as a tense Seanad election count drove fevered political observers to new heights of apathy.
The suspense was such that grown men and women were forced to flee next door to the canteen while the votes were counted.
There was shock and tears when the final result was announced: out of the 208 TDs and Senators who voted – and 17 did not – 20 national representatives proved themselves incapable of filling out one simple ballot paper without spoiling it.
An astonishing 11 of the postal votes were ruled invalid because of errors in the way they were completed while the remaining nine parliamentarians got their identification details wrong.
It seems some of them have difficulty remembering their own names.
The winner was a foregone conclusion. Labour’s Jimmy Harte stepped down from his Seanad seat for health reasons and the Coalition majority in the Oireachtas decided to pass it on to a Labour candidate: Máiría Cahill, the Belfast woman who alleged she was raped by a leading republican and that she was subjected to an IRA kangaroo court following her ordeal. She is now an outspoken critic of Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams and a campaigner for the rights of abuse victims.
Friday’s count took place in the private dining room in Leinster House. It was conducted under the watchful eye of the clerk of the Seanad, Deirdre Lane, who moved things along in jig time.
Just before the official announcement, Alan Kelly, the Minister for the Environment, slipped from the room and returned with his party's newest Senator. She duly signed the register and reserved her seat in the Upper House.
There were gracious speeches from almost all of the also-rans. Independent candidate Jerry Beades – the man who famously described Gorse Hill mansion in Killiney as a "bog standard" and "simplistic" house – had been critical during the campaign of Cahill's lack of answers to questions about her past link to a dissident republican organisation.
Beades wished the Senator “the best in her new position” and thanked his supporters and the count staff for their work.
But he didn’t leave it at that. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions which I’m not going to go into today,” he said. And while he wanted to thank some people for their courtesy “there was also a few people who have questions to answer on their behaviour, which we’ll deal with on another day”.
After lunch, the Tánaiste led the traditional solemnly triumphant march down the plinth with Senator Cahill. Joan Burton was joined by her deputy, Alan Kelly, and the few Labour TDs and Senators who hadn’t gone home for the weekend. Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty, who co-ordinated her party’s vote, was also present, along with deputy Derek Keating, who was there for the photo op.
As reporters continued to ask the Senator about her lack of visibility during the campaign, Joan stepped in with a searing and deflecting denunciation of the “keyboard warriors” who continue to heap “almost demonic” levels of abuse on Máiría.
But she decided to ignore questions on whether her party thinks that a single party Fine Gael government would be a dangerous proposition for the county.
She won’t be saying that until the election.
Star-struck Donohoe gone in 60 seconds at All Stars gig
Paschal Donohoe made the speech of his life last weekend.
The cheers are still ringing in his ears.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was asked to make a speech at the GAA GPA All Stars Awards banquet. He was very proud to have the honour as it was the first time a Minister was asked to address the annual black-tie event.
The venue was Dublin’s glitzy Convention Centre and 1,600 guests were invited.
As a rule, Paschal is never lost for words. But, and he’s not really sure why, the All-Stars occasion got to him. “The place was huge and the atmosphere was really buzzing.
"All these great footballers and hurlers, past and present, were there. Marty Morrissey was there.
“I had to walk across the empty dance floor. I began to sweat so much that by the time I got to the microphone the perspiration was running into my eyes and I could hardly see a thing. I had a prepared script with me in a folder. I forgot I had it.”
Paschal struggled out a few words. The GAA is a great organisation which does great work in the community and the athleticism of the athletes is wonderful.
He mentioned his own GAA club, which he supports because it’s great, not to mention the wonderful supporters all around the country who help make the GAA the great sporting organisation it is.
The All Stars dinner is a great occasion and he hoped everyone would have a great night.
And that was about it. “I think there were some people at the back of the hall who were still clapping my arrival when I was leaving the stage,” says Paschal.
“Gone in sixty seconds. That was me.”
He got a huge ovation. People are still telling him he was, “great”.
Sixty-second speeches? That’s an All Star performance in our book.
Paschal Donohoe must be re-elected.
Bannon’s bubble burst
James Bannon was in no humour for hecklers on Thursday. The Government backbencher, known in opposition days as "Bonkers Bannon" for his passionate outbursts in the chamber, was busy blowing his own trumpet when a party colleague began winding him up.
“Tánaiste,” began Bannon, “you referred this morning to the great announcement on Friday by Apple of 1,000 jobs in Cork, and we had 1,750 (sic) jobs announced for Longford and planning permission is in for Center Parcs, Longford for the new project that will create huge amounts of jobs . . .”
“Don’t forget Gab McFadden” interjected Clare’s Joe Carey, referring to Bannon’s constituency colleague in Longford-Westmeath, Gabrielle McFadden.
As Bannon waxed lyrical about Longford’s good fortune, Carey kept up the comments. “It’s a team effort . . . don’t forget . . . well done to Gab too . . .”
Suddenly, Bonkers whipped around, leaned into Carey and let out an unmerciful roar. “Will ya ever shut up and HAVE MANNERS!”
Bannon ploughed on.
To be fair to Bannon, he probably wasn’t in the best of form. At the selection convention for Longford -Westmeath in June, he narrowly defeated Mullingar based councillor Peter Burke and was selected to run alongside Gab McFadden.
But on Thursday, four months on, Fine Gael headquarters added young Burke to the ticket.