Miriam Lord: Maestro Micheál swept away by chamber music

Mark Durkan playing second fiddle to Frances Fitzgerald in Euro elections

Micheál Martin appeared more like an orchestral conductor with a mission  in the Dáil recently. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Micheál Martin appeared more like an orchestral conductor with a mission in the Dáil recently. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

This was Micheál Martin’s tribute to André Previn. A masterly homage to a renowned composer and conductor who died last week.

It would have been truly glorious had the Fianna Fáil leader’s galvanising vignette been set to music – Grieg’s Piano Concerto as famously performed by Eric Morecambe comes to mind, but that sort of thing isn’t allowed in the Dáil chamber.

You could almost feel the emotion as Micheál was caught up and swept away in the melody of Leaders’ Questions.

“Why can’t you guys just be up-front with people and straight with people in terms of what you were doing?,” he cried, building up to a crescendo as the Fianna Fáil chamber orchestra behind him tunelessly swayed.

One of the beauties of music is that it can mean difficult things to different people.

Maestro Martin slumped back into his seat. Drained

Clashing melodies

On Tuesday, for example, some listeners might have heard Maestro Martin lambasting the Government for dashing the dreams of young people hoping to buy their own homes by failing to disclose that a loan scheme established to help them has run out of money.

Others might have heard the anguished strains of a Fianna Fáil leader thoroughly cheesed off with Fine Gael for stealing a march (and an SDLP politician) on them in the run up to the European elections.

Eastwood goes solo

A week earlier, on another platform, Micheál premiered his party’s new collaboration with the SDLP, inviting that party’s leader, Colm Eastwood, to do a solo performance at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis.

It was very well received.

Then on Monday this week, Leo Varadkar pulled a fast one and unveiled Mark Durkan, a former leader of the SDLP, as a Fine Gael candidate for Dublin in the May election.

Mark will be playing second fiddle to principal violinist Frances Fitzgerald in the Europeans, but at his unveiling by virtuoso Varadkar he delighted the critics with a flawless restyling of Where The Streets Have No Name, originally performed by Austin Currie, an earlier import from Northern Ireland.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was ultimately left smiling after his latest exchange with the Haely-Raes. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was ultimately left smiling after his latest exchange with the Haely-Raes. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Exposition

Back in Leinster House, Maestro Martin was breathing fire and fury on the home loan scheme, and as he launched into the final movement of his Leaders’ Questions concerto, it was like Mr Previn had never left us.

First, he set the scene.

There is no money left in the Government’s loan kitty, yet people are still running around gathering paperwork and asking local TDs to help them with their applications, he explained, throwing out his right arm.

“People desperate to buy their homes. People who can get mortgages cheaper than the rents they are paying,” he said, voice rising in intensity as he stabbed the air with his left hand, finger extended.

All eyes were on that hand – the backbench bassoons and the brass neck section, watching that swirling finger as it sliced through the air as he explained the problems faced by young buyers.

“And we’re all going through this charade,” Micheál continued, throwing both arms in the air as heads swivelled in the wind section. A hand flew sideways: “We must get this note from you,” he quavered. He lashed out with the other: “We must get that letter from you.”

Then he twirled a trembling digit to the sky: “Can you get that form?”

It was all going on.

The two arms went up again and again. “That’s what’s going on in the real world out there, Taoiseach, while you guys just prance about the place going on about this and that.”

We thought his arms were going to fall off.

Finally, one last, crashing, crescendo and a fevered flourish.

“It’s just not good enough.”

With that, maestro Martin slumped back into his seat. Drained.

Bravo!

Silence.

Well-rehearsed

Leo Varadkar rose to his feet and cast a disdainful glance across the floor.

“Deputy,” he began as Micheál glowered back. “While you’re prancing around the place and wagging the finger and telling people off, we’re actually doing things,” retorted the Taoiseach.

“Doing what?” piped up Fianna Fáil’s John Lahart.

“Certainly not building any houses,” chimed his colleague, James Lawless.

After all the drama, it was difficult to come down from the dizzy heights of maestro Martin and virtuoso Varadkar to the more discordant stylings of Independent Danny Healy-Rae.

But he has a tune to play too and he’s been flogging it mercilessly for months now. It’s to do with rural transport and garda checkpoints.

Yet again, he took umbrage at the mention of Dublin’s transport system in the Dáil. This was all the fault of Solidarity TD Paul Murphy, who asked about climate change policy and was rewarded with a reply from the Taoiseach about how Dublin Bus will be switching to low or no-emission vehicles from July.

“What? Dublin again, yes. Don’t forget Dublin!” dripped Danny’s brother, Michael Healy-Rae.

“It was not amusing to hear deputy Murphy asking you to change the entire Dublin bus fleet,” remarked Danny, returning to his favourite topic. “Because outside of the Red Cow, and indeed, in all of rural Ireland, since the ramming through of the Road Traffic Bill to please Minister Ross, people in rural Ireland are angry and frustrated like never before.”

He repeated how provisional drivers have to impose on other people to drive them while they wait for driving tests and “old people are facing check points daily and several times a day right around the country like never before”.

Why the elderly have to fear garda checkpoints is a mystery, unless the pensioners of rural Ireland have been in the habit of driving around buckled all the time and are now annoyed that they might be caught. Unlikely.

But Danny wants the checkpoints reduced, “seeing as ‘twas ye put them in place”, while the Government should reverse the Road Traffic Bill “in light of the anger and the frustration and the hardship that’s being imposed on the people of rural Ireland at this time”.

Smiling finale

No chance, said Leo.

“It’s the gardaí and the Garda Commissioner who make decisions about the frequency and locations of checkpoints. There’s no ministers ordering checkpoints anywhere, I guarantee you that.”

He reminded Healy-Rae that the new law hasn’t changed drink-driving limits. It’s the penalties which have changed.

He told a disgusted Danny that the solution for people who can’t get around in rural Ireland “isn’t allowing drink driving”.

The solution is better transport and Leo was “particularly enthused by what Minister Griffin is leading with his “Lift” scheme in your own county which I think, potentially, could be a prototype for much flexible, much more individualized and much more available road transport, particularly at night”.

Mention of Griffin, his rival in Kerry, didn’t please Danny one bit.

He began roaring that “one motor car” wouldn’t solve the problem.

“No, but it might be the model for it” smiled Leo.