Miriam Lord: Micheál and Mary Lou see eye to eye – never a good omen

Leinster House is united in condemnation of ‘bully and thug’ Vladimir Putin

It took the threat of a third world war for peace to break out between Micheál and Mary Lou, but even a small mercy is welcome in these monstrous times.

The last time the Taoiseach and the Sinn Féin leader were in such accord Ireland was staring down the barrel of a pandemic.

If catastrophe makes these two see eye to eye, maybe we’re good with the relative mundanity that accompanies their verbal warfare.

There was a muted atmosphere in Leinster House afternoon when the Dáil resumed for the week. On one side of the foyer, four flags were arranged in a line on the marble floor, two on either side of a gilt-framed original copy of the Proclamation: the Irish and EU flags, the UN flag and the flag of Ukraine.


Later in the afternoon the House was due to hear statements on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with more than three hours set aside for TDs to register their condemnation of megalomaniac Vladimir Putin and his barbarous military offensive on a neighbouring democratic country.

But the chilling events unfolding on the other side of Europe could not be boxed off into one say-everything set-piece after the usual knockabout was done. From the opening round of Leaders' Questions and on through the Order of Business and Questions to the Taoiseach, deputies could talk of little else.

“What we are witnessing is scarcely believable,” said Micheál Martin, echoing what everyone else was feeling. “But it is very real to the people of Ukraine.”

When he called Putin "a bully and a thug", he did so with the full and unreserved backing of TDs from all sides. That same sense of unity and purpose did not make it across to Brussels, where two Irish MEPs voted against the European Parliament's resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Political half-doors Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, perpetually engrossed in a self-indulgent, left-wing ideological binge, seemed to side against reason, decency and humanity. The parliament voted to condemn Russia by 637 votes to 13.

By contrast, in Leinster House there was still plenty of room for differences of opinion, but all speakers were well able to recognise what is right from what is wrong and what is good from what is incontrovertibly evil.

People were shook. There are issues and questions around how Ireland will deal with the crisis in the weeks and months to come. Mary Lou McDonald, and Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats, tentatively began to ask them on Tuesday. Questions about the imposition of further sanctions, how the State will look after the influx of refugees, how Russian money sloshing around the coffers in the IFSC can be frozen and how financial loopholes can be stitched shut.

And spies. Russian spies.

Suddenly discourse in Dáil Éireann starts to sound like it’s been taken from the pages of a cold war novel. TDs and the Taoiseach are discussing the presence of Russian agents living among us and it’s deadly serious. How many to expel? How many, if any, diplomats to keep?

Russian embassy

This was one of those days when the word “unprecedented” could be bandied about any number of times.

What about the staff in the Russian embassy? Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach if the Government has “identified spies” among them. He didn’t say.

But as for Russian money resting in Dublin, Martin insisted the State would not go easy on the billionaires. “We have no interest, none, zero, in enabling any Russian oligarch or anyone who is part of the sanctions list, either to evade or avoid being fully accountable to that sanctions regime. We have no interest as a country in protecting anybody in that regard. I have to be crystal clear about that.”

With the Dáil talking about oligarchs, there was talk in the chamber of trillions, a figure rarely heard when the ordinary finances of our entire nation is discussed.

"The Central Bank has advised that total Russian assets held on December 31st, 2021, are estimated at €11.4 billion, or 0.3 per cent of total Irish fund assets of €3.8 trillion", he said.

People may talk about Londongrad across the water, but apparently there is no such place as Dublingrad over here.

Although you wouldn’t want to bet the dacha on that, given the strained relationship many Irish financial institutions have had with the truth in recent years.

As the day wore on, the time came for the “statements of support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

“February 24th, 2022, is a day that will live in infamy,” said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, borrowing Franklin D Roosevelt’s famous line uttered after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Simon Coveney opened the session by saying the motion showed the support every political party and every TD had for Ukraine. “This is Putin’s war,” said Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. “It is an act of an autocratic and dangerous bully.”

Less filler, more passion

The speeches continued for more than three hours. In Leinster House, TDs often, after demanding more time discuss a burning issue, run out of speakers and steam well before the cut-off point.

In this case, confronted by such a gut-wrenching and compelling subject, deputies spoke over and above the allotted time, with much less filler and far more passion.

Talk has to be done, but at times, listening to the very concerned and genuinely angry contributions from deputies, that old chestnut of the Skibbereen Eagle newspaper keeping its eye on the tsar came to mind.

But talk they must and, to a woman and man, they did, and as they talked a group of orchestral students from the nearby Royal College of Music assembled with their instruments outside the gates on Kildare Street and prepared to pay philharmonic tribute to Ukraine and its besieged people.

About 30 students unfolded their collapsible chairs and assembled their music stands and played the Ukrainian national anthem. People stopped to listen, and politicians came out to hear them.

The music was beautiful and it was a desperately sad but lovely occasion. A man by the railings waved a Ukrainian flag and sang quietly. Two younger men, also from Ukraine, sang with pride. Their eyes were brimming with tears, but they were not alone.

Nobody spoke much because, well, we didn’t want to cry.

In English, this is some of what the distraught and heart-broken Ukrainians sang:

Ukraine is not yet dead, nor its glory and freedom,

Luck will still smile on us brother-Ukrainians.

Our enemies will die, as the dew does in the sunshine,and we, too, brothers, we’ll live happily in our land.