Micheál Martin prides himself on being fit as a FFlea.
But he is having great difficulty managing the swing-up seats in the Convention Centre. Their seductive sinkability hasn’t lulled him to sleep yet, as is the case with other TDs. Hauling his carcass out of them is the problem.
They’re built for the comfort of theatre audiences, not for taoisigh hopping up and down to answer questions while juggling files and a spiral notebook.
“These seats are challenging, Ceann Comhairle,” he gasped, dragging himself to his feet for the umpteenth time during Wednesday’s Leaders’ Questions.
Two energy-sapping hours later he was still in situ, but entering the final stretch. He could escape after opening statements on the European Council.
But first, he had to try to stand up again while not looking like a bockety aul’ fella with bad knees and a touch of vertigo.
The Taoiseach leaned forward and grabbed the back of the seat in front, stretching it alarmingly. “Oooof!” With one final heave, he managed to extricate himself from the double-sprung clutches of his velveteen captor.
Not the most elegant manoeuvre. Like a turtle battling to get out of a deck chair.
Micheál looked up at the Ceann Comhairle and felt he had to explain, lest anybody might think he was letting himself go.
“The seats aren’t made for parliamentary endeavour,” he said sheepishly.
Not that Seán Ó Fearghaíl would have noticed. He can barely see a yard beyond the stage where he sits reluctantly enthroned when the Dáil makes its unwelcome forays across the Liffey to the Convention Centre. TDs should wear high-vis vests.
When Micheál was apologising for his ungainliness, the Ceann Comhairle was still recovering from Martin Kenny’s truncated contribution, so he wasn’t inclined to make a fuss about it.
The Sinn Féin TD for Sligo-Leitrim brought up the 2019 Judicial Council Bill, a major part of which was the establishment of a Judicial Conduct Committee. It reported last month that the drafting of guidelines on ethics and conduct were happened recently and the drafting of procedures for making complaints about the judiciary are only starting now.
Kenny was speaking very fast, but everyone knew where he was going here.
"Now this comes, of course, in respect of the situation that has developed in the last couple of weeks and, to be honest, I've been contacted – and I'm sure most deputies have been – by many people from the media the past number of days," he began. "And I have been very reluctant to make any comment because I respect the judiciary and the separation of powers between the judiciary and the Oireachtas and all of that. However, having read the transcript between Ms Justice Denham and Mr Justice Woulfe. "
Judges’ klaxon! Danger here!
The Taoiseach, now perched uncomfortably on his armrest, swivelled his head in the speaker’s direction. He said nothing but appeared to be scribbling notes.
The Leitrim TD ploughed on.
“. . . it appears that Mr Justice Woulfe has little respect for that separation of powers and has a very cavalier attitude to anyone trying to implement-”
The Ceann Comhairle was in like lightning to cut him off at the pass.
“Deputy, deputy, deputy, it’s completely inappropriate,” said Ó Fearghaíl.
“I was just going to say-”
“I was, I was-”
“It is completely-”
“I was just-”
“No. No. Sorry-”
“. . . simply going to suggest that the Taoiseach would write-”
Ó Fearghaíl closed his eyes, which is what he does when he doesn’t want to hear any more talking from a TD. He clearly would have liked to stick his fingers in his ears too at the mention of Their Eminences, but that might have seemed unparliamentary.
So he tilted his face away from his tormentor and kept those eyes tightly shut.
“Sorry, deputy, please. It is completely inappropriate and at variance with the traditions and Standing Orders of the House to make any comment here on a member of the judiciary. Please. Do not go down that road.”
And that was the end of that.
But what did Martin Kenny want Micheál to write?
He told us afterwards he didn't think it would be breaking respect for the judiciary if the Taoiseach wrote to the Chief Justice on behalf of the Oireachtas to convey its "alarm" over the unresolved situation involving newly appointed Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe, which has "gone much further" than the initial "golfgate" controversy and is "having a negative impact on the perception of the judiciary". He should ask that the issue be brought to a "quick close".
The likelihood of the Taoiseach acceding to his request was about as likely as Fine Gael junior minister Patrick O'Donovan agreeing to a request from a group of teenagers to go into an off-licence and buy them a slab of Dutch Gold.
While Micheál Martin dealt with some serious Covid-19-related questions in the Dáil, hinting fines might yet be considered for people flouting restrictions, there was a sense that the real action around managing the Government’s pandemic response was happening outside parliament.
Not least a blatant PR push to assure the public that they haven't fallen out with the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and relations with canonised medical officer Tony Holohan and Leo Varadkar have been restored to the robustly harmonious camaraderie they enjoyed before the Tánaiste deftly knifed the CMO during a live TV interview on Monday night.
Meanwhile, junior minister O’Donovan was sent out to talk tough on the Coalition’s commitment to enforcing Level 3 restrictions. Unlike some colleagues who find it almost impossible to deliver bad news, he refreshingly told people what the rules mean. As in, no, you can’t attend a wedding in neighbouring counties or you can’t get your car serviced a few miles from home if that means crossing county boundaries. No exceptions.
Patrick didn’t sound averse to slapping on a few fines, if needs be.
And, he insisted, something has to done about all these house parties where people are getting polluted and spreading the virus. The sale of alcohol might have to be restricted, he mused.
“Where you have obvious slabs of cans and numerous bottles being taken home, you know that that’s not for an after-dinner aperitif. You know that it’s being taken home for a house party.”
His message will have resonated with the seething majority – young and old – browned off with the reckless actions of the selfishly stupid brigade.
Unfortunately, it also riled aficionados of the unassuming cut-price can who felt snobbishly insulted while claret-quaffing boors were overlooked.
And then he mortified his cultured constituents because now the whole country thinks the people of Limerick county drink aperitifs after their dinner when everyone knows you eat your dinner in the middle of the day with a Kir royale to stimulate the appetite and a snifter of Armagnac to finish.
As you do.