It’s been so very dull in Leinster House of late.
Wednesday changed all that. The arrival of two special guests precipitated an unprecedented outpouring of giddiness and mortification in the Dáil chamber along with some outstanding displays of fawning brass neckery from starstuck politicians.
Not since the Senators made a holy show of themselves in front of first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon have there been such scenes.
The VIP guest of honour was Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives. She was invited by the Ceann Comhairle as part of his continuing programme of celebrations to mark the centenary of Dáil Éireann. In order to make sure that there would a good crowd when Nancy and her large entourage of congressmen and women arrived, former TDs and senators were invited to attend the event to take the bare look off the proceedings.
TDs can’t be relied upon to attend special Dáil speeches by world leaders. This can lead to embarrassing gaps in the expensive seats. It was a master stroke to plug the holes on Wednesday with former Oireachtas members so delighted to be back they would applaud anything.
Attorney General Séamus Woulfe settled into the Distinguished Visitors Gallery, all on his own. With the addition of the returned ex-politicians, happy as sandlarks and full of the joys, the absence of most of the left-wing TDs wasn’t noticeable and the atmosphere was very jolly.
Then things went a bit wild.
The doors at the top of the main staircase opened and in walked Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson. They had signed the visitors book before entering. Name: “Bono”. Address: “Madame Speaker. Wow!” It must be a little-known millionaire’s townland in Killiney.
Over The Edge
The sight of Bono tipped some of the already-giddy audience over the edge. (As opposed to The Edge, to whom Nancy Pelosi sent her regards during her speech.) They whipped out their phones, disregarding the rules and started taking snaps for tweeting purposes.
Jaded sketchwriters on the press gallery wept quiet tears of happiness.
No sooner was Bono in the door than Senator Frankie Feighan was upon him. He later told us that he was sucked into the great man’s orbit when they passed each other. The Roscommon Senator did his best to monopolise him but a vicious queue of admirers was already beginning to form.
The ever-proud to be utterly shameless Terry Leyden bumped himself into the VIP section, plonking down next to Bono. The AG’s eyes were out on stalks.
Across the floor, they were in stitches on the Fianna Fáil benches as Senator Leyden fished a business card from his pocket and solemnly handed it over to Bono.
Micheál Martin rolled his eyes. Terry took out his phone, forcing Bono into a selfie while the Attorney General stealth photobombed them from the seat behind.
Former Labour TD from Clare Michael McNamara tried to grab Bono’s attention, but he was no match for former taoiseach Enda Kenny who ran Terry from the bullpen in order to commence an animated conversation with the rock star. There was much prodding of the Bonovoxial upper arm by Kenny. Kerry Senator Paul Coghlan brazenly interposed and secured himself a handshake from both of them.
No sign yet of Nancy – who is a huge U2 fan and had asked if Bono could attend as the panting crowd grew around the diminutive star. Then heavyweight opposition arrived in the form of Gerry Adams, who greeted Bono like an old friend before handing him a large brown envelope.
At this stage, Madame Speaker’s large entourage was in the chamber and Adams, an old Washington hand, immediately launched into the middle of them. Also there was Kerry FF Senator Mark Daly, who is never out of America, where, unlike Ireland, it’s actually a big thing to be a senator and people take them seriously.
Daly sat in the single row of seats in the upper chamber set out for the visiting members of Congress, as if he was one of them, grinning like a man possessed. Adams, meanwhile, was hugging a congressman wearing a loud green tie and sporting a deep mahogany tan.
The chamber was stuffed.
“Who’s that very old man in the front row?” asked a young political reporter of the grizzled and ancient Irish Times. “Eh, that’s Donie Cassidy,” we sighed. Donie, who has spent a lifetime in showbiz, ignored Bono at the end of the speeches and was one of the few to buttonhole the departing Nancy.
There was no room for late arriving Ministers. Regina Doherty ended up sitting outside the upper rail, as did Richard Burton, who was concealed behind a pillar. Shane Ross, aka Winston Churchtown, had to stand at the door nearest Bono, which will have a been thrill for the visiting superstar who flagrantly flouted chamber rules by wearing sunglasses (blue-tinted). He also had another pair of glasses in his top pocket.
The Taoiseach, known for an embarrassing habit of going weak at the knees in the presence of music celebrities, marched into the chamber with a serious sense of purpose. Everyone watched with bated breath as he neared the sainted Bono (because there would be no mention of tax on the day that was in it).
Leo, with commendable composure and restraint, swept past the VIP bullpen without giving it a glance and proceeded to his seat.
This may have been the finest moment of his career.
Finally, a tall, distinguished-looking man walking with the aid of an underarm crutch arrived to rescue Bono. This was Paul Pelosi, the husband of the third most powerful woman in America.
Minutes later, Nancy arrived to her first standing ovation. Very thin in that Capitol Hill fashion, wearing a light-pink suit and very high pink shoes, she walked like a delicate flamingo. Beside her, the Ceann Comhairle was threatening to explode with joy.
The speeches, reported in glorious detail elsewhere in this newspaper, were full of mutual appreciation and punctuated by rounds of fervent applause. It was a lovely occasion, although the response from the home team seemed somewhat saccharine and needy at times. Although, to be fair, a Bono-induced madness had taken hold.
The first mention of John F Kennedy came from Pelosi just before 1pm and Mark Daly looked like he was going to burst into tears with the emotion of it all. Poets were mentioned.
Then Speaker Pelosi launched into a heartfelt appreciation of Bono. With a wry, self-deprecating smile, the man led the applause for himself and the politicians thunderously joined in. Then he did a little bow. Bono and Nancy, we noticed, are both blessed with luxurious heads of sweeping hair in similar shades of deep glossy chestnut.
When the speaker praised Ireland as a modern nation that has “blossomed”, mentioning the recent referendums on marriage equality and abortion, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen bowed his head and then walked from the chamber.
After a closing standing ovation, Pelosi shook hands warmly with the Taoiseach and Cabinet members. Then Gerry Adams closed in. Nancy gave him hug and caressed his beard. Ushers escorted her from the chamber as the selfie-brigade closed in.
Bono wasn’t so lucky. He was hemmed into the small gallery by the political rubberneckers. Mark Daly was photographing the members of Congress. Senior politicians from the main parties looked on, mortified.
The Attorney General was trapped in the bullpen. So was Mrs Bono. As for Mr Pelosi, he ended up pressed against the railing, using his crutch for support, as the onslaught continued.
The Taoiseach left, pausing to talk to two elderly former Fianna Fáil TDs on his way to the opposite doors, where he paused for a moment to cast a lingering look back towards the scenes around Bono, who had to be bundled out the door behind the Ceann Comhairle’s chair.
He sat between Nancy and Seán Ó Feargháil during lunch in the Members Restaurant. They dined on “classic Irish Caesar salad” and roast monkfish with saffron, mussels and samphire. There was a “dark chocolate moon” for dessert.
The Ceann Comhairle introduced Nancy to Cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan, his opposite number in the Seanad. Perhaps the strange title confused her.
“Mr President!” she cried, deeply honoured. Dignified Denis didn’t know where to look.
Later in the afternoon, she met the real deal in Áras an Uachtaráin and Senator Daly waved the Americans off from outside Leinster House.
Bono, by then, had left the building.