Miriam Lord: Politicians create their own wind warning in Leinster House
Deputies are stuck in Ploughing-related tailbacks as they return from summer break
Leinster House. Photograph: Alan Betson
Following the long Summer break, the pent-up energy in Leinster House was palpable.
Each time the main door opened, it hit you in the face.
The wind, that is.
Senators joined the buzzing throng of TDs who returned to the coalface the day before. There was a sense that the great Oireachtas engine was now fully revved and ready to negotiate the political white-knuckle ride ahead.
It was all go.
Actually, no. It wasn’t.
On Wednesday, the Ploughing Championships sucked all the main players away from their normal parliamentary duties and down to County Offaly for some important rural bonding and even more important photo opportunities. When party leaders do not muster for Leaders’ Questions, many of their troops abandon the chamber too.
Subdued deputies who bothered to drag themselves in for Leaders’ Questions looked like they were crawling towards the end of a long Dáil session rather than eagerly facing into the start of an exciting new one.
The Taoiseach, along with the leaders of Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin, was pencilled in for some heavy duty glad-handing among the crowds at Screggan until Storm Ali intervened and the event was called off. But while neither he nor his political rivals made it past the gates, Leo Varadkar still managed to fall flat on face in the mud when the glossy facade of the Fine Gael stand blew down in the gale.
So he hotfooted it to Salzburg in Austria to take part in the quaintly titled “Informal Summit” of European leaders.
Presumably the government leaders will wear sports casual to their meetings while Leo and Theresa May will be conducting their bi-lateral on bean bags. Sports casual should make him happy – it’s a look Leo likes to think he can carry off. So all good there.
Back in Dáil Éireann, Social Protection minister Regina Doherty was filling in for the boss because her more senior colleagues were all stuck in Ploughing related tailbacks.
It was a big day for her – the first time she has deputised for the Taoiseach at Leaders’ Questions. The occasion didn’t faze her in the least. She handled herself very well, even if there is always a sense that the opposition is merely going through the motions when questioning the substitute. It’s the Taoiseach they really want to kick around.
Assured Regina didn’t need moral support from her party colleagues. Which is just as well – not one backbencher came in for Leaders’ Questions.
Dara Calleary deputised for Micheál Martin, who was becalmed outside Screggan with a “10 Point Action Plan on Fodder and Farm Income” burning a hole in his pocket and nowhere to launch it. He’ll try again on Thursday when the Ploughing Championships reopen for business and the Fianna Fáil marquee has been battened down.
Had he been able to proceed with his original plan to launch a farming initiative, he would have been too busy touring the grounds and fighting off Fianna Fáil supporters to check his phone for the latest FF Twitter updates. Unfortunately, with nothing better to do he will probably have read the lunchtime posts dispatched from Kildare Street by at least two of his TDs.
Limerick’s Niall Collins and Willie O’Dea and Kildare’s James Lawless were among a large number of opposition deputies and senators who left Leinster House to stand in solidarity with Defence Forces veterans and families who paraded to Leinster House in protest at the pay and conditions of serving members.
Also watching as they precision marched behind a pipe band were Gemma O’Doherty, a journalist attempting to secure a last ditch place on the presidential election ballot paper and Sean Gallagher, the businessman who has already earned his berth on the ticket thanks to four nominations from county councils.
An independent candidate who came second to Michael D Higgins in the last election, Gallagher, briefly a member of Fianna Fáil, was helped and hindered by a belief in some circles that he was the proxy Fianna Fáil candidate.
On Wednesday, as the Defence Forces parade passed by, Fianna Fáil TDs Collins and O’Dea posed for a photograph in front of Leinster House with Gallagher. Collins then tweeted the image.
“Glad to support the Irish Defence Forces and their Families in their campaign for better pay and conditions along with Deputy Willie O’Dea and Presidential Candidate Sean Gallagher outside Dáil Éireann today” wrote Niall.
Lawless also posed for a picture with the candidate, posting it online along with the caption: “At the Defence Forces protest outside the Dáil with the next commander in chief, Sean Gallagher.” (When it comes to the military, Donald Trump is a Commander-in-Chief. The President of Ireland is “The Supreme Leader” of our Defence Forces.)
Meanwhile, The Supreme Leader of Soldiers of Destiny has already said that his Parliamentary party is supporting the re-election of Michael D. Higgins. Not according to his tweeting party colleagues, busily causing mischief and stirring things up for Micheál Martin.
A different sort of discipline prevails in the Dáil, it seems.
Aonghus O’Snodaigh filled in for his leader, Mary Lou McDonald, whose big day in Screggan with Sinn Féin’s presidential election candidate, Liath Ní Riarda, was also blown away by Storm Ali. Mary Lou, sporting a most magnificent Summer recess suntan, managed to make it back to Dáil in time for the debate on the Scally Report into the Cervical Cancer controversy.
Brendan Howlin, who endured a fairly bumpy party think-in in Drogheda at the weekend, sat in glorious isolation during Leaders’ Questions, looking very pensive in Labour leader’s seat, otherwise known as The Existential Chair.
It was surprising to see Mattie McGrath and Michael Healy-Rae of the Rural Independents Group in the chamber. One presumed they would had taken up temporary residence in Tullamore for the duration of The Ploughing.
Then again, now that Healy-Rae is sporting his black cap in the Dáil again, it would have been unwise for him and possibly curtains for his cap had he ventured out into the storm.
When it comes to wind inside Leinster House, the politicians are net contributors.
But outside, it is an act of God.