Miriam Lord’s Week: Extra seats could mean a squash and a squeeze for TDs

As the Dáil expands along with the population, some space will have to be cleared

Taoiseach Michéal Martin unveils a brick at the Irish Arts Center in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen

Taoiseach Michéal Martin unveils a brick at the Irish Arts Center in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

And now for some good news.

More TDs. We can never have enough TDs to complain about.

Were it not for the pandemic, the business of carving up constituencies and handing out extra seats would already be under way. The next general election, barring an unlikely early collapse of Government, should see at least seven new seats up for grabs.

When Fine Gael returned to power in 2011, one of its big election promises was to shrink the size of the Dáil by 20. It was a popular selling point with voters. But that didn’t happen as it would have required a referendum. In the end, the number of seats on offer in the next election was reduced by 8 to 158.

A decade ago, Sinn Féin was against the change.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” said TD Brian Stanley, arguing that local government needed to be strengthened first. “We must take serious issue with the proposal to cut the number of TDs from the current 166 to a figure between 152 and 160. We would prefer that the pay of TDs was reduced rather than the actual number of TDs.”

So it’s seats all the way for Sinn Féin. The number crept back up to 160 last year. Given the party’s impressive election performance, the prospect of significantly more seats on offer next time around must be tantalising.

Fianna Fáil’s Seán Fleming was crunching the numbers for us during the week. Like most of his contemporaries in Leinster House, the TD for Laois-Offaly takes a keen interest in population patterns and how they might affect constituencies. He says there will be a minimum of seven extra seats available next time out.

“The census should have been in April but it was postponed for a year because of Covid-19. Had it happened, everyone here would be talking about the redrawing of the constituencies now. Really, really talking about it, because with the rise in population we are very definitely looking at a jump in seats.”

The Central Statistics Office recently produced the population estimate for this year. It shows the population breaking the five million barrier (5.01 million) for the first time since the 1851 census.

“In normal circumstances, the preliminary results for each county and constituency would be in by now and the Constituency Commission would be up and running,” says Fleming. “But even though everything has been put back for a year, we still know that the population has risen. The Constitution requires one TD for between 20,000 and 30,000 people. So if you divide the five million by the top, most restrictive, figure, you get at least 167 seats. The number will automatically increase.”

But the rising population tide doesn’t necessarily lift all boats.

“Everyone will be watching what happens with interest. The fate of individual TDs will be influenced by the findings of the boundary commission. It will be good news for some, but not all. On the plus side, it’s also a chance to get new people and new voices into the Dáil, and that’s always a good thing.”

Extra seats mean extra physical seats in the chamber. A narrow block to the right of where the Taoiseach and government sit might have to be used. This area used by departmental civil servants and known as “The Bullpen” may have to be decommissioned.

The distinguished visitors gallery above it looks safe from extinction, for now.

Live and let dye

You can’t be too careful about what you say these days. Nobody wants to cause offence.

Being pass-remarkable for a living can be a fraught existence.

So we will not be commenting this weekend on what TDs were wearing.

But, honest to God, did you see the state of that Chris Andrews in the Dáil this week? Or should we say Dame Edna Andrews.

I mean. Look at the hair!

Tiochfaidh our locks, as they used to say in Sinn Féin. Now it’s lilac and think of Ireland...

Enough of the slagging, although the Fianna Fáil women and their cross-party comrades (very cross) were still talking this week about the recent, ill-judged Irish Mail on Sunday column mocking the clothes and appearance of Fianna Fáil women at their party think-in.

The newspaper has since apologised.

Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, staunchly supporting her colleagues, angrily condemned the offending article on social media: “shocking and nasty, bottom of the barrel stuff.” Clifford-Lee, who is married to John Lee, executive editor at DMG Ireland, which owns the Irish Mail on Sunday, was fortunate to escape the undiscriminating eye of the author.

She must have been out of the room at the time, concluded some FF TDs around the tea urn on Tuesday in the Dáil canteen.

But back to Chris Andrews, who turned heads in the Dáil chamber when he turned up this week with pink hair.

Once upon a time the Dáil chamber was a national repository for dodgy toupees and cheap, unnatural-looking hair colour. It was the fashion among male TDs of a certain age

It was a kind of fading pink, still neon in parts but mellowing to dusky elsewhere. Everyone who saw him did a double-take. But here’s the thing: nobody dared ask him why his hair looked so odd.

“I think they thought I’d had a dye job and it went wrong,” he told us yesterday. “I could see people looking at my hair and thinking I had some sort of blue rinse effect going on. They were afraid to say anything.”

This is wholly understandable. Once upon a time the Dáil chamber was a national repository for dodgy toupees and cheap, unnatural-looking hair colour. It was the fashion among male TDs of a certain age. Not anymore. You’d miss it.

Deputy Andrews went pink as part of a “shave or dye” charity challenge. The event last weekend was organised by Gemma Devoy, who lives in the Pearse House flat complex in his Dublin Bay South constituency. The 35-year-old mother of one was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and she started her first course of treatment this week.

Gemma and Chris have been involved in other fundraising activities, including the Darkness into Light walks. She decided to start raising money for the Marie Keating Cancer Foundation after she realised the extent of the costs faced by people undergoing treatment for cancer. When she went to buy a wig she couldn’t believe the cost – it was €1,500. While she has the support of family and friends, others are not so fortunate.

Deputy Andrews says he opted to go for the dye job instead of having it all shaved off. “I didn’t want the lingering fear that it might not grow back. And anyway, I’m too vain.”

Gemma put in the colour and helped out with all the volunteers on the day before shaving off her own long hair for donation to a group which makes wigs for children.

Soon after launching her fundraiser, Gemma was “blown away” when a single donation for €10,000 landed in her GoFundMe account from MMA fighter Conor McGregor. She is now on course to hit her €25,000 target with €22,000 raised so far.

While people in Leinster House may have been the soul of discretion when faced with a TD’s purple-tinged hair, not everyone was kind. “Somebody watching the Dáil from outside emailed to tell me I looked like a complete plonker.”

MMA fighter Conor McGregor donated €10,000 to Gemma Devoy’s GoFundMe page. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images
MMA fighter Conor McGregor donated €10,000 to Gemma Devoy’s GoFundMe page. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Taking New York brick by brick

Micheál Martin looked like he was going to explode with happiness and joy during his brief sojourn at the United Nations top table this week. The Taoiseach looked chuffed with himself.

Could things get any better? Any more glamorous?

Yes, it could. For on Tuesday evening, Micheál, New York at his feet, was given the singular honour of unveiling a brick in Hell’s Kitchen. It was a very nice brick. Reddish. Rectangular. A bricky brick.

It was to mark the “dedication” of the new Irish Arts Center, which has been in the pipeline for many years now. Officials at the event were at pains to stress that the Taoiseach was not officially opening the centre but taking part in a dedication symbolised by a brick dating from 1916. He didn’t bring it with him from Ireland, though. It wasn’t taken from the rubble in O’Connell Street or anything like that. This particular brick is from the facade of the old tyre company which is soon to become the Irish Arts Centre in New York.

He’s certainly gone one better than Enda Kenny when he was taoiseach and on duty abroad. Enda went to Berlin and ended up opening a burger van in a car park

The Irish journalists accompanying the Taoiseach on his big trip were very disappointed he didn’t take the opportunity to treat his audience to Fr Jack’s famous line in Father Ted, after he forms an unusual attachment with a building block. Micheál could have clutched the unveiled dedication to his chest and cried: “I luv my brick!”

He’s certainly gone one better than Enda Kenny when he was taoiseach and on duty abroad. Enda went to Berlin and ended up opening a burger van in a car park. Mind you, we recently reported on former minister Jimmy Deenihan unveiling a borehole in Africa.

How can Leo Varadkar compete with that? The best he’s done so far is pose with a spoon beside his office dishwasher. But it’s the Tánaiste’s turn to go to Washington DC next week. Let’s see if he can trump Micheál’s brick.

Dáil drink link runs dry

Staff returning to Kildare Street after months working from home were disappointed to find that the safest ATM in the country is no more.

The Leinster House drink link, situated near the entrance to the LH 2000 annex, was very convenient for taking out the few bob to drop into a brown envelope when the need arose. It was also handy for withdrawing some cash prior to a trip to the Dáil bar or prior to a trip home from the Dáil bar.

We liked it very much.

It’s gone now and if the numbers complaining to this column is anything to go by, people are not happy at all. At the very least, they say the Leinster House community (it’s like a little village) should have been consulted.

A spokesperson says the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission made a decision during the summer to have it removed. “When last in use the cash withdrawals were down to €200 weekly.” Another factor is that an ATM “is quite costly to keep on site”.

However, politicians and staff say that footfall had to be down in the past year for obvious reasons. There were few people about, nearly everywhere in the city was closed and the businesses which were open were not taking cash. Now, with restrictions lifting, people are carrying money again.

But an ATM in Leinster House will not be dispensing it. It’s not coming back.

Golf bait

Things you never thought you would hear until the pandemic came along last year and the world went mad:

“Anything stirring in the Oireachtas Golf Society? Have you changed the name yet? Any sign of an agm? Any outings?”

“Jesus, no! God no! Nothing. Nothing until next year at the earliest. Oh, God no. Sure the court case isn’t even over yet.”

The disgraced Oireachtas Golf Society came to mind this week because of the palaver over the Ryder Cup, and particularly the antics of those half-doors who call themselves golf fans and roar stupid stuff like “Get in the hole!” and “You da man!” when someone tees off.

Could we urgently dispatch Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly to Whistling Straits in Wisconsin to teach the hollering corporate cheeseburgers a thing or two about voice projection.

On Thursday, when Leo Varadkar was baiting Sinn Féin yet again during Leaders’ Questions, Louise’s voice majestically soared above the bickering.

“Aah, gerrup the yard!”

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE