It was Micheál’s shimmiest shimmy yet down the red carpet.
He couldn’t wait to deliver the good news.
And it was very thoughtful of the Taoiseach to bundle all the media spoilers together into one easily accessible Mickyleaks speech. It had been increasingly difficult to keep track as every detail of the Grand Reopening was drip-fed to journalists in recent days.
Micheál Martin’s latest television address to the nation was imbued with hope and optimism. The Taoiseach looked and sounded more relaxed than he has at any other time since taking over the top job in the teeth of a pandemic. As he ran through his script, there was a real feeling that a corner has been turned.
He rattled through the dates and figures. The numbers came thick and fast in a speech which required little padding. In a strong indication that the end is in sight, there were no galvanising noises about the spirit bravely enduring and there was no need to warble about wintering out, tiding over or leaning in.
“The sense of hope, excitement and relief is palpable,” declared Micheál.
And for the rest of us, details of the gradual opening up of society came as a relief too.
The new rules were all a bit bewildering as he doled out a nourishing number soup of how many can go where and do what and when. How many at a wedding? How long to eat inside and how long to drink outside? What size table and do the children count as extra or go free?
And then he said 200 people will be able to congregate at an event. Wonderful. But that would be 200 people in a venue designed for a minimum of 5,000. If nothing else, that will give the lucky ticket-holders an idea what it’s like to be a TD in the Dublin Convention Centre.
Gigs and games are on the way back and by August people will be able to pile onto trains and buses again and complain about the experience. The only difference will be people taking off their face masks instead of putting their bag on the adjoining seat before the journey starts to discourage anyone from sitting next to them.
The vaccine rollout is going really well, Micheál stressed, so barring any nasty surprises the reopening should go well.
Nobody will catch Covid and die. Unfortunately, there will be thousands of casualties after the stampedes to get tickets to the “pilot events”.
"After the trauma of the last 15 months, we are finally taking definite steps toward enjoying normal times with our friends and loved ones again. We are almost back to a point where we can just enjoy the ordinary, extraordinary moments in our lives," smiled the Taoiseach, sounding like an Ikea advert.
But seldom is wonderful. After the speech, he was joined by an equally upbeat Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan. The mood threatened to turn giddy, but they managed to remain keep things low-key.
There is a long way to go. But a long time has passed.
It felt good when Micheál Martin finally got to say these words: “The end of this is within our grasp.”
Let them eat birthday cake
There was no party.
(There hasn’t been a party since the end of 2008, but that’s another story.)
Former tánaiste and Progressive Democrats leader Michael McDowell is 70 today. The university Senator and senior counsel was keeping quiet about approaching this milestone birthday on Saturday, but word got out because it’s hard to keep anything a secret in Leinster House.
When he nipped down to the self-service canteen on Friday to collect some lunch, kitchen manager Julie Lyons surprised him with a special cake to mark the occasion.
It was a large Victoria sponge decorated with fondant icing and sprinkles, and featured a picture of the soon-to-be septuagenarian flanked by the two statues of Nubian princesses which stand outside the Shelbourne Hotel. McDowell was part of a high-profile campaign for their reinstatement last year after management removed them in the mistaken belief they were associated with slavery.
Because of social distancing requirements, the cake was presented and accepted at arm’s length. A slightly embarrassed but delighted Senator McDowell brought it to his office before returning it to the canteen minus a large chunk. It was carved up and left out for people to bring back a slice back to their desks as all tables and chairs have been removed from the canteen.
Having discovered the former minister for justice was not the only birthday boy from the Upper House, Julie then rustled up a big muffin in a cup for Independent Senator Victor Boyhan, who recently turned 60. Victor was also a member of the PDs, back in the day.
There was no fighting over the crumbs.
There are rumours that a birthday video has been made featuring scurrilous contributions from a diverse selection of Oireachtas members. But that's another Leinster House secret.
Changing with the seasons
It’s been hard to keep track of the twists and turns in the Covid cycle of political policy and positioning.
Urgent and angry demands for the Government to adopt a specific strategy suddenly melt away, replaced in short order by urgent and angry demands to do something entirely different.
What was said before is conveniently forgotten.
While Government TDs were lukewarm last Wednesday on the troubling continuation of undiluted emergency powers until at least November, they also accused the Opposition of inconsistent and opportunistic behaviour at a time of crisis.
"We have seen some parties in the House today take wildly different views on the Covid strategy," said Fianna Fáil's Cormac Devlin. "One week they're calling for us to follow the Nphet advice, the next they're calling for zero-Covid strategy while recently demanding universal mandatory hotel quarantine for all travellers to Ireland. From one extreme to the other, they're like an autumn leaf in the wind. They're constantly blowing around and coming up with different strategies."
Bríd Smith of People Before Profit pulled him up on his analogy.
"Cormac Devlin said the Opposition are like autumn leaves blowing in the wind. I don't know if he thinks he's Frank Sinatra or something," she noted, outlining her outright opposition to the extension of the emergency powers. "If he passes this legislation what he'll be like is somebody who has forgotten that there are several seasons. He wants to go from early summer and late spring, straight into the winter and allow these draconian measures bring us right up to the end of November 2021. We are not having it."
Speaking of leaves in the wind, Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly was full of bluster on Virgin Media's Tonight Show on Wednesday night when Fine Gael junior Minister Colm Brophy took a sideswipe at her party. He remarked sweetly while holding forth on the need to safely reintroduce aviation:"I know Louise's party wanted to, at one stage, close down the entire country, to every county, and quarantine everyone arriving..." he began.
Louise jumped in with a passionate interruption. “That’s not true, Colm,” she indignantly cried as he kept talking. “That’s not true!” she insisted again. “That’s not true!”
The problem these days is that there is always somebody, somewhere, on social media who knows otherwise and can produce the receipt to prove it. Sure enough, an RTÉ appearance by deputy O'Reilly at Christmas was fired up on Twitter.
“As we know, Nphet first called for quarantine to be examined back in May of last year. I was calling for that myself and this is something which could and should have been done quicker... Obviously we welcome the fact there is any quarantine but this does not go far enough and that is the anger that people are feeling at the moment.
“And that is the fear – that they are doing their best, that people are doing their best, that they are limiting their contacts, that they are ensuring they don’t move more than five kilometres from their home, that they are following all of the guidelines.
“But they feel let down by the Government, who are not enforcing mandatory quarantine into the State and I think that that has to be done, I am not alone in thinking that...”
Louise O’Reilly represents Fingal, Dublin Airport’s constituency.
Which might explain the memory lapse.
Sticking to Convention
TDs anxious to abandon €20,000-plus a day Dublin Convention Centre for a return to Leinster House were disappointed to learn this week that it is unlikely to happen this side of September.
The Business Committee (overwhelmingly in favour of the move) met Leinster House authorities on Thursday to decide on the move. While the deputies argued strongly for a resumption of business in Kildare Street, senior Oireachtas officials strongly recommended against it on grounds of health and safety.
The Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, and the clerk of the Dáil, Peter Finnegan, backed the proposal to stay in the Convention Centre.
The politicians wanted to meet in Leinster House on Tuesdays and Thursdays, continuing sittings in the Convention Centre on Wednesday to allow for block voting. This was shot down by the officials. The TDs then suggested one day back in Leinster House, but that too was rejected.
When the matter was put to a vote, Sinn Féin and the Social Democrats voted to move, but representatives of the other parties were reluctant to go against the health and safety advice.
Earlier in the week, the Fine Gael parliamentary party voted in favour of a motion from Michael Ring calling for resumption of sittings in Leinster House.
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, the Sinn Féin whip, says he is not going to let go of the issue and will be pressing again at the next committee meeting for a partial return to Leinster House by the Dáil’s 160 TDs.
“I genuinely can’t accept the advice,” he says. “Everyone is already working out of Leinster House. The car park is absolutely jammers, front and back. The TDs are here anyway. They leave to go to the Convention Centre when they have to speak and then they come right back again.”
But it looks like our L’Oréal Sur Liffey (because they’re worth it) is set to remain until the House rises for summer in mid-July.