The Dáilympic Games ended last week with a socially distanced closing ceremony in an empty Dublin Convention Centre watched by hardly anyone.
The flag, with its famous three-ring symbol (representing the circus), was removed from above Leinster House and messily folded by a bickering colour party drawn from Government and Opposition representatives. It will be reinstated in September if the country hasn’t slid irretrievably into totalitarianism by then, as was loudly feared by some TDs who know better but have reputations to live down to.
A Garda investigation into the decision to locate the Dáilympic flame on Howth Head is ongoing. Everyone is exhausted. The turty-turd Dáilympiad (or 33¼ if it runs full term) wasn’t a classic in the series. Dogged by a spirit-sapping pandemic, the jaw-dropping moments and stand-out individual performances we have come to expect from these games were missing. It’s been a a dull old slog since Janaury. Here’s a selection of results:
PARADE OF CHAMPIONS
Yet again, Alice Mary Higgins blows away the opposition with her prodigious work rate and high-quality, well-researched contributions. She contributes to debates on a wide range of bills – correcting, amending and commenting.
The university Senator’s work last week on the Climate Action Bill (incidentally, signed into law on Friday by her father, Michael D) won universal praise.
“She was absolutely outstanding,” said a colleague. “She saw the global picture, knew her subject inside out, was detailed and logical and spent hours in the chamber. She was the one who engaged most with Minister Eamon Ryan and he even accepted some of her amendments. Alice Mary was the star performer by some distance.”
Joint bronze: The Green's Ossian Smyth, who has been more surefooted than senior ministerial colleagues on the vaccine passport rollout and related issues, and Minister of State for Europe Thomas Byrne (FF), who puts in the unglamorous hours during questions when Simon Coveney is otherwise engaged.
Silver: Fianna Fáil's Mary Butler, doing trojan work as Minister with responsibility for mental health and older people.
Gold: Mary was pipped at the post by party colleague Anne Rabbitte, who is Minister for State for Disabilities and has proved a gutsy advocate for the sector in the Dáil.
Laps of honour for Sinn Féin’s Martin Kenny (wrapped in the Leitrim flag); Labour’s Duncan Smith (in the Dublin blue) and Catherine Connolly (waving the maroon and white of Galway).
Honourable Fourth: Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats for her contribution to the Housing debates.
Bronze: Martin Kenny, who stands out from the Sinn Féin crowd. His measured contributions on justice, rural and community affairs are never shouty or aggressive; while he criticises, he also gives credit where it's due.
Silver: Duncan Smith of Labour for his passionate takedown of the Healy-Raes after they accused the Labour party of being out of touch with the working people. "They don't understand what it is trying to keep a door open, whether you're a hairdresser or a small butcher or a person in the service industry; they don't have a clue," taunted Michael Healy-Rae. "I don't have to put on a political costume and a caricature to pretend I'm working-class like some," retorted Smith. "I'm the son of a carpenter. I'm not the son of Fianna Fáil privilege and millions and millions of euro."
Gold: Gold medal winner and Dáilmypic champion is Independent Catherine Connolly for her memorable, hard-hitting speech on the report into mother and baby homes. She is a frequent speaker in debates despite her role as Leas-Cheann Comhairle and her contributions are always well constructed, well argued and well worth a listen.
Slow Bicycle Race
Bronze: Stephen Donnelly. Promising start by the Minister for Health, who wobbled all over the place in the early quarter but unfortunately gained in confidence as the year progressed and looks set to cross the line in the vaccination race surprisingly close to deadline.
Silver: Darragh O'Brien. The Minister for Housing was hot favourite to take the title when he took over the handlebars of a bike tottering and teetering away from the finish line for well over a decade. It looked like victory was assured when he disclosed this week that the Government's much-anticipated Housing for All plan is delayed. But he says it will be ready in a few weeks' time and should be worth the wait.
Gold: The National Children's Hospital. Will it ever be finished?
Best defection by an athlete trying to escape a dangerous totalitarian regime reminiscent of Nazi Germany
In a departure from tradition, there were no defections in this class at the turty-turd Dáilympics. This was because the politicians complaining most about enduring medical apartheid while living under the yoke of oppression didn’t want to leave because they were too busy milking the situation. And anyway, they like it here.
But there’s a double gold for former Fine Gael minister Eoghan Murphy, who resigned his Dublin Bay South seat in April, bagging top spot in the defection category and also a coveted gold in the sprint for his sudden and swift exit from national politics.
Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe is viewed as a great medal prospect for the future. He is putting in a strong performance as president of the powerful Eurogroup of finance ministers and rumours abound that he may defect to bigger and better things before the 33rd Dáil is done. This month marks the end of the first year of his 2½-year leadership of the Eurogroup.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the pharmaceutical industry played a part in the Dáilympics. Leinster House is no stranger to anabolics. The vaccine output of the drug companies and the rollout of jabs consumed months of speaking time, only to be replaced by fresh outrage over vaccine passports and limiting indoor dining to the fully vaccinated. In a crowded field, the race to be the one who knows best was intense.
Bronze: Róisín Shortall of the Social Democrats. It's been hard to please Róisín during this session.
Silver: Any of the Roaring Independent Group.
Gold: Labour Party Leader Alan Kelly, who hasn't let up about the vaccines since manufacturing began. If the Government's handling of the rollout and the issuing of Covid certs hasn't been "bonkers", it's been "bananas". However, he was right when he told the Taoiseach "you've put all your eggs in the basket of the vaccine basket".
By the way, happy anniversary, Alan. Back in March he was wondering if he would be able to celebrate it in proper style. “My wedding anniversary is in July,” he told the Dáil. “I am going to offer to take my wife out for dinner in a restaurant she chooses, but I don’t know if I’m actually going to be able to take her out in July to a restaurant because I don’t know if they’ll be open.” Fortunately, they were open for outdoor dining for most of the month, with indoor dining any day now.
Staying with drugs, Gold for the Most Photographed Pharmacy in the middle of a Pandemic goes to the one owned by former Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, who managed to lure most of the Dublin Bay South byelection candidates (with photographers in tow) to her Rathgar premises at the height of the campaign. The only one who didn’t figure was the Fine Gael candidate, James Geoghegan.
Gynmastics – Balance Beam
Team and individual gold: Sinn Féin. Mary Lou McDonald and her party captured top spot on the winners' podium for effortlessly maintaining poise and composure while changing opinions on Covid and Housing strategy according to the prevailing populist wind.
The Sinn Féin president was also runaway winner in the contest to see who can shout “disgraceful” the most time during Leaders’ Questions, although she had to settle for a silver in the overall category, beaten into second place by Mattie McGrath, who roared “disgraceful” more times than anyone else in the history of roaring.
To the Dáilympic Pool, where there was drama aplenty when persistent leaks put the swimming gala in jeopardy. The source of the problem was traced back to the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings. Disaster was averted when a quick-thinking official used a number of disgruntled former Fine Gael ministers and Marc MacSharry to plug the gaps.
Bronze: Hazel Chu, Green party councillor and former lord mayor of Dublin accepted on behalf of the Catherine Martin wing. Hazel put in an outstanding individual performance when running as an Independent in the Seanad byelection with the blessing of her deputy leader, Catherine Martin.
There was much awkwardness within the ranks as Martin’s supporters asserted their presence and made life uncomfortable for leader Eamon Ryan. There is still a sizable rump of Greens who believe the party should not have gone into government last year.
Silver: The Healy-Rae brothers.
Gold: The Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party. You'd nearly feel sorry for Micheál Martin having to put up with such a collection of Moaning Minnies, pining for days of lost glory which now exist only in their heads.
A very technical discipline, this involves speed and guile and a well-developed brass neck. It is one of the oldest Dáilympic sports with exponents from all across the political spectrum.
Bronze: Stephen Donnelly for his massive U-turn on vaccinating younger people first, not to mention another one in May when vaccine certs for indoor dining were not on the table until Nphet intervened.
Silver: The Government, for allowing everyone to have a massive knees-up at Christmas and then reversing ferret in jig-time in January after infection numbers shot up.
Gold: Paschal Donohoe, who got very ratty when questioned on Morning Ireland about whether the Government should allow shoe shops to open so children could be measured for shoes. Presenter Gavin Jennings mentioned that Paschal's party has a history with children's shoes (which it does) and Paschal reacted like an elephant just stood on his bunion. He didn't take kindly to the reminder and no, the Government would not be changing the Covid restrictions to look after children's growing feet. The rule was changed by lunchtime.
Bronze: Multiple medallist Stephen Donnelly, who apologised to Leas-Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly for his stroppy reaction when she cut him off because he had run over time. "Unf***inbelievable," he whispered as he reluctantly sat down.
Silver: Minister of State for Education Josepha Madigan, who had to apologise twice over separate comments she made referencing children with special needs when the Government was in discussion with teachers' unions over the reopening of special schools.
Gold: Lily-livered RTÉ for apologising to a discommoded Paschal Donohoe over the children's shoes questions.
Twin golds for Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald, who kept the barbs ricocheting all year with their bad-tempered back-and-forth during Leaders’ Questions.