Opposition TDs must keep a watchful eye on the Government during this unprecedented lockdown period, otherwise Leo Varadkar will Orbánise the entire country and suddenly it will be like Dublin on the Danube, with democracy as we know it out the window.
Vigilance at all times.
No better man than Richard Boyd Barrett to exercise it when others are turning their face from the real and present threat posed by Fidesz Gael (as they will be known when the takeover is complete). Because when the whole of Ireland is transfixed by Seanad election counts and the Labour leadership race – and maybe the small matter of a global pandemic – there exists a tempting window of opportunity for any leader with authoritarian tendencies.
Dáil Éireann was not going to sit this week. With no legislation to debate and just a fraction of TDs allowed in because of distancing requirements, it was decided to do away with Thursday’s session.
No point in dragging Oireachtas staff and civil servants into what could be Infection Central for a non-essential sitting when the State has expressly ordered the populace to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to venture out.
Dig-in for Victory. Cocoon against Corona. All in it together.
Except in Kildare Street.
It isn’t that simple when Dáil Éireann is simply essential, argue some.
The sitting abandoned on Monday was resurrected on Tuesday following protests from a number of TDs, including those from People before Profit and Sinn Féin.
Proper order too, said PBP’s Richard Boyd Barrett, who voiced “strenuous opposition” to the initial move. “We need democracy to continue to function,” he stressed after the decision was reversed.
“We need microphones to continue to function,” said nobody in Sinn Féin, in public.
So TDs will come in and talk for three hours on Thursday. Statements on Social Welfare followed by statements on Health.
“A bit unnecessary,” was Mattie McGrath’s reported response when told about the newly scheduled statements. Tipperary Independent Mattie rarely turns down an opportunity to speak in the House.
At the same time, the Seanad election will be in full soporific swing, the Labour leadership campaign will be approaching a faint crescendo and the small matter of a viral pandemic will heap electrifying excitement on top of a global emergency.
It’s become too much for Labour’s parliamentary party. Their TDs announced on Tuesday that they will be sitting out the sitting. They are doing this in “support of the national effort to stay at home”.
RBB has Fine Gael's number. He tweeted about the party when it still looked like there would be no Dáil gathering
Instead, a stinging press release has been issued and spokesmen Ged Nash (social welfare) and Alan Kelly (health) will submit written statements to the Dáil.
“They will also publish subtitled videos of their statements on social media.”
In fairness, you can’t ask more than that.
But are they right to stay away?
RBB has Fine Gael’s number. He tweeted about the party on Monday, when it still looked like there would be no Dáil gathering.
“Far-right Hungarian PM Orban using #Covid_19 to silence opposition & media & rule by decree. Meanwhile Fine Gael , sister party of Orban’s, trying to suspend Dáil & opposition being silenced on major public issues & questions here.”
Viktor Orbán has just taken sole control of Hungary after a parliament dominated by his Fidesz party handed him emergency powers to rule by decree for as long as he sees fit.
“At the end of the emergency, all powers will be fully restored,” he unreassuringly promised.
Unlike the huge concern over pandemic-related political developments in Hungary, the action taken by Varadkar’s Government under sweeping emergency powers is what RBB and many others want to see continued in normal times. They don’t want to see long-requested housing and social welfare measures – along with the temporary shelving of a two-tier health system – reversed once the crisis is over.
It looks like a new government of old government heads will have to decide about that. It’s unlikely to be the national unity government which Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, spurred on by some of his new Dáil deputies, is strongly advocating despite getting the bum’s rush from those he would wish to see in it.
“It’s still possible,” insisted Eamon at the start of the week during an interview with RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke.
“What other party or group of individuals have come out to agree with you?” enquired O’Rourke, as his interviewee struggled to come up with an answer.
“Listen, firstly, Sean, there are difficulties with this. It’s not like it’s easy, you could do it with just the flick of a switch but . . .”
“Nobody wants it except the Greens,” persisted Sean.
“No, there are a number of . . .”
And in the midst of everything, the most important issue of all: the composition of the next Seanad
“Well there’s an article, I see Sam McConkey, one of our leading immunologists this morning saying . . .”
“Sam McConkey TD, what constituency does he represent?” asked Sean, witheringly.
Moving on, government formation talks are slowly picking up, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil looking into their respective hearts via videoconferencing links while eyeing up additional partners. There is talk of “weeks” from both sides. Maybe as little as a fortnight.
And in the midst of everything, the most important issue of all: the composition of the next Seanad. The runaway highlight of the week.
Granted, with a killer virus terrorising the nation, the bar isn’t set very high.
But any entertainment is welcome.
We’ll be glued to it. It’s something to do now that we’ve eaten the emergency supplies.