Miriam Lord: New politics lapses into familiar old ways

There’s a spirit-sapping familiarity about the goings-on in and around Leinster House

This New Politics is fabulous. In the manner of great departures, it was very uplifting on Tuesday.

Finally, it was time for the first working day of the 32nd Dáil. A fresh dawn beckoned. All the politicians almost threw themselves into it.

Except for the Taoiseach, who was on his way to Washington to take part in a 1916 pageant. Enda Kenny was forced to fly to America because Sinn Féin bought up all the costumes in Ireland last month and then wore them out parading up and down to Glasnevin Cemetery.

But everyone else was around and mad with the excitement of trying something as radical as the New Politics.


Of course, it’s a tough ask after all these years of business as usual. But there is nothing to fear about change.

Like love, the New Politics is all around us now. In Leinster House, they could feel it in their fingers, feel it in their toes. It was written on the wind. Everywhere people went, in fact. Just like in the song.

If the corridors had been packed and throbbing with excitement, people would have stopped each other to say: “Isn’t the New Politics fabulous? Isn’t it very uplifting, all the same? And didn’t they get a good day for it, thank God?”

But they weren’t, so they didn’t.


If the brimming chamber had been simmering with rigorous consensus, politicians from all sides would have produced stirring speeches, welcoming this historic sea-change.

But it wasn’t. The proceedings were painfully dreary. There was a spirit-sapping familiarity about the goings-on in and around Leinster House.

Crowd control barriers were out on Kildare Street and Merrion Street. The anti-water charges people were back at the gates and giving it welly. The police were out in high-vis force, glowering back at them. There were a few nasty skirmishes with a small section of the crowd.

However, in a new twist, members of An Garda Síochána also marched on Leinster House, sensibly deciding to take a different route, ending up on the other side of the building.

Proceedings didn’t get under way until 2.30pm on Tuesday – same as always. By 4pm, ushers were dragging comatose journalists out of the press gallery by their heels. By 4.30pm, the chamber was deserted, save for three baby Shinners, Joan Burton, Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy and a large newcomer to his left.

First-time TD and first time Minister Katherine Zappone read a speech on the second stage of the Adoption Bill to deserted Government benches. Not one seat occupied. Not one.

The New Politics.

Earlier, in another echo of the old ways, a controversy involving An Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner was the topic of discussion during Leaders' Questions. Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald handled questions from Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams in a brisk, no-nonsense fashion.

The troubling emergence of allegations that the force’s top brass may have a benign line for public consumption when dealing with whistleblowers, but a more sinister approach to the same issue when addressing it in private, bore the familiar ring of recent policing controversies.

Did the Garda Commissioner instruct the force’s legal team in the recent O’Higgins investigation to adopt a particularly combative stance in relation to whistleblower Maurice McCabe, as has been alleged in a newspaper report?

Gerry Adams thought this a reasonable, simple question. He asked it twice. And twice, Frances Fitzgerald relied upon legal language to sidestep a straight reply.

“We are supposed to be in a new political dispensation,” sighed Gerry. “You haven’t answered the question at all.”

Full privilege

An intriguing element of this latest Garda row is that one of the lawyers involved is Michael McDowell SC, who represented Maurice McCabe. McDowell was recently elected to the Seanad, so can say just about anything with full privilege. That might set the cat among the pigeons, if his client were willing to release him.

Meanwhile, Labour is still trying to elect a new leader. Seven TDs in all are involved in this onerous task. It's proving very difficult for them. Give it to Brendan Howlin, or let Alan Kelly have his head?

Howlin was supposed to be their chosen one. Then news came that Alan was throwing his AK47 out of the pram. The remaining nervous nellies spent the day discussing this problem. Imagine them in charge of running a country with important decisions to be made?

Oh, wait.

This new politics is fabulous.