Miriam Lord: Norris exit prompts wave of indifference

Senator loses out to Marie-Louise O’Donnell as leader of Seanad Independent group

David Norris: announced he was stepping down as leader of the Seanad Independent group. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

David Norris: announced he was stepping down as leader of the Seanad Independent group. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

It’s all kicking off now. The ripple effect from political mayhem across the pond reached Leinster House yesterday with the surprise departure of a high-profile parliamentarian from a hugely prestigious leadership position.

The news came as a bolt from the blue to Paul Coghlan, the Leas-Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, who was in the chair when the shocking announcement was made. You could see by his expression that he was stunned with indifference.

The magnitude of what occurred cannot be understated.

Last night, as the stark reality of Norexit began to sink in, members of the Oireachtas were nearly reeling at this latest development in what has been an astonishing week for international politics.

To worsen matters, the Taoiseach and the two main Opposition leaders were not in the House to exert a calming influence on TDs and Senators as they worked through the gamut of their emotions from “meh” to “whatever”. Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin were in Brussels on Brexit business while Gerry Adams was in west Belfast at the launch of the Féile an Pobal arts festival.

Stand-ins’ Questions

As a result of their absence, the main item on the Dáil’s menu – Stand-ins’ Questions – was a dull affair. The Seanad took up the slack. Gerard Craughwell told a riveting story about being charged an arm and a leg by Ryanair to change his airline ticket. “I rise this morning to call on the leader to organise a debate on competition, particularly in aviation,” he began. “I had reason to book a flight to Paris with Ryanair which cost €285,000.”

That got everyone’s attention – but he hadn’t meant to add on the thousands. So Ryanair had charged him €189.40 to change his ticket. “An outrageous abuse.” Craughwell asked that the Minister for Transport come to the Seanad for a full debate on the matter.

Lots of Senators congratulated Iceland on their Euro 2016 win over England. Fine Gael Senator Ray Butler, who failed to get re-elected to the Dáil, then failed to get elected to the Seanad but was subsequently blessed with a nomination from the Taoiseach, was one. “I congratulate the Blueshirts,” he said. Of course he did.

Rónán Mullen announced: “I recently renewed my television licence. I did so with some reluctance.” Fair enough.

He was particularly annoyed with RTÉ running adverts saying how great the State broadcaster is. “What is more, it picks issues and events on which, perhaps, not all voters were agreed and tells us how great those events all were.”

What could he be talking about? Might it be RTÉ’s look back on the joyous day the marriage equality referendum was passed?

Anyway, Rónán wants the Minister for Communications to come in and address what “might be issues of fairness and balance or left-wing bias in RTÉ in particular” and to consider “sanctions where broadcasters, specifically tax-funded broadcasters, are found to have misused their position, been biased or lacked impartiality”.

In the middle of the order of business’s usual eclectic mix, David Norris dropped his bombshell. He announced he was stepping down as leader of the Independent group. With nine (now eight) members, it is the third-largest grouping in the Upper House.

Norris, it seems, was ousted in a palace coup headed by Marie-Louise O’Donnell, with the hand of Michael McDowell clearly at work behind the scenes.

He explained he was elected leader of the Independent group after the election, but then more Senators joined so McDowell suggested a re-run of the selection process, which happened yesterday.

“I put myself forward again,” Norris said, his cross-party colleagues brimming with mild interest. “Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell got six votes, I got two and Senator Craughwell got one. I regarded this as a vote of no confidence.”

Leas-Chathaoirleach Coghlan correctly wondered if the Seanad really needed to know any of this. “I think so,” sniffed Norris. “And, as a result, I have resigned my position in the Independent group.”

He complimented Marie-Louise and wished her well. “I will therefore be the only independent Independent when my former group has notified the office of this. Le roi est mort, vive la reine, but I remain father of the House.”

Thank heavens for that. There are only so many shocks our fragile political system can take.