Miriam Lord: Some puffing out of the Norrisonian chest

David Norris is the man of the moment in Upper House as Senators join chorus of praise

Senator David Norris at Dublin Castle for the result of the same-sex marriage referendum: Eamonn Coghlan says he was “the pathfinder on this human rights issue”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Senator David Norris at Dublin Castle for the result of the same-sex marriage referendum: Eamonn Coghlan says he was “the pathfinder on this human rights issue”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Seanad settled down very quickly after its latest referendum success. They were very modest about the win, which they are claiming as their own. Not a trumpet blown between them, which must be a record.

But they were keen to point out that there wouldn’t have been a referendum in the first place were it not for David Norris, who set the ball rolling many decades ago when it was neither popular nor profitable.

Fianna Fáil’s Denis O’Donovan remembered entering the Upper House for the first time in 1989. “At that stage Senator Norris was ploughing a lone furrow, not alone in this House but in this country and he was often scoffed at by members of my party and other parties,” said O’Donovan.

Bearing in mind Averil Power’s departure from Fianna Fáil over her claims that the party didn’t campaign actively for same-sex marriage, it was intriguing to learn that the tradition of scoffing at people interested in this area goes back a long way. O’Donovan was one of a long list of Senators falling over themselves to congratulate Norris, along with Katherine Zappone, who also was heavily involved in the Yes campaign. “I bow to him today,” said Denis, as Norris went all modest and quiet, for once.

The Bantry-based Senator was one of a number of members who reached for the word “seismic” in the course of their contributions. He thought remarks made by the Archbishop of Dublin after the result were encouraging. “As a practising Catholic, I believe that unless the Catholic Church takes heed of the seismic shift in Irish society it will decline further into the abyss . . . It is important that this is done because, historically, the Catholic Church has buried its head in the sand.”

High praise

Katherine Zappone might have been expected to launch into an emotional speech, but she didn’t. She had high praise for everyone who had helped with the campaign and concluded:“Leader, I have no question today. I just want to say thank you.”

No better man than Eamonn Coghlan to gild the lily. He started promisingly enough. “I take this opportunity to acknowledge Senator David Norris as the pathfinder on this human rights issue and for his role in leading us to a more modern Ireland. President John F Kennedy famously said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’.”

Heads swivelled in the direction of said Senator and we detected some puffing out of the Norrisonian chest.

Coghlan continued: “Yesterday, our country lost one of its famous sons with the passing of Bill O’Herlihy. Bill did more for this country than many a man for many a decade. He united us all, coming into our living rooms in the depths of winter and the heat of summer.”

Norris had no problem with that. Coghlan concluded his very lengthy and affectionate tribute to Bill. And as he sat down, you could hear a quiet chorus of voices in the chamber whispering, “Okey Dokey.”

But what would Norris come out with after Saturday’s exhilarating result? Senators braced themselves under the cowering chandeliers. He rose to his feet.

“I fear that we are in danger of bringing on referendum fatigue, so I will confine myself to saying: ‘Well done, Ireland.’” And that was it. Then he bellowed: “What about the other referendum about the presidential age? A complete farce!”

After letting off some steam, the Father of the Upper House smiled. “It’s nice to be back to good argumentative business here.”

Meltdown

Sweetness and light had broken out in the Dáil too, on the day Bobby Aylward returned to the chamber after a brief hiatus caused by Fianna Fáil’s meltdown at the last election. He was led into the chamber by the chief usher as deputies on all sides of the house – bar Joe Higgins – applauded.

Micheál Martin was in fine spirits, despite losing Senator Averil Power the previous day. He thanked everyone in the party for working so hard to get Bobby back in the Dáil, particularly his constituency colleague and rival John McGuinness. That got the biggest laugh of the day.

Enda welcomed Bobby back and congratulated his boss on his new signing. “In this business, you win some, you lose some.” They fell around the place again.

“More power to your elbow, Micheál” smiled Gerry Adams, who may have been making a clever reference to the elbowing out of Senator Power. “And fair play to you, but it’s Bobby’s day.”

Meanwhile, Finian McGrath was already thinking ahead. Averil is based in his constituency of Dublin Bay North. He won’t be too pleased to have another Independent on his patch.

Welcoming Aylward, he told him “as you know, Micheál and myself had a bad day yesterday”.

But Fianna Fáil and Micheál were also thinking ahead. As the parliamentary party – a fine body of countrymen in navy suits – back-slapped on the plinth, the very capable councillor Deirdre Heney popped up among them.

First time we’ve ever seen that. She is hoping to run in Dublin Bay North and her prospects have improved hugely. She is also blonde and she is female. With any luck, sure nobody will notice that Averil is gone. Smart move, lads.