’Twas the first day of spring and lovely it was to welcome the drowsy bluebottles as they unfurled their fetid wings to the sun-dappled majesty of the Dáil chamber.
The Taoiseach usually makes a point of wishing everyone a happy Lá Fhéile Bríde – St Brigid’s Day – on the first of February. But it slipped his mind this year, possibly because he had a busy morning launching the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs 2017.
This was the much awaited companion volume to Action Plan for Jobs 2012, APJ 2013, APJ 2014, APJ 2015 and APJ 2016.
At least Bríd Smith of AAA/PBP was happy. Gerry Adams wished the Taoiseach and Ceann Comhairle a happy Lá Fhéile Bríde.
“Yaay!” chirruped Smith. “That’s my day.”
Adams employed his most favourite phrase in the whole world.
“Maith thuuuú” he honked happily. Following through with a clunky “Fair play duit!”
Suddenly, Richard Boyd-Barrett began performing exaggerated sweeping movements, swirling his folders above his head like they were a matador's cape and he was Des Cahill doing the Paso Doble on Dancing with the Stars.
RBB was being assailed by bluebottles.
Bríd, his People Before Profit colleague, was up next at Leaders’ Questions. But she started swatting too. “There’s a few flies in the chamber,” she explained to the Ceann Comhairle.
They were probably attracted by the rats.
Leinster House has an ongoing problem with them due to building work in the vicinity which has greatly discommoded the local rodent population. Many have relocated to the Houses of the Oireachtas, seeking affinity with the residents.
The exterminators have been hard at work. Some rats have expired beneath the floorboards. Apparently, this explains the unmerciful whiff which lends a unique ambiance to the swanky reception area inside the main gates from time to time.
But back to the bluebottles and the flies, heady with the promise of new spring growth and decomposing vermin.
Bríd successfully dispersed the mini-swarm.
She raised the previous night's meeting of the communications committee, and a "hot and heavy" debate on the proposed merger of Independent News and Media and Celtic Media. She said there needed to be "proper public scrutiny" of this plan, holding up a map prepared by the NUJ which indicated how Ireland would look in terms of media ownership if the merger happens.
She claimed that media in the country would be owned “almost entirely by Denis O’Brien and his consortium” if the deal goes ahead.
We may have been imagining it, but at this point, we felt the sky darkening above the chamber’s glass dome. It felt like sundown in Transylvania and big black shadows were gathering at the glass, scratching at it with their talons.
“We’re going to send an invitation to Denis O’Brien News and Media to see if they’ll attend the hearing,” said Smith, adding cryptically: “They may not be able to, but then some people are not able to pay their taxes in this country. These things, you know, can be difficult it you’re an exile living abroad, to get permission from your advisers: ‘Can I come over and make an appearance at such a committee within such a tight time frame?’ It may not be possible.”
Whoever was she talking about?
We could hear the swoosh of senior counsel cloaks outside the glass as the scratching grew more urgent.
“I think you should be concerned about this,” she told the Taoiseach.
“Once upon a time – in the 40s – the Skibbereen Eagle declared that it would be keeping an eye on the Kremlin. We’ve no Skibbereen Eagles left if this merger goes through. We’ve nobody to keep an eye on anybody else.”
Enda waffled a vague reply while peeling a precautionary bulb of garlic under his desk.
When Smith said the committee was sending an invite to media mogul O'Brien, Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher piped up with a helpful suggestion.
“You might deliver it, Taoiseach.”
“We are running against a ticking clock,” warned Smith, as Enda looked around for something, or someone. She outlined the “extraordinarily interesting” way that “Independent News and Media is dealt with by the State”, mentioning tax matters relating to people she didn’t name and a €100 million company debt written off by Allied Irish Banks.
“We are hurtling towards a dictatorship in terms of media.”
In the nick of time, Enda’s young assistant materialised at the chamber doors bearing a script in his hand.
The Taoiseach proceeded to read a long and complicated Civil Service-type reply. It said nothing. The skies brightened again, the lawyers returning to their lair.
For some reason, Enda referred to Bríd Smith in both his replies as "Deputy Collins". Then again, when you're in Fine Gael, all those leftie women look the same.
Bríd said he didn’t answer the question at all. “What do you keep calling me Deputy Collins for? The name is Bríd. Lá le Bríde!”