No politicians hurt in weekly outbreak of shadow boxing


DÁIL SKETCH:SHADOW BOXING, as practised in the Dáil, is not a solitary exercise. Taoiseach tucks in glass chin. Boasts like a butterfly. Waffles like a bee.

His shadows square up and try to pierce the defence. Shane Ross leads with the right. Richard Boyd Barrett leads with the left. Micheál Martin favours the anxious jab while Gerry Adams swings with the prevailing mood.

Few decent punches are landed and then they all retire to their respective corners claiming victory. And that’s Leaders’ Questions over for another day.

As the pundits might put it, it’s never much more than parliamentary handbags when the Dáil heavyweights go toe to toe.

But the prospect of a brawl never fails to draw fight fans to the gallery. There’s nothing like a bit of bloodlust to spice up a dull morning in Kildare Street.

Yesterday morning, Enda Kenny was marked by a new shadow. In a departure with Leinster House tradition, this shadow wasn’t trying to floor him with a political uppercut.

Cian O’Connor joined the Taoiseach’s staff for the day as part of National Job Shadow Day, an annual initiative designed to bring more people with disabilities into the workforce.

After the Fianna Fáil leader opened round one with a few exploratory jabs on the water charges, Enda skipped away in the direction of the visitors’ gallery.

“I’d like to recognise Cian O’Connor up there, who is shadowing the Taoiseach today,” he announced, pointing towards young O’Connor, who was in the front row watching every move.

There was a big round of applause for Enda’s new shadow.

Then Mattie “the tank” McGrath broke the Taoiseach’s clinch with Cian: “Who’s shadowing Big Phil today?”

There was no sign of the Minister for the Environment in the House. It’s rumoured Big Phil is being minded during the referendum campaign in case he throws a calamitous haymaker during the run-in to the vote.

Meanwhile, Micheál Martin was on his toes, demanding to know what happened to a Price Watercharges Cooper report commissioned at great expense to look into the taxing issue of the national taps.

He was knocked off course momentarily by a well-aimed Rabbitte punch. “You’ve read more documents in Opposition than you ever read in government,” snorted the Minister for Communications.

As for Enda, he was well prepared for the questions from his Fianna Fáil shadow, repeating his well-worked routine about Bord Gáis taking State responsibility for the new Bord Gush.

Then Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin – in the green corner – came out of the shadows. “Welcome back!” shouted Brendan Howlin.

Caoimhghín was Sinn Féin’s leader in the Dáil before the general election, but now he’s in the shadow of Gerry Adams.

The Cavan-Monaghan deputy powered in with his party’s favoured Austerity Uppercut. “There is only one real troika on the floor of this house and this is the troika of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, who want, once again, to pull the wool over the eyes of the Irish electorate. People should be strong and vote No.”

Enda parried with his Government’s efforts to stimulate the indigenous economy.

“You don’t support that proposition because you have never supported anything in the House here: pay for nothing, vote against everything, on the basis of swimming with the tide and attempting to be popular on all occasions.”

Caoimhghín rounded on Government backbenchers whose “chorus of heckling” has become a feature of the new Government.

“You’re wrong!” they heckled back, without a hint of irony.

Shane Ross rounded off the session with a plug for his paper, the Sunday Independent, and its story last week about a civil servant who had tried to alert the Department of Finance to the imminent banking crisis.

His call for protection for whistleblowers met with little resistance from the Taoiseach and their encounter ended with some harmless glove touching.

Shadow boxing, Dáil style.

The proper brawls happen outside the House.

All sides are limbering up in earnest now for the referendum campaign. Already the Government has been left flat-footed by Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance.

The bell went for them weeks ago and they’ve been piling up the points in the propaganda war. Gerry Adams launched his party’s campaign against the European fiscal compact treaty yesterday.

Or “the so-called Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union,” according to their pamphlet, issued to coincide with the launch.

So-called, one assumes, because that’s its title.

Meanwhile, the Coalition is beginning the chase. Labour is holding a special meeting of its parliamentary party on Saturday to plan its campaign.

Fine Gael is also gearing up. Enda is meeting his deputies and Senators all this week to issue them with their fight plan.

He is calling groups from different regions into Government Buildings for early-morning pep talks. The unfortunate politicians have to be in place by 6.50am to meet him at 7am.

Yesterday morning, dazed TDs and Senators from Connacht and Donegal wandered the corridors, having risen at the crack of dawn for their appointment with Enda.

“Everyone was there by seven and we were out again by half-past,” one told us. “We wandered out on to Merrion Street looking for something to do. Somebody suggested breakfast but nowhere was open. It was like the twilight zone. I might go for a nap this afternoon.”

They looked like they’d gone 12 rounds with Katie Taylor. At least the Taoiseach spared young Cian, his job shadow for the day, that particular sucker punch.