Miriam Lord: Boris becomes the latest atrocity to unite the Dáil

Protocol debate in Dáil full of hard-hitting and combative language not heard since the row over turf

It’s a very dubious distinction but no doubt the British prime minister will find some way to claim the credit. He always does.

The Tory leader may share the honours with a deadly global pandemic and a horrifyingly vicious war but ― credit where credit is due ― through his unscrupulous actions he has become the latest atrocity to unite the Dáil.

Boris Johnson: the Gift which keeps on Giving. He scored a double, because the Seanad was also united in its condemnation of his outrageous proposal to ride roughshod over the Northern Ireland protocol. Though Seanad leader Regina Doherty’s description of it as a “unilateral move by the British government to throw the negotiated international agreement under a bus” is probably more accurate as mentioning Johnson and riding in the one sentence could give rise to other interpretations.

Mary Lou was out in her statement red satin jacket, so it was clear she meant business

Back in the Dáil, the depth of feeling against the proposed legislation was such that Johnson was called a bully in two languages. “Ní dhéanfaidh Boris Johnson bulaíocht ar Éirinn,” declared Mary Lou McDonald. “We will not be bullied!”

“We must not be bullied by the Conservative Party and its political allies,” Ivana Bacik warbled from the same hymnsheet. The Taoiseach was in perfect harmony with the Sinn Féin leader and the Labour Party leader. But he was more circumspect in his denunciation of the PM’s blatant personal survival wheeze, directing his anger and criticism at the “British government” instead of personalising his comments. That’s because Micheál Martin has standards, even if he was wasting his time applying them to his morally bankrupt Westminster counterpart, who has none.

Mary Lou was out in her statement red satin jacket, so it was clear she meant business on Tuesday when the Dáil reconvened after its early June break. She had to wear it really, as this was her first Leaders’ Questions since her latest, excellent opinion poll result while she has been fighting for Ireland all week across the airwaves of England. Not only that, but she had a cast iron case of Brits Acting the Maggot to take to the floor of the Dáil, secure in the knowledge that she could fulminate about them to her heart’s content and neither the Taoiseach nor anybody else would contradict her.

She asked him “in a spirit of unity” if he agreed on the maggot front and that “Boris Johnson must be faced down”.

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“A profoundly dispiriting moment,” sighed Micheál Martin and he wasn’t talking about having to row in enthusiastically behind the leader of Sinn Féin on the topic of Perfidious Albion. Mary Lou suggested “an all-of-Oireachtas approach” to counter Johnson’s “renewed attempt to bully Ireland”. Her colleague Niall Ó Donnghaile led the charge across the hall in the Seanad, prefacing his remarks with “a quote by a very famous and well known Dubliner”. Ronnie Drew? Steven Cluxton? Mrs Browne? Bang Bang?

Niall, dazzled by his own cleverality, began with the punchline: “In 1921, Edward Carson said…” The Sinn Féin politician, in what was probably a first for a party member, relied upon the hero of Ulster unionism to make his point about the shameless treachery being perpetrated on the people of Northern Ireland by the British government and its self-serving leader.

“What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power,” is what Carson said. “Replace 1921 with 2022 and replace the words ‘to get the Conservative Party into power’ with ‘to keep the Conservative Party and, probably in particular, Boris Johnson in power’ and we can see the very dangerous and retrograde antics play out in London,” said the Belfast-based senator.

Fine Gael senator Emer Currie, whose late father Austin was a civil rights leader and founder member of the SDLP, speaking as “someone whose life, personal and political, has been defined by the values, the ambition and the achievement of the Good Friday Agreement” couldn’t stand by “and let the British government and the DUP misappropriate it”. It was “deplorable” to see the agreement and the achievements of the peace process twisted by Johnson’s government “to suit its own selfish party-political needs, the antithesis of what the agreement is about, which is partnership and compromise”.

Over in the Lower House, the Taoiseach was finding it difficult to process the recent happenings in London. What transpired on Monday with the publication of legislation to allow Britain welch on a legally binding international agreement was profoundly, well, profound (and profoundly dispiriting, reckless, damaging and economically incoherent). Everyone finds it hard to comprehend “the rationale or the logic” of the British position, he sighed, “bar the domestic UK politics itself”.

Ivana Bacik also talked of the recklessness, selfish and dangerous behaviour happening around a very sensitive political issue. But she needed something else to drive home the gravity of the situation brought about by base political chicanery at the heart of a neighbouring government blithely using the Irish people in its own internal power struggle. Her first attempt wasn’t bad.

At least one good thing had come out of this mess. It was “‘the sense of unity across the House’ noted the Taoiseach

“Effectively, we are seeing the British government operate like a rogue state.” Then again, isn’t that what they wanted? But she captured the chamber’s full attention with her follow-up shot. “It’s as if Donald Trump moved into number 10 Downing Street.” Steady on, Ivana. So The Donald would be living there too, along with the gold wallpaper, the latest wife and children, Dilyn the dog, Larry the cat and The Gift which keeps on Giving?

The Labour leader mentioned this appalling vista a second time ― “a comparison which I do not take lightly”. However, as Micheál and Mary Lou had already pointed out on numerous occasions, “there is now a dawning realisation across the EU that the British government is not negotiating in good faith and has broken trust”. Which is why she had to throw Trump into the fetid mix. His administration tore up international agreements and betrayed the trust of those people who negotiated with it. “Unfortunately, we are seeing the same development with the British government’s breach of trust.”

At least one good thing had come out of this mess. It was “the sense of unity across the House” noted the Taoiseach. Thanks, unfortunately, to “this assault on an international agreement”. The Dáil hadn’t heard such hard-hitting and combative language since the row over turf, or any of Michael Ring’s recent contributions. Mary Lou, in her fire engine red satin jacket issued a clarion call to the Taoiseach.

“How do you intend to mobilise allies in support of the Good Friday Agreement to face Boris Johnson down?” He said constant contact will be maintained with our allies ― the EU and the US ― as “we are now witnessing a denial of democracy”. The negotiation table is ready, for what it’s worth. One never gets any “clarity” or reciprocation from the British side as to its current position, he murmured wanly.

Oh, but Johnson’s high-vis and hard-hatted Etonian ears must have been burning. Another spiffing result for the great narcissist so, because it means everybody is talking about him and that’s all that matters.

Profoundly depressing.