Flat atmosphere in Leinster House overshadowed by chaos outside

Mary Lou McDonald hits her stride after surgery as scandal around Temple Street hospital deepens

So the Dáil opened for business yesterday after the summer recess. Inside, it was more with a whimper than a bang; outside, it was a different story.

In the chamber and around the House, the atmosphere was somewhat flat – perhaps Government TDs were deflated by the absence of their leaders, or perhaps everyone was suffering from the back-to-school blues. Either way, it was a quiet start to what will undoubtedly be a fractious Dáil term. But that was inside.

Outside, there was plenty of noise at the gates of Leinster House, where a couple of hundred far-right demonstrators gathered to chant, sing, wave an apparent mocked-up guillotine around and occasionally hurl abuse at passersby heading in through the gates. The political antennae of the protesters may be questionable though: Leinster House gossip suggested that a number of senior politicians passed by them unnoticed. “We’re coming for you!” some of them chanted. But you have to know who exactly it is you’re coming for before you get them, right? They did recognise Michael Healy-Rae and harangued and abused him incessantly. At times the demonstration looked less like a legitimate political protest than semi-organised thuggery.

The gardaí were nervous enough, though. Kildare Street was closed off, and the public order unit was parked around the corner, ready to intervene if necessary. Later, the protesters went around the other side of Leinster House and blocked the Merrion Street gates, meaning that a number of TDs couldn’t get out. They were pretty cross about it. Eventually the gardaí arrived in numbers and cleared the way, making a number of arrests as they did so. TDs in all parties are worried this will become a regular occurrence. Around Leinster House, the chat is of little else.


Miriam Lord’s take on proceedings: It was a long, depressing day as dangerously emboldened thugs descended on the Dáil

Back inside, people were watching Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who spent the summer recovering from serious surgery, wondering if she would be back to match fitness. She was in mid-season form already, throwing zingers about housing and the cost of living at Simon Coveney, who sitting in for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Leaders’ Questions.

TDs sought answers on the growing scandal at Temple Street children’s hospital, knowing full well that Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is currently swanking around New York attending to UN business. They demanded that he return home immediately to answer questions in the Dáil. Coveney indicated that wouldn’t happen until next week.

But he also said that reports on the scandal, previously kept tight by Children’s Health Ireland, should be published immediately – which they were last night. Whatever is going to emerge about the scandal, the Government seems very keen to distance itself from CHI – which suggests it’s pretty bad.

It’s our lead story this morning.

The Ploughing

The Ploughing Championships continued yesterday – and will again today – with politicians aplenty. The great gathering of rural Ireland is a good opportunity for Jack Horgan-Jones to investigate the chances of the new farmers’ party proposed by Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice during the summer. Jack’s verdict? Despite an appetite for it among many farmers, it remains a tough prospect to supplant existing rural Independents.

Data centres

Finally, Eamon Ryan in New York was defending the Government’s policy on data centres, after environmental groups reacted with anger to the granting of permission to Amazon for a further three centres in north Co Dublin. It’s a sticky one for Ryan.

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Dáil business begins with questions to the Minister for Health – but alas no minister for health will there be. Instead, his Minister of State will have to deputise. Then it’s questions to the Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, before Leaders’ Questions at noon, where Darragh O’Brien will be standing in for Micheál Martin. Later, the Dáil will debate the legislation on taxing the windfall gains of the energy companies, and the Social Democrats have a motion on affordable housing.

At the committees, there’s an eclectic array of subjects up for discussion, including Traveller accommodation, proposed changes to the navigation bylaws on the river Shannon, the Grand Canal and the Royal Canal and, at the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, a discussion on how constitutional change might affect workers’ rights. Full list of committee hearings here.

And the ploughing continues. Yesterday, there was a welly-throwing record set. Today, the Tánaiste returns from New York to visit.