Subscriber OnlyOireachtas

Miriam Lord: No big showy balls in sight as Leinster Lawn lights up for Christmas

No sign of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Green leader either, but Mary Lou made it for the switching-on of the Oireachtas tree lights

Mattie and Michael were under the tree and out for mischief.

“Sure, ‘tis a wonder we’re being allowed turn on any lights at all,” marvelled Michael Healy-Rae.

Mattie McGrath wholeheartedly agreed.

“How are the Greens letting us away with this? Keep an eye out for them, they could stop us yet.”


The two Rural Independents scanned the shadows around Leinster Lawn but couldn’t spot any of Green Party leader Eamon Ryan’s troops out on Christmas patrol. Had they looked hard enough they might have spotted the Green TD for Limerick City, Brian Leddin, in the small crowd, but he kept a low profile.

After a brief hiatus due to Covid-19, the annual ceremony to mark the official switch-on of the lights on the Oireachtas Christmas tree returned on Tuesday evening. It’s always a jolly event and never more enjoyable than when the senior politicians smiling violently at each other through the foliage are at each other’s throats over the latest row.

Unfortunately this year, most of the party leaders didn’t turn up for the formalities. Perhaps the three Coalition leaders are at loggerheads behind the scenes over the Taoiseach and Tánaiste’s imminent job swap and minor ministerial tinkerings, but Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Ryan were missing from the ceremony. In fairness to the Taoiseach, he was on his way to Albania.

The Tánaiste, on the other hand, was due to make a speech on the centenary of the creation of the Irish Free State at a venue in nearby Merrion Square an hour after the activation of the illuminations. Perhaps he wants to maintain a low profile in advance of his elevation in two weeks’ time.

The tree, of course, is Leinster Lawn’s Yuletide centrepiece. The Green Party leader may have stayed away for safety reasons, given a sizeable proportion of TDs and Senators want his guts for garters after he said he wants to get rid of the car park in front of the Kildare Street side of the building. Had he shown up, some rural TDs might have been mean to him.

Although that never happens at the tree ceremony because the TDs are determinedly full of the Christmas spirit and then afterwards, at a reception in the Leinster House 2000 wing, the singers and musicians who entertained the crowd are invited to partake of some liquid Christmas spirit.

This year there were wonderful performances from the hardy gentlemen of Portmarnock’s SeaSharps barbershop singers and the exuberantly melodious players from the Rathfarnham Ukulele Group (RUGs).

It was chilly out there on Leinster Lawn for them.

“I hope there’s a drop of the crathur – I’m buckin’ freezin’,” confided a member of the a cappella group when we said there would be a bit of a spread laid on inside.

With not one Coalition leader able to put in an appearance, Simon Harris, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, was the only senior member of Government who turned up. Frankie Feighan flew the flag for the Ministers of State. Usually the Ceann Comhairle has an impressive line-up of top brass standing behind him for the occasion.

Fair play to Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, co-leaders of the Social Democratics, for gracing the occasion. They kept out of the limelight, though, leaving Mattie to rock up beside the Ceann Comhairle and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and take the bare look off the proceedings.

And then suddenly, a bright star appeared on the Christmas horizon. For it was Mary Lou McDonald, at first pressing the flesh with the ukulele crowd before triumphantly materialising in the middle of the front row of the barbershop group with a beaming smile.

The photographers, bereft at the lack of big political names at the gig, clattered over the grass towards her.

Meanwhile, after two years, we could call Seán Ó Fearghaíl “An Crann Comhairle” again. Catherine Connolly, the Leas-Crann, was also in attendance.

It was great to be back after Covid-19 and everything that happened and to be able “to carry out this honourable tradition, this great tradition that we’ve had here in Leinster House over many, many years,” said Ó Fearghaíl, addressing the crowd of staffers and sundry TDs and Senators.

“And can I point out this is a Christmas tree,” he pointedly declared. “And this is a Christmas festival. Whatever about the winter festivals that other people may want to have, we’re having Christmas.”

“Hooray!” cried the audience.

In the spirit of the season, he said it was timely for them to remember all the people around the country in emergency accommodation and hoped that in the year ahead those numbers will dramatically decline.

“And I want to remember as well those sleeping on our streets and sleeping rough throughout this city and throughout the country. High numbers, unacceptably high numbers,” he noted, while recognising the work done by NGOs and authorities “moving heaven and earth to guarantee that there is accommodation available for them this Christmas”.

He also mentioned the many thousands who have come here to find safe haven from war and civil strife. He commended the Irish people for their generosity and hoped the people who have come here will enjoy their Christmas in Ireland.

Since this was a political gathering, he finished with a message “to the parliamentarians in the Duma. There are 450 of them that sit in the Russian parliament in Moscow. Could we send this message: Would they ever wake up, find their courage, find their voice and tell Putin to stop this monstrous war?”

As the crowd applauded, he invited Mark Daly, outgoing Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, to switch on the lights.

It all went without a hitch.

The lights are a clear white and the tree is topped by a star.

No big showy balls this year to take away from its natural beauty.

A welcome development – Irish politics and Leinster House has more than enough of them already.