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Total eclipse of the Dáil as Houdini Harris does a disappearing act on day one

Opposition outraged as new Taoiseach fails to show up in the chamber, but he didn’t fall down a black hole – he was busy phoning world leaders

Call off the hounds.

They’ve found him!

Houdini Harris dropped a video an hour after the kerfuffle.

Cool as you like.


“Hello from Government Buildings,” he gurgled, which is where he had been all along.

Not a thought to all those members of the Opposition running around Dáil Éireann frantic with the worry, searching high up and low down for the new Taoiseach who vanished in unexplained circumstances just 24 hours into the job.

It was a major cause for concern.

TDs tried to piece together the final movements of Simon Harris before his Dáil disappearance. They narrowed it down to a brief photo call on the steps of Government Buildings at approximately 1pm.

But even though Harris seemed relaxed, they noted with growing dismay how he was flanked by hardened political lifers Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan, both smiling aggressively at him.

They were further alarmed when the 16 members of the notorious Coalition Juniors gang formed a menacing doughnut around the young Taoiseach.

Three of them looked a bit dazed. This was because Emer Higgins, Colm Burke and Alan Dillon were initiated into the gang at a secret ceremony earlier in the day and were already suffering flashbacks.

Two veteran Coalition Juniors also looked shook. Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne suddenly found himself in possession of the Gaeltacht portfolio on top of his other responsibilities because none of the Fine Gaelers wanted it.

His party colleague Niall Collins, wearing the confused expression of Bishop Brennan after Father Ted kicked him up the backside, will have been struggling to come to terms with the sudden elevation to Cabinet of his Fine Gael rival in Limerick, Patrick O’Donovan.

Nobody knew what happened after the group moved back indoors.

And that was the last anyone saw of Simon for some time.

For the day that was in it, Opposition TDs made a special effort to get to the chamber for the start of business at, er, two o’clock in the afternoon. Wednesday’s proceedings normally commence at 10am.

Mary Lou McDonald was eager to lock horns with her latest challenger. But when she arrived and looked across at the serried ranks of Ministers and TDs she saw, to her absolute horror, that there was nobody sitting in Simon’s seat.

It was empty. Unoccupied.

The Taoiseach was missing.

A total eclipse of the Dáil.

She could scarcely believe her eyes.

She wasn’t alone.

Opposition TDs stared blankly into the black hole of Harris but no Simon materialised from it.

A brave but unsettled Mary Lou managed to control her anxiety as she had a very important job of work to do.

By not fronting up in the chamber on his first day, Taoiseach Harris very kindly presented the Sinn Féin leader and her Opposition counterparts with an open goal.

No chance of Mary Lou turning down that particular gift horse. After she drove home her winner, delightedly outraged colleagues from the other parties queued up for their chance to hit the back of the net too.

They had been so galvanised by the Taoiseach’s stirring words on Tuesday about how he is going to hit the ground running and get stuck into the tough business of leading the country immediately, if not earlier.

The Dáil was reminded of what he said to them in the same forum less than 24 hours earlier: “Let’s get to work.”

Mary Lou said she was ready to start. So where was the no-show Taoiseach?

“This is an absolute disgrace,” she complained. “This is wholly unacceptable.”

“Simply unacceptable,” tut-tutted Labour leader Ivana Bacik.

She saw the original business schedule for Wednesday and it had been packed with things to do, but now TDs were being presented with a “made-up” agenda for the rest of the week.

“A disgrace and an insult,” declared Independent TD Thomas Pringle.

Social Democrat Catherine Murphy couldn’t see the point in having a Dáil Business Committee if the Government sweeps in with its majority, ignores decisions of the members and dictates the doings of the House when it so desires.

“This is a farce,” concluded Mattie McGrath, with some justification. “We’re in GUBU territory.”

He pointed to the empty chair. “It’s a shambles.”

He wanted to know why the Tánaiste wasn’t present. He often fills in for the Taoiseach. Ditto for the leader of the Greens.

Government Chief Whip Hildegarde Naughton endeavoured to explain.

You see, Simon had to make or take four very important phone calls and ... and ... and that.

She said he always does her best to facilitate her colleagues on the other side of the House when scheduling business.

“But for today, the Taoiseach is not available.”

Not a good look, in fairness, on his first day.

A roll-call vote was taken. The Government won.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin came in to vote. So did Green Party leader Eamon Ryan. And some other fella called Leo Varadkar who used to do the job held by Houdini Harris but was now smiling for Ireland on the backbenches and loving not having to wear a tie.

Mattie was still disgusted.

“I think we should go over to the wax museum and get a model made and put him in there,” he huffed, eyeing the empty seat again.

Mary Lou was more worried about the man who had just gone missing from Merrion Street.

“I want to know,” she implored the Chief Whip. “Where is the Taoiseach? He ought to be here.”

Opposition TDs knew in advance that they were going to have this empty schedule foisted upon them, but they had no intention of letting it happen without putting up a fight.

They succumbed to a mass outbreak of delayed shock, which they do quite well.

Deputy McDonald couldn’t believe the new Taoiseach wasn’t coming in to face them for the short duration of Leaders’ Questions because he had to make four phone calls.

“That’s unacceptable,” sniffed Mary Lou, so perturbed she had to rush to the plinth immediately and record a video denouncing this ridiculous carry-on by the head of Government who promised only the day before that he was going to move mountains and get up and at it.

“I’m here at the Dáil today for work ... and the Taoiseach hasn’t shown up.”

But he did, just not in the national parliament.

His people put a rival video up on social media shortly after the ructions to give his followers a brief outline of what he was up to.

“Hello from Government Buildings. First full day in job and a busy one: chaired a Government meeting, appointed Minister of State, set up a new Cabinet committee on disability and key calls with political leaders including the British prime minister and the president of Ukraine,” he said.

It should have been aired in the chamber so Opposition TDs could at least have had the chance to shout at it.

Do not fret. Taoiseach Harris will be in for his first Leaders’ Questions next Tuesday, soothed Hildegarde.

But for now, they still ain’t seen nuttin’ yet.