Parties present united front against hard border after May’s hames of Brexit deal
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail turns on the Oireachtas Christmas tree lights at Leinster House. He was joined by Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Denis O’Donovan, party leaders and other members of the Oireachtas with music and song provided by the Oireachtas choir and the Cavan Rugby Club male voice choir. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
It’s been a torrid few weeks for the Taoiseach.
Doubtless, he will enjoy Christmas in the bosom of the Varadkars and take a short break from the incessant demands of high office.
He deserves a break.
But a quick word to the wise for his dinner companions: don’t let Leo anywhere near the turkey until it’s cooked. Keep him away from the ham and the spuds too. In fact, ban him entirely from the kitchen unless it involves simple carry and fetch duties.
Because he’s having a major problem with timing at the moment.
The way things are going, he’d burn the turkey to a crisp, incinerate the ham and leave the spuds in the oven until they’re hard as billiard balls.
First there was the Frances business, when he refused for days to remove his tánaiste from under the grill even though everyone knew she was toast. We almost had a general election before the smoke alarm finally went off.
Then Brexit for the Border, which was supposed to be as simple as boiling an egg: hard or soft? On Monday, Leo prepared to present it up to an approving nation – just the way Ireland and the EU wanted it.
He seemed to do everything right too: firm but yielding on the outside, nice and runny in the middle and most definitely served without soldiers (or customs officials).
Then the whole thing got scrambled and nothing ended up on the table.
He sounded a little cross afterwards. “Surprised and disappointed,” he said.
To be fair, nobody was blaming him. Theresa May is carrying the can for this particular shambles. But, nonetheless, Leo had to go into the Dáil on Tuesday without the deal he was given to believe would be in his back pocket after Teasie’s trip to Brussels. Unfortunately, the British prime minister made a total hames of everything.
The two men also agreed that the lack of a working executive in the North had been ‘most unhelpful’ in the past year
As a result, Leaders’ Questions was a very harmonious affair, with the Taoiseach’s rivals uncharacteristically generous and understanding of his position.
The Fianna Fáil leader thanked him for briefing them on the situation and also thanked Government officials for their hard work.
“While there was a lot of negativity articulated about civil servants last week, let us acknowledge this week the diligent and very able work of our civil servants and diplomats in Brussels, Dublin and London who, since the Brexit vote, have focused their energies loyally and intelligently on behalf of the State,” he said.
Both Micheál Martin and the Taoiseach were keen to reiterate the fact that their interest in preventing a hard border is purely an economic one and has nothing to do with trying to push Irish unity.
“We have no hidden agenda. We respect the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, ” said Leo.
The two men also agreed that the lack of a working executive in the North had been “most unhelpful” in the past year.
Even Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, in a rare gesture of goodwill towards the Government, “genuinely” wished the Taoiseach and Tánaiste “all the best in your endeavours in the run-up to the meeting of the European Council on December 14th.” But above all, he counselled Leo “to stand up against the narrow interests of the DUP and the English Tories.”
At this point, Labour’s Brendan Howlin could have risen to his feet and led the Dáil in a spirited performance of Stand Up and Fight.
But he didn’t, although he would have been singing their song. The actual singing didn’t start until a few hours later.
No. Brendan said his party has consistently supported the Government’s stance on Brexit and will continue to do so. But it doesn’t help when the situation is being handled so atrociously by the British.
Lest there be any doubt among the wilfully ignorant Tories across the water and the woefully predictable DUP politicians in the North, Brexit here is all about unity
“The Brexit demons that plagued political discourse in the UK have been unfortunately unleashed again,” he sighed.
So it was a case of green jerseys all round and full support for the Taoiseach in his ongoing endeavours to secure the best deal possible for Ireland before the Brexit fiasco blunders any further on.
Lest there be any doubt among the wilfully ignorant Tories across the water and the woefully predictable DUP politicians in the North, Brexit here is all about unity and the implacably united front presented by all the political parties against imposing a hard border in Ireland.
They are singing from the same hymn sheet.
So it was appropriate to see the party leaders gather on Leinster Lawn after dark for the switching-on of the Oireachtas Christmas tree lights by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail. (Or Crann Comhairle as we call him when this event rolls around.)
Music was provided by the Oireachtas choir – wonderful, as ever, and this year’s musical guests the Cavan Rugby Club male voice choir.
The Ceann Comhairle, along with Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Denis O’Donovan, duly arrived outside at the appointed time (5.30pm). They were joined by Leas-Ceann Comhairle Pat the Cope Gallagher, Micheál Martin, Senator Paul Coghlan, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Independent TD Micheal Harty and joint leaders of the Social Democrats Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall.
Silent Night was sung in Irish, then in English, but there was still no sign of the little baby Leo
Gerry Adams wore his favourite red muffler and Brendan Howlin wore his favourite red muffler.
And they all stood under the tree, gradually getting colder, like presents nobody wanted to open.
The choirs sang their hearts out. Matthew Day conducting the smaller home team and Dr Ann-Noelle Bennett wielding the baton before the 56-strong rugby club choir.
All the faithful came and went, Joy went out to the world and did her thing, it ding-donged merrily on high, the herald angels sang and Silent Night was sung in Irish, then in English, but there was still no sign of the little baby Leo.
In the end, the Ceann Comhairle started without him. He wished everyone a happy, joyful and relaxed Christmas. With a couple more weeks to go before the break he hoped the goodwill of the season would “pervade the work that we do” in Leinster House.
“When the holiday comes, I would certainly urge everyone to make sure that they take time out, time for themselves and time for their families,” he added.
Then he pressed the red button and there was light.
The singing started up again and the ceremony concluded with a spine-tingling rendition of Ireland’s Call from the rugby club choir. Just in case the resolve shown earlier in the day in the Dáil was weakening.
Did Leo hear it down the way in Government Buildings? He was at a Cabinet meeting which ran over time and when he rushed off for the ceremony it was over.
That’s a pity. He should have been there for his first Christmas.
Maybe he’ll get the hang of it next year. In the meantime, don’t let him anywhere near the oven.