What is seldom is wonderful in Dáil Éireann and the Ceann Comhairle was delighted to be the bearer of some glad tidings.
“Just before proceeding to Leaders’ Questions, I wish to share some good news with members” he announced to the small handful of TDs strung around the spacious gloom of their temporary chamber.
“The Convention Centre in Dublin has been recognised as Europe’s leading meetings and conference centre for 2020 at the 27th annual World Travel Awards.”
They weren’t exactly dancing in the empty aisles of the yawning auditorium.
“This is the fourth time that this convention centre has won the award. I am sure members will recognise the significance of this achievement in such a challenging year for the sector and will join with me in offering our congratulations to the board and staff of the centre, who, it must be said, continue to look after us so well during our sittings here.”
Waves of congratulatory indifference pulsed around the tiered velvet seating.
Clare independent TD Michael McNamara led the unrestrained chorus of gushing tributes.
He hauled himself joyously to his feet.
“Is there any chance of the Dáil ever returning full-time to Leinster House?” he wistfully enquired, musing that their permanent seat of power could also become an award winning conference centre.
A chuckling Mary Lou McDonald giddily agreed. The Ceann Comhairle was similarly tickled by the request.
The Dublin Convention Centre is a magnificent facility. TDs fully recognise the architectural quality of their special Covid quarters and have nothing but nice things to say about the staff, but it’s not Kildare Street.
For all the incendiary talk of cosy clubs of political insiders from Sinn Féin and the Coalition parties during Tuesday’s rancorous motion of confidence in Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, there exists one cosy club where all sides feel equally at home.
It’s called Leinster House.
So while the Taoiseach is delighted for Dermod Dwyer and his award-winning team in Dublin’s docklands, he too had to stand up for the place perhaps he and all his Dáil colleagues never fully appreciated until they were forced to leave its cosy clubby confines and work elsewhere.
“Leinster House is world-class too” piped up Micheál Martin.
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like Kildare Street.
Earlier, despite the less than inspiring surroundings, Michael McNamara tabled his motion on strengthening State support for Irish aviation sector and regional airports in particular. He was supported by fellow members of the Independent Group and the measures he outlined were met with approval from all sides, even if the Government predictably rejected it and put forward their own countermotion.
Some of the measures suggested by the Clare TD surfaced in Tuesday’s announcement of a major funding package for the country’s airports. Marian Harkin, the Independent deputy for Sligo-Leitrim who co-signed the motion, agreed with McNamara’s conclusion that the Government rushed out its big aviation announcement in response to it.
The Minister for Transport, reading very rapidly from a supplied script, acknowledged the “many points” made by the deputies from the Independent Group. Without lifting his eyes from the page, Eamon Ryan started to smile as he read the line: “There is also a failure to acknowledge actions taken by the Government, but it’s for that reason, eh, we must reject the motion.”
Then he disengaged from his script and looked up. “But I would very much like to say in conclusion that I appreciate the intent and the argument that Deputy McNamara is taking. We do need to think long term as well as managing the immediate crisis…I think we do need to sit down and really put our thinking caps on and think what is the strategy.”
In reply, McNamara repeated his welcome for the “concrete actions” announced at the start of the week. But he couldn’t quite work out how it was possible for Eamon Ryan (or the Government person who wrote his script) to be annoyed by his failure to acknowledge the Government’s new aviation support package in a Dáil motion which was tabled three days before it was announced.
“I would point out that this motion was put down on Friday and the Government announced these actions yesterday [Tuesday]” he told Ryan.
That might explain Eamon’s involuntary smile as he delivered his lines. It’s second nature to many politicians, but the Green leader isn’t great when it comes to expedient little white lies.
The Taoiseach couldn’t tell a lie. Although he probably wished he could when Labour’s Alan Kelly asked him for an answer to the question we all wanted to ask: what’s in the pipeline for December on the Covid restriction front?
“We are doing a lot of analysis, data analysis, sector by sector, to facilitate and inform the approach to exiting Level 5” explained Micheál Martin, who isn’t one for throwing caution to the wind. With the help of God and a few policemen we might be in a “good position” by the end of this month.
All going well, sure we might even have “maximum flexibility and manoeuvrability”.
His “target” for December 1st is a return to Level 3. Depending on the data, there might be a little treat in the form of a few moderations.
“The precise nature of the phases is still a matter that we are going to decide upon in terms of a phased reopening.”
At least he didn’t say “going forward”.
We can but hope.