It’s senior hurling time for Holly and Chris and back to work for Michael

March 2nd, 2020 1:10 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Michael Collins with his supporters outside the Dáil. (Photo: Andy Gibson)

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LAST time, in 2016, I wrote a cutesy intro about the space time continuum being altered and the first day of the 32nd Dáil taking 25 hours.

It could be recycled for the 33rd because when the re-elected Independent TD Michael Collins offered me a seat on one of his two buses travelling to Dublin, I had no idea that history would repeat itself.

Let me describe the horror: it meant a 1.30am start on Thursday morning and ended with the key going in the hall door at about 3am on Friday morning.

Sleep deprivation is used by the special forces to crack people and the ensuing tiredness did make me question my sanity in agreeing to do this again.

But it’s when you are percolating over coffee the following afternoon – after a good five hours sleep – you realise how fortunate you have been to be able to enter the Oireachtas buildings and witness, first hand, public representatives – who have put themselves though the ringer to get there – state their beliefs or agitate for ‘change.’

Housing, healthcare and the cost of living sounded like a litany as each TD, in the three, short minutes allocated to them last Thursday, beseeched for improvements in these three key areas.

Casual conversations in the Dáil bar, canteen and in the corridors of power – and even listening to other reporters bemoaning their ‘long day’ – would suggest that each of the TDs who stood on their hind legs to speak were merely doing it so they could share the Dáil video footage on Facebook. ‘Social media,’ one person said, as he rolled his eyes back in his head.

But when you have watched Madeline McKeever – the mother of Holly Cairns (SD) – in the gallery, lean into every word they uttered, and when you see Fianna Fáil’s Cork East TD James O’Connor’s dad sit back and quietly absorb proceedings and the place his 22-year-old son now has in the corridors of power, it is impossible to feel anything but inspired.

Each deputy gets four tickets for their guests. Deputy Catherine Murphy, the co-leader of the Social Democrats, very kindly donated one of her gallery tickets to Holly so that both of her grandparents – Sylvia (85) and Frank (89) – could attend.

The job of The Southern Star on the day was to capture the moment that the three TDs for Cork South West – Michael Collins (Ind), Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) and Holly Cairns (SD) – took their place in the 33rd Dáil.

At about 10.30am Michael Collins, with the crowd of 90 who had travelled to Dublin for the occasion gathered around him, gave an impassioned plea on behalf of rural Ireland.
Each and every one of the 150 people who canvassed for Michael during the short, three-week canvass were offered a seat on a bus. Michael said: ‘If that meant three or four buses, I’d have put on three or four buses.’

A total of 88 of his canvassers said ‘yes please’ to the offer of a seat, but space was also made for one reporter and one photographer.

It was also Michael Collins who secured for The Southern Star the one and only ‘access all areas’ purple pass that was allocated to him on the day.

Getting tagged took a few more precious minutes in the lead-up to the 12pm start time, and there was a frantic scramble to get to Christopher O’Sullivan, who was surrounded by his 50-plus West Cork supporters outside the sturdy black gates of Dáil Éireann.
Christopher spoke with humility about what was a memorable day for him.

He said he was glad he had an induction the day before. ‘I’m not going to lie, taking your seat in the Dáil is very daunting.’ And although slightly nervous, Christopher admitted: ‘The overriding feeling is one of pure joy.’

Christopher spoke of the pride reflected in the faces of his supporters outside the black gates and recalled one friend saying: ‘It’s senior hurling now, boy.’

At the time, Christopher said it made him laugh, but he knows it to be true. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘it is my job to deliver for the people of Cork South West.’

Hundreds of thousands of people tuned in to watch the speeches of the party leaders and Christopher echoed my own sentiments when he said: ‘I felt like I had ringside seats to some real theatre.’

Interest in this election has been unprecedented and despite the fact that it has resulted in a three-way tie, people will continue to watch with active, determined interest.

It is as if the electorate has woken up and delivered a triple whammy to follow the same sex marriage referendum and Repeal the 8th.

In Cork South West, one woman who has changed the political landscape forever is the newly elected Social Democrat TD, Holly Cairns.

In the search for Holly – who it seems had slipped in quietly earlier that day, without fuss or fanfare – I met Roisín Shortall, the joint leader of the Social Democrats, in the corridor.

Roisín flashed a smile, having remembered me from the two-day re-count in County Hall, that saw Holly Cairns elected with just a one-vote majority to become a councillor on the West Cork Municipal District.

Roisín, in the company of the party’s other leader, Catherine Murphy, led me to Holly, where they and their four TDs posed for the hordes of waiting photographers.

A brief interview with Holly has been already been watched thousands of times on The Southern Star Facebook page.

Like Roisín Shortall, those who watched know that Holly – as the only female TD in Cork city and county – ‘has a lot to live up to.’

Roisín said: ‘It is an incredible situation that Holly is the only woman representative in the Dáil for the entire Cork region. There is a lot on her shoulders, but we absolutely believe that she is going to be a very effective and very active TD.’

In a way, Holly said her first day at the Dáil was less daunting than her first day on Cork County Council. ‘I was the only Social Democrat elected to Cork County Council so I didn’t have any colleagues to show me the ropes. Thankfully, the Social Democrats had an amazing general election and tripled our deputies, so I have five brilliant colleagues by my side.’

The first day of business of the 33rd Dáil saw Seán Ó Fearghaíl returned to the role of Ceann Comhairle with 130 votes to Independent TD Denis Naughton’s 28.

The nomination of four party leaders – Leo Varadkar (FF), Michéal Martin (FF), Mary Lou McDonald (SF) and Eamon Ryan (GP) – ended in political deadlock, leaving Leo Varadkar to continue as acting Taoiseach.

Last time, it took 63 days to form a government. This time it could take every bit as long.

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