Micheál Martin was in such good form during his last Leaders’ Questions as Taoiseach, there were suspicions that the Cabinet was at the Christmas sherry when he chaired his final meeting as the boss.
But apparently not.
Not so much as an enthusiastic hug or a slice of Battenberg in Government Buildings to mark the end of his term of office, we hear. And all the words of tribute were showered on the outgoing Attorney General, Paul Gallagher, who is stepping down when Leo Varadkar retakes the helm on Saturday.
But across the way in the Dáil, most Opposition leaders did not let the moment pass. The giddiness in the chamber was a cross-party affair. For this was the end of a significant chapter in Micheál Martin’s long, evolving political career and the beginning of what will be a historic handover in a few days’ time.
It was a less-than-poignant moment. But at least everyone kept their dignity even though a confidence debate was looming.
Verona Murphy, the Independent TD for Wexford, summed up the raw emotion of the scene as Deputies struggled to come to terms with the Fianna Fáil leader swapping titles with his Fine Gael counterpart.
“Hasta la Vista, baby! (And I’ll be back next week as Tánaiste.)”
Micheál was so distraught, he misquoted Elvis at Mary Lou McDonald. He wanted to croon “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, but in his upset he could only mumble apologetically: “I thought there was an Elvis Presley moment coming on me there – ‘I Miss You Tonight’ or whatever.”
Then he got caught up in a running joke about his Coalition partner, Eamon Ryan, being a bit of a sleepyhead, and in his sorrow he seemed to be enjoying the gag a little too much.
A few TDs picked up on his Elvis reference.
“Well, Taoiseach,” smiled Verona Murphy. “You’re no Elvis. Might be Daniel O’Donnell…” She thanked him for always being courteous and balanced, “generally speaking”.
As for the Sinn Féin leader, after taking lumps out of Micheál for two years, she was charm personified on Tuesday.
“Well, Taoiseach. Here we are. This is it: our last exchange…” she simpered.
Which, of course, is not true. There will be many more exchanges, but Mary Lou only rates the ones with actual taoisigh.
“Can I wish you and yours the very, very best for the future, whatever that may be.”
Unfortunately she couldn’t beat Micheál around the chops one last time on the housing crisis, because the big debate coming up later was all about it.
The schedule had to be changed when People Before Profit tabled a motion of no confidence in Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, forcing the Government to gazump PBP by tabling a retaliatory motion of no confidence in the motion of no confidence, which was now a motion of confidence in the Minister.
Although TDs on all sides knew the whole thing was a motion of no consequence because the Government would win the vote – which it did by a healthy margin – it helped Richard Boyd Barrett and his colleagues garner more publicity for their Handover Day protest march on the Dáil.
Obliged to park the housing issue until later, Mary Lou decided to address the recent chaos at Dublin Airport, when the arrival of a cold snap in the dead of winter caught management off-guard and planes were grounded due to the presence of a new phenomenon called “ice”.
Following on from the major disruption for passengers last summer, she pointed to “a real failure to prepare” yet again at the airport.
“And not a word from Minister Ryan.”
Where was the Minister for Transport in all of this, she wondered? After the first airport crisis a few months ago, “it seems that Minister Ryan is asleep at the wheel again”.
The leader of the Greens will never live down that day in 2020 when he was caught on camera asleep in his seat during a Dáil sitting in the Convention Centre.
“Minister Ryan must wake up and do his job properly,” continued Mary Lou, the picture of innocence. Everyone, including a relaxed Taoiseach on his last day, knew what she was up to.
At times it was hard to know whether they were discussing the Minister for Transport or the Dormouse from Alice in Wonderland.
“Tá an tAire, Eamon Ryan, in a chodladh arís,” she concluded, rubbing it in bilingually.
The Taoiseach explained that the National Emergency Co-ordination Group has been meeting every day to assess the impact of this prolonged bout of very cold weather. This included a meeting with the Dublin Airport Authority.
“Minister O’Brien, here alongside me, was at that meeting on Sunday and, eh, he’s wide awake,” confirmed Micheál, glancing over at a very serious-looking Darragh sitting on the front bench like a coiled spring-sprong.
“He’s been wide awake all over the weekend as well in relation to this issue.”
But Mary Lou didn’t want to hear what Darragh was doing. “I’ll come to him later,” she declared with menaces. Her jibes right then were aimed squarely at the other Minister, the one in charge of airplanes.
“Could I reassure the Deputy that Eamon Ryan is not asleep at the wheel. He is very, very active,” stressed Micheál, completely in on the joke now.
“At least I can definitely assure the House that he is anything but fast asleep at this particular juncture.”
The Taoiseach doth protest too much. Poor Eamon’s ears will have been burning if he was awake at the time.
“He’d want to be defrosted,” quipped Mattie McGrath.
“Sorry?” said the Taoiseach, clearly at peace with himself, as he won’t have to entertain Mattie’s baffling remarks as much any more.
“He’d want to be de-iced himself.”
The Sinn Féin leader wasn’t entirely convinced by Micheál’s protestations of Minister Ryan’s state of wokeness. Is he really “fully engaged?” she inquired, milking the gag in all sincerity. Because the public needs to be reassured. She later suggested he might “present himself at the Dáil” later on to answer questions.
The soon-to-be rotating Taoiseach didn’t think this a good idea as the House was sitting late and scheduled to go on beyond midnight.
“I’d hesitate to ask Minister Eamon Ryan in at half twelve or towards 1am in the morning because he should be asleep at that stage,” he smirked.
Nothing like going out on a laugh.
Best line of the day.