Miriam Lord: Roll up for a Hash Wednesday joint resignation

What’s seldom is wonderful as Soc Dems’ big announcement takes the heat off Hilde-ganje

Hash Wednesday was an absolute toot around Leinster House.

People roaming the corridors commenting on the distinct lack of ash around the place.

A junior minister caught napping under the Taoiseach’s nose.

Scores of TDs missing from the chamber.


Mary Lou McDonald hallucinating about becoming head of Government. “If I was sitting where you are I would not do this,” she told Leo Varadkar, referring to a decision on the Mother and Babies redress scheme.

Although Mary Lou can talk like that because swapping places is not a pipe dream any more.

Leo seemed exceptionally sensitive to criticism. For the second day in a row he whinged “it’s not fair” when faced with criticism from across the floor.

At midday a communication arrived from the Social Democrats. “Co-Leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall will be making a significant announcement.”

Which was significant in a what’s seldom is wonderful kind of way.

It could only mean one thing: a Hash Wednesday joint resignation.

Leinster House loves sudden departures almost as much as it loves a leadership contest. After a morning doing drugs with Cabinet ministers followed by this bombshell from the Social Democrats, the pol corrs were ecstatic.

The day started very early with a dodgy looking assortment of Fine Gael leaflet pushers hanging around the Dawson Street Luas stop and preying on innocent commuters. They were supervised by Cabinet heavies Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris and Government Chief Whip, hard-nosed Hildegarde Naughton.

The gang, including sundry TDs and senators roused from their beds to brazenly promote the government’s cost-of-living package, stopped to speak to reporters on Molesworth Street. The hacks wanted to quiz the politicians on their personal drug habits and on drugs in general.

This was because Dessie Ellis, a notorious member of the rival Shinner gang, told the Dáil on Tuesday evening that cocaine use is rife in Irish society.

“You see it in pubs, you see it everywhere, it’s even in Dáil Éireann.”

Could this be true?

Minister for Justice Simon Harris couldn’t help. Anyone who knows about people doing drugs in Leinster House should report it to gardaí, he said.

Minister for Public Expenditure, Paschal Donohoe, hadn’t a clue either.

Nonetheless, the reporters were on the hunt for a few good lines.

Given Ellis’s revelation, they were bound to ask the Fine Gael politicians if they had ever taken drugs.

In a comic highlight, Simon Harris shot up his hand just before the first question and hissed in urgent tones: “I just have to take a debate in the Dáil, so I’m very sorry!” He ducked out of the front row and scurried away at speed.

Paschal said he had never taken any illegal substances, despite his gig-going credentials (although it is rumoured he once ate a whole Curley Wurley and it was well past its sell-by date).

Then the Chief Whip confessed to trying cannabis in Ireland when she was in her twenties. “It wasn’t for me,” said deputy Naughton. By lunchtime, the Kildare Street wags were calling her Hilde-ganje.

Rugby-head and Minister of State Neale Richmond, not to be outdone, also unburdened himself. He revealed how he smoked weed when he was in the Netherlands and had “a horrible experience”.

Leinster must have lost.

Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Eoin Keane cut to the chase when he addressed the FG gang members.

“Today is Ash Wednesday. Are you giving up anything for Lent – drugs, perhaps?”

Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who doesn’t like to be left out of things, later told Eoin ás Gaelige that he too tried weed when on a trip to the Netherlands. And guess what: he didn’t like it either.

Leaders’ Questions was scheduled for midday. It ran over because Richard Boyd Barrett couldn’t stop talking – he can do that without recourse to artificial stimulants.

Junior Planning Minister Kieran O’Donnell couldn’t stop talking either. Power is a drug and Kieran was sitting next to the Taoiseach, chatting away, oblivious to what was going on in the chamber.

As a result, he forgot to oppose People Before Profit’s Eviction Ban Bill and the Ceann Comhairle declared it could proceed to the next stage.

A flustered O’Donnell protested upon realising his error but the Chair told him the ruling had been made.

“You’re too late!” whooped Boyd Barrett as Kieran begged “an indulgence” from Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

“Missed it. Asleep at the wheel!” crowed Mattie McGrath. “The rules are the rules.”

“It was a rookie mistake,” the minister ruefully sighed.

The Social Democrats message landed as Leaders’ Questions was beginning.

Buswells Hotel. 3pm. Big announcement from Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy.

Some correspondents whiled away the time by sending emails to every TD and senator in Leinster House asking if they had even taken drugs and, if so, what illicit substances did they sample.

With all the talk of wacky baccy there was hardly any time to check if many politicians were sporting blessed ashes on their foreheads for the day that was in it.

“The Rural Independents are the last bastion of our faith and of our fathers,” noted one Government TD, recalling the days when nearly all politicians wore ashes and everyone suspected Bertie Ahern had a secret stash which his make-up lady used to touch up his mark as the day wore on.

When a vote was called, neither of the Soc Dem Co-Leaders came into vote. The remaining four TDs seemed in high spirits as they joked with Labour leader Ivana Bacik.

Was this a sign of an imminent merger? It was not.

The hacks were giddy with excitement and almost passing out from the heat in Buswells. The Soc Dems booked the smallest room in the hotel for their event and it was packed.

“If a tree falls in the woods, does anyone hear?” remarked one party-pooper.

Who cares? This was a leadership resignation and we haven’t had one for such a long time.

After eight years at the helm of the party they helped to found – along with defector and now Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, who was consigned to the category of “hiccup” by his erstwhile colleagues – Catherine and Róisín appeared very relaxed and at ease with their decision.

And no, they insisted, they were not encouraged to step down. Not even slightly pushed.

It was a case of timing and they both agreed the timing was right as a new “leader or leaders” will need to “bed in” before the next election. There was talk of a political thruple, but who would be gooseberry?

The departing co-leaders say they do not intend to retire at the next election. “That’s the plan,” was the phrase used by both women.

“Which is not the same as saying they will run again,” a grizzled Opposition TD sagely told us. “We all plan to do things but it doesn’t always happen.”

If there is not an agreed candidate, an election will take place quickly.

There may be jostling for position between the front runners, but it’s hardly a crowded field. More like the end than the beginning of the Grand National.

The Cork media were already claiming Holly Cairns as the favourite. But nobody is writing off Jennifer Whitmore, Cian O’Callaghan or Gary Gannon either.

The big surprise of the press conference was that nobody asked the four if they have ever taken drugs.

Like anybody cares.

But it all adds to the gaiety of the nation.