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Politicians focused on the only vote that matters - and it’s not Friday’s

Listless Leinster House in referendums voting week shows the only votes that really interest TDs and senators are the ones where seats are up for grabs

Another packed day in Dáil Éireann.

A government belting through legislation at breakneck speed in the run-up to the St Patrick’s week break, which will be swiftly followed by the Easter recess.

An Opposition crawling towards the exit doors.

Democracy in action. With a capital “A”.


No time to lose. After all, the country won’t run itself...

In reality, Leinster House seems already disengaged from the pressing requirements of the political process.

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste, when not elsewhere, look like they are just going through the motions. Ministers are busy finalising their overseas trips. Government backbenchers even more conspicuous by their absence – if that were possible.

Opposition deputies dutifully reading supplied speeches and leaving.

There is a listless feel about the place.

The corridors are quiet.

Were it not for the tour groups funnelling through from Seanad to Dáil and canteen to bar, it would be a parliament building in suspended animation.

When these groups arrive in the main hall, officially badged and ready to walk those corridors of power, there is a feeling of anticipation and excitement in the air. Then they arrive in the public gallery to behold a succession of lesser-spotted deputies mumbling scripts to a near-empty chamber.

With more of the same in the Seanad.

According to the ushers who conduct tours and TDs who bring in constituents, the politicians people most want to see in the flesh, apart from Leo and Micheál, are Mattie McGrath and either or both of the Healy-Raes

Depending on how they timed it on Wednesday, they could have marvelled at the wonder that is Patrick O’Donovan, Minister of State with responsibility for Office of Public Works and the Gaeltacht, representing the Government during the Seanad’s statements on Seachtain na Gaeilge/Irish Language Week and then reeled, punch drunk, across to the Dáil chamber to witness him performing the same duty for more than two hours but with added Catherine Martin.

A definite bonus for visitors hoping to do a bit of political name-dropping after their trip to Leinster House. The Minister for Media (and Gaeltacht) is headline news at the moment.

Although in the league table of must-see figures, Catherine would be well down in the pecking order. According to the ushers who conduct tours and TDs who bring in constituents, the politicians people most want to see in the flesh, apart from Leo and Micheál, are Mattie McGrath and either or both of the Healy-Raes.

Catherine Martin entered the chamber after lunch to open the debate. Her arrival put the heart crossways in non-sleeping members of the press gallery because the latest “document dump” on the background to her decision to elbow out former RTÉ chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh had just landed.

The Minister, already deep in If You’re Explaining You’re Losing territory, wasn’t pulling a fast one by nipping in and making another statement on her current travails. She kept to her brief and spoke about the Irish language, as Gaeilge, naturally.

No need to panic. Although when the next episode of this very odd saga premieres, which it invariably will, would anyone be surprised if she says she already revealed all during that speech in Irish and it wasn’t her fault that nobody listened?

At least Catherine will have some respite when she jets away to Texas on her St Patrick’s week tour of duty. Nashville is on the itinerary. There has to be a country song in the story of her difficult break-up with the chair and the miraculous arrival of an artistically coiffed ex-KPMG man to save the day.

Anyway, after two hours on the Irish language the Dáil moved to “statements on rare diseases”.

Then, ahead of time, the House sashayed into the remaining stages of the Unified Patent Court Bill and then the European Arrest Warrant Bill was done and dusted in five minutes. Simon Harris got stuck on the Research and Innovations Bill for two hours, which was an achievement, but he had Richard Boyd Barrett taking a keen interest, so it was never going to be a fast finish.

With just a couple of days to go, there was little talk of the referendums outside of the Dáil and Seanad chambers and no sense of momentum

So where was everyone else on Wednesday? Out canvassing ahead of Friday’s referendum votes?

“Yeah, right!” replied a Government backbencher when we asked, highly amused by the question. In fairness, there has to be a campaign in the first place for them to join it.

With just a couple of days to go, there was little talk of the referendums outside of the Dáil and Seanad chambers and no sense of momentum. In the Upper House, there were particularly strong statements from female senators urging a Yes-Yes vote, spurred on in part by the contribution from Independent senator Sharon Keogan, who is very firmly in the No camp.

She described the referendums as “a danger and a sinister attack on the identity of all women”.

It was “nothing short of a tragedy” for the mothers of Ireland that people are being asked “to vote away the pedestal on which the Irish Constitution rightly holds you dear”.

The Government has “created policies” for abortion, why can’t it look to countries like Hungary, where if a family has four or more children they are income-tax-free for life?

Fianna Fáil senator Erin McGreehan was incensed.

“Oh my gosh. In the words of Miley Byrne: ‘Well, holy God...’ One of many things that struck me is that you say you speak for the mammies of Ireland. You certainly do not speak for me and I am a mother of Ireland.

“You do not speak for me. Please do not put us all in that wee box. Don’t do it. It is absolutely unbelievably insulting and shocking the stuff that comes out of your mouth. We are all able to question, but you take a wee tiny grain of a question and you go with it and run down that rabbit hole as quickly as you possibly can to get those Twitter likes and get the videos up there as quickly as possible. It is absolutely soul-destroying.”

Nonetheless, there is talk of “a growing sense of nervousness” on the Government side and among the main parties, all of which are calling for a Yes-Yes vote.

But nervousness may be too strong a word when the only votes that really interest the denizens of Leinster House are the ones where seats are up for grabs. They would have to care to be really nervous.

“I’m off home for the week now and the thing I’ll be worrying about is getting our vote up again,” said a Sinn Féin deputy.

His Government rivals wouldn’t quibble.