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JFK's car, Mary Lou's cavalry and a Healy-Rae hooley - it all went down as TDs entered the Dáil

There were 48 new TDs entering Leinster House and they came to celebrate.

20200220_105306 Fianna Fáil's Christopher O’Sullivan with his mother Patricia. Source: TheJournal.ie

IMAGINE THE FIRST day of a new school year, add in hundreds of cheering supporters, vintage cars, loud hailers and of course the Healy-Raes.

Do that and you’re getting someway close to experiencing the madness and joy of the first day of a new Dáil. 

The arrival of newly elected TDs at Leinster House has become somewhat of an event in itself.

In fairness to all involved, it’s moment of pride for friends and family, so they have every right to celebrate. Provided of course that the real business of representing the people takes precedence without delay. 

Although today was no different, there were some interesting distinctions to be made between the approaches of various parties. 

Fine Gael and the Social Democrats, for example, opted for low-key entrances while Fianna Fáil and especially the independents brought the whooping and hollering.

Sinn Féin decided to enter en masse like a well-drilled legion. 

Those earliest to appear managed to walk down Kildare Street with only a few media waiting for them. Two of the 48 new TDs in the 33rd Dáil were among them, Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond and the Social Democrats’ Holly Cairns.

Cairns politely acceded to a request from photographers to make the walk again so they could capture it. Gary Gannon, another Social Democrat first timer, slipped in with only a couple of quiet handshakes. 

4940 Holly Cairns Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Richmond smiled wildly as he sported a blue tie through the Leinster House gates, admitting to being “very nervous and excited” about his first day as a TD.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, he asked the public to be patient because there are “a long number of days and weeks of negotiation ahead”. 

Sinn Féin’s 17 new TDs were all gathering across the road in Buswells Hotel but one of the cohort Claire Kerrane had already been on radio in the morning and was eager to get started. 

She was keen to point out that having worked in Leinster House for over three years it wasn’t new all new to her, but that it was exciting to be there “in a different capacity”.  

As the clock moved past 10am, two hours before the new Dáil actually sat, the trickle of new TDs turned into a downpour as reporters struggled to keep up with the number arriving. 

Independent Michael Collins arrived with a horde of cheering supports and went about geeing them up with a loud oration about the importance of protecting rural Ireland. 

Last year, Collins faced criticism when he said that Irish people “hungry on the street” should be prioritised over immigrants. He joked today to supporters that he better be careful not to say something he shouldn’t. 

Instead, warned the big parties not to “turn their backs” on people or they’ll have the same done to them.

Around this time, the flashiest arrival of the morning came when Independent Richard O’Donoghue pulled up in a black vintage car that took everyone by surprise.

The car was a 1959 Plymouth that O’Donoghue said was not his own but was used by JFK during visit to Ireland in 1963.

He explained he’s a member of a vintage car club in Limerick and that the group also “helps to raise much-needed funds for people in need and charities”.

“They honoured me by asking me could they bring me through the gates of Leinster House today in this car,” he said. 

2949 Dail Returns Richard O'Donoghue TD in a vintage car inside the Leinster House gates. Source: RollingNews.ie

With the independents driving all the action, it felt like the Healy-Rae TDs were getting sidelined in what is usually their big moment.

Michael had a brief word on his way into the Dáil, focusing on the need for big parties need to “knuckle down” and start negotiating seriously.

He teased that there may be “mild celebrations” when their supporters do arrive. There were rumours of a packed train from Cork with other murmurings that the recent storm damage on the main Kilgarvan Road was not helping with the long journey. 

Some Fianna Fáil TDs were eager to get in on the action. The fresh-faced but hirsute Christopher O’Sullivan brought one of the biggest crowds to the gate.

The party’s even fresher-faced 22-year-old James O’Connor was also basking in being the “baby of the Dáil”.

The Green Party’s husband and wife team of Catherine Martin and Francis Noel Duffy also arrived to much interest before being upstaged by their beautifully turned out children who also said a few words. 

All the while though, Sinn Féin were massing on Molesworth Street and were clearly keen to make a coordinated entrance. 

Mary Lou McDonald led the parliamentary party through the Leinster House gates to the biggest waiting media mass of the day.  

Dressed in green for the occasion, McDonald notably disagreed with some of the earlier statements from other TDs, insisting there need not be a delay in forming a government. 

“There’s general agreement that today is not going to be the conclusive day, but I certainly hope that it can be the first step in process that won’t be too long or drawn out,” she said. 

As the sun shone on the 160 deputies entering the still newly refurbished Leinster House facade, the strains of an accordion could be heard back across Kildare Street.

This was Danny Healy-Rae’s moment to shine and he took pleasure in giving the people, and reporters it must be said, what they wanted.

With his daughters Elaine and Maura in accompaniment, the hooley started off with the Rose of Tralee before were heard some instrumentals and a finish of Ámhrán na bhFiann.

It was punctuated with some typically defiant words by the man himself and more than a few car horns of encouragement.  

“Don’t ever write us off when the people of Kerry are with us, ” he said. 

I didn’t seem like anyone watching would dare.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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