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oireachtas retorts

‘Fannies’, ‘prats’ and ‘clowns’: 10 bizarre moments from the 24th Seanad

From the Justice Minister’s laughing fit, to Jim Walsh’s controversial comments on abortion. Say what you like about the chamber’s effectiveness; so far the current crop of senators have been anything but boring.

AS ‘FATHER OF the House,’ the duty of making the maiden speech of the 24th Seanad in May 2011 fell to its most famous occupant — David Norris. In typical, ebullient form, he reminded his colleagues of the need to prove their worth “to the people” to ensure the continued existence of the upper house. Since then, there’s been more media interest than usual in the goings-on of Seanad Éireann — much of that down to the fact that, from day one, it appeared the institution’s days may be numbered…

1. Alan Shatter is overcome by acronyms, giggles

In keeping with his position as Justice Minister,  Alan Shatter’s default demeanour is generally somewhere between ‘strait-laced’  and ‘sombre’. But the veteran Dublin South politician occasionally shows flashes of a peculiar sense of humour. There was that time he appointed himself a ‘time lord’ in his press release reminder about the clocks going forward, of course. And then there was his joke about writing an erotic novel  (which, in the end, turned out not to be a joke, but thankfully wasn’t all that erotic after all). In this May 2012 appearance before the Seanad, Shatter at first tries to stifle, then more or less surrenders to a fit of the giggles while reading a prepared statement. ‘Too many acronyms’ he tells the bemused senators, before blaming  ”a lack of food”.

2. Fannygate

Senator David Norris has used the word fanny before, inside the Seanad and out. Never — publicly at least  — in this context however. This was the same day that Fine Gael launched its referendum campaign, and the Trinity senator was fuming over the Government’s approach to the upper chamber. Addressing TD Regina Doherty, Norris was clearly hoping to improvise something pithy along the theme of “The Regina Monologues”. Unfortunately, the Senator went a little too far this time, and later withdrew his remarks.

(Youtube: Slan Abhaile)

3. “This is a bit of red meat held out by the Taoiseach”

David Norris was in more characteristic form earlier in the month, making an impassioned plea for the retention of the chamber.

“This is not turkeys voting for Christmas. This is turkeys being asked to slit their throats, eviscerate themselves and stuff themselves.”

(Youtube: ELClancy) [Music added by the uploader]

4. John Crown calls Brian Hayes a ‘prat’

Senator John Crown wasn’t happy with what he regarded as Minister of State Brian Hayes’ disrespectful demeanour in the chamber during the report stage of the Seanad Abolition Bill. Proceedings descended into chaos after Hayes quietly observed to Crowne “you lick yourself every night before you go to bed” upon being asked to pay attention.

“The word prat” comes to mind, the Senator replied…

Speaking to, Minister Hayes attempted to give some context

(Youtube: TheJournalVideo)

While we’re at it…

5. Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry calls Enda Kenny ‘a clown’

“He is not acting like a clown – how dare you!”… Challenged by a colleague, Mac Sharry insisted the Taoiseach was definitely a circus performer of some kind, replying “When somebody looks like a clown, talks like a clown, performs like a clown and insists on making Government a circus ring, they are a clown”.

We think. There was a lot of shouting going on at the time.

(Youtube: TheJournalVideo)

6. Senator Terry Leydon says Hitler and Mussolini were good Christians

“Allegedly. Allegedly. [To a colleague] you can check that too… I said they were trying to be… One was a clerical student… Not in their activity – I can assure you they were monsters and they destroyed the whole continent of Europe. Let’s be quite clear about that. And destroyed six million people.

“..Sorry, I was distracted.”

This was also during the debate on the abolition of the upper house.

(Youtube: It Only Encourages Them)

7. Fianna Fáil senators stage a walkout

It could be argued that Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke’s mistake here was telling Senator Darragh O’Brien that he could only adjourn the House if there was disorder, “and there’s not disorder”. The row followed a dispute over Fidelma Healy-Eames, Paul Bradford and James Heffernan being taken off three Oireachtas committees; the party whip had been removed from the Fine Gael and Labour politicians. Labour’s John Kelly said he was being asked to “act like a robot” by the coalition after his subsequent appointment to one of those panels. After around ten minutes of back-and-forth, O’Brien led his party colleagues out of the chamber.

(Youtube: Hugh O’Connell)

8. Mary Anne O’Brien rips off The Sunday Times

Independent senator Mary Anne O’Brien admitted that comments she made in the Seanad on her concerns about children’s access to pornography were taken from a column published in the Sunday Times the previous month. The co-founder of the Jack and Jill Foundation and Lily O’Brien’s Chocolates had received widespread media attention when she said “We are allowing our children to see material that a decade ago would have been accessible only in an extreme fetish club”. Contacted by, she said she had intended to attribute her comments to columnist Eleanor Mills, but had forgotten to.

imageSenator Mary Ann O’Brien [Image: Screengrab/]

9. “I’m not being discriminatory here, but…”

Debating the Taxi Regulation Bill, Fianna Fáil’s Paschal Mooney told his colleagues he disn’t like getting in taxis being driven by someone who is an “obvious non-national,” adding “that is nothing to do with the colour of their skin or anything”. He said he instead chose “local taxi drivers” because they were more likely to know their way around. The Senator later apologised and withdrew his remarks, saying “I fully acknowledge and respect the contribution of non-nationals to the life of Ireland”.

(Youtube: It Only Encourages Them)

10. Senator Jim Walsh’s graphic abortion speech

Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh’s speech during the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill this year provoked widespread criticism. Labour’s Ivana Bacik described his words as “scaremongering” and “unfortunate” while Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said they were “over the top”. The Senator told the chamber he was abandoning the “sanitised language” normally used when debating the topic, before beginning a long, graphic description of a termination procedure.  Miriam Lord of The Irish Times wrote that “It was as if the air had frozen in the Seanad chamber”.

(Youtube: TheJournalVideo)

Read: AS IT HAPPENED: The Seanad is here to stay as referendum defeated

Also: ‘Reflection’ the buzz word but Taoiseach and Tánaiste appear open to Seanad reform

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