A Brexit two-step: A sort of con­ti­nen­tal Lan­ni­gan’s Ball

The Irish Times - - Home News - Miriam Lord

Over on the main­land (Eu­rope), EU lead­ers are grow­ing sick, sore and tired of the Brexit talks process. When will it all end? Mar­tyn Sel­mayr, con­tro­ver­sial sec­re­tary gen­eral of the com­mis­sion, re­flected this gen­eral sense of weari­ness dur­ing the week when he told a Ger­man busi­ness au­di­ence “ne­go­ti­a­tions with the UK are a bit like the Echter­nach Spring Pro­ces­sion”.

In­deed, Mar­tyn. Just what we were think­ing our­selves.

The Echter­nach Sping Pro­ces­sion is a Lux­em­bour­gish pa­rade in which the par­tic­i­pants hop three steps for­ward and two steps back. A sort of con­ti­nen­tal Lan­ni­gan’s Ball. The town hosts Eu­rope’s only hop­ping pa­rade, a com­mem­o­ra­tion hark­ing back to a pa­gan eighth cen­tury tra­di­tion con­cern­ing St Wil­li­brord and a cer­tain Vi­tus, known as the “Fid­dler of Echter­nach”.

The story has it that Vi­tus went on a pil­grim­age to the Holy Land with his wife, only to re­turn by him­self, the mis­sus hav­ing died along the way. Greedy rel­a­tives, who had shared out all his pos­ses­sions in his ab­sence, spread the rumour that Vi­tus mur­dered his wife dur­ing their trip. The poor divil was sen­tenced to death. As he was be­ing led to the gal­lows he asked if he could play his beloved vi­o­lin one last time.

His wish was granted and Vi­tus started play­ing. The crowd around the scaf­fold started to dance. They danced for hours on end, un­til their feet sank into the ground, with Vi­tus, still play­ing, hav­ing long fled the hang­man’s noose and the city of Echter­nach. And all the while, they danced and they danced un­til St Wil­li­brord was called upon to put an end to this curse and re­lease them from the deadly St Vi­tus’s dance.

To­day’s hop­ping pro­ces­sion is re­ally a skip­ping pro­ces­sion: par­tic­i­pants skip two steps to the left, two to the right. In the past, skip­ping con­sisted of three steps for­ward and two steps back (thus the widely used phrase of some­thing pro­gress­ing “at an Echter­nach pace”).

A per­fect anal­ogy for Brexit.

Hors­esofa dif­fer­ent­colour

They Who Know Ev­ery­thing — aka the Le­in­ster House par­lia­men­tary ush­ers — are hold­ing a Christ­mas char­ity fundraiser in a few weeks in Kennedy’s pub on West­land Row, only a short stroll from Kil­dare Street.

Need­less to say, the main par­ties im­me­di­ately rowed in with fi­nan­cial sup­port. Or rode in, given that this year the ush­ers have de­cided to put on a race-night. They’ve al­ready pulled in over ¤2,000 through sell­ing run­ners and rid­ers, with all money raised go­ing to Br Kevin’s Ca­puchin Day Cen­tre in Dublin. The four main par­ties each pur­chased (and named) a horse.

Fine Gael is run­ning a nag imag­i­na­tively called “Leo the Lion”, Fianna Fáil’s don­key is called “Hou­dini”, Labour, with touch­ing op­ti­mism, is sad­dling up “The Red Army” while Sinn Féin will be cheer­ing on “Hope­lessly De­voted”. No idea why. Maybe it’s a sup­port­ive mes­sage for new leader, Mary Lou. Or maybe Gerry Adams, who has just brought out a new cook­book and was flog­ging it in Amer­ica this week, is a big Olivia New­ton-John fan.

Both Mary Lou and Gerry were on fundrais­ing duty across the At­lantic for the party’s an­nual big earner in the Big Ap­ple. The new party pres­i­dent de­liv­ered her in­au­gu­ral ad­dress to the Friends of Sinn Féin gala din­ner in the Sher­a­ton Ho­tel, Times Square, fol­low­ing a lively in­tro­duc­tion from Gerry.

Given the party’s re­cent out­lay on a dis­as­trous pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign, Adams will be work­ing hard to shift as many copies of his pun-tas­tic peas process “The Ne­go­tia­tors’ Cook­book” as pos­si­ble.

Mean­while, in­di­vid­ual TDs and Sen­a­tors are run­ning horses on the night. Fine Gael’s leader in the Seanad, Jerry But­timer, called his horse “Morale is Low”. Things must be rough th­ese days in pre-elec­tion Cork South Cen­tral.

A cer­tain Min­is­ter of State Mo­ran called his run­ner “The Boxer” while Gov­ern­ment back­bencher Noel Rock has en­tered “Brexit” to see if it fin­ishes or falls at the first. Mary Lou McDon­ald named her horse “High Hopes”. For­mer taoiseach Ber­tie Ah­ern (left), as fol­low­ers of the Ma­hon tri­bunal know, is fond of plac­ing the oc­ca­sional bet. He sent a few bob in for the cause and his horse’s name was picked by “one of the Fianna Fáil lads” who told the or­gan­is­ers to call it “The Pug”. It seems Ber­tie now owns one.

An in­ter­est­ing name was cho­sen by vet­eran Fine Gael TD for Kil­dare, Bernard Durkan. He pur­chased a steed and said he wanted it named “Golden Balls”. We know not why. So we’ll just leave it there. Br Kevin will be along on the night to sup­port the Dáil and Seanad ush­ers, and he’s even forked out for his own horse – “The Saint”, a shrewd in­vest­ment which should at­tract a strong bet­ting surge and boost the fi­nal tally.

Mar­tin shows Com­mons touch

A hun­dred years af­ter Count­ess Markievicz be­came the first woman elected to the House of Com­mons, the Green Party’s Cather­ine Mar­tin made quiet his­tory on Thurs­day by be­com­ing the first woman TD to speak in the House of Com­mons.

Markievicz was elected to the con­stituency of Dublin St Pa­trick’s but she never took her seat in West­min­ster. Mar­tin, elected to the con­stituency of Dublin Rath­down, ad­dressed the cham­ber in the cen­te­nary year of women’s suf­frage.

The TD re­mem­bered the pi­o­neer­ing MP in her speech at an event mark­ing the cen­te­nary called “Women MPs of the World” which was at­tended by more than 100 mem­bers of par­lia­ment from around the globe. Deputy Mar­tin is a founder mem­ber and chair of the Ir­ish Women’s Par­lia­men­tary Cau­cus.

She be­gan her speech with a cú­pla fo­cail: “Mná an Domhain agus a dhaoine Uaisle”, but her use of the Ir­ish lan­guage in the House of Com­mons wasn’t a first. That hon­our goes to Thomas O’Don­nell, MP for West Kerry in 1901, whose lengthy re­marks in Ir­ish in­fu­ri­ated the Speaker but didn’t de­feat the ed­i­tors of Hansard, who in­cluded ev­ery­thing he said and in the proper type­face.

Ber­tie Ah­ern threw in a few words when he ad­dressed a joint sit­ting of the Lords and Com­mons in 2007, but he spoke in the very grand Royal Gallery rather than in the Com­mons cham­ber. The SDLP’s Mark Durkan, then MP for Foyle, spoke Ir­ish dur­ing a 2015 de­bate.

Cather­ine Mar­tin missed out on be­com­ing the first woman to speak Ir­ish in the cham­ber by a cou­ple of weeks when Welsh MP Liz Sav­ille Roberts (Plaid Cymru) called for the in­tro­duc­tion of an Ir­ish lan­guage Act in North­ern Ire­land.

There had to be a spe­cial Com­mons vote to al­low the women par­lia­men­tar­i­ans meet in the cham­ber.

“As a fe­male TD rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land, it was an hon­our to be able to speak about how the cau­cus is work­ing to strengthen Ir­ish women’s en­gage­ment with po­lit­i­cal and pub­lic life.

“What made it par­tic­u­larly spe­cial was that it took place dur­ing this spe­cial cen­te­nary, one hun­dred years af­ter the elec­tion of Ir­ish woman, Count­ess Markievicz,” said Mar­tin.

The Mon­aghan-born politi­cian says she isn’t en­tirely sure if she is the first woman TD to speak in the Com­mons cham­ber, but that’s what she has been told, so un­til she hears oth­er­wise she will carry the hon­our with pride. Her con­stituency col­league, Win­ston Church­town, aka Lord Ross of Stepa­side and Bus, will be only rag­ing.

Play­ingthe Longgame

A def­i­nite name on the can­di­date hit lists of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has de­cided to go it alone in next year’s lo­cal elec­tions and run as an In­de­pen­dent. Sa­man­tha Long, who un­suc­cess­fully con­tested the last lo­cal elec­tions for Fine Gael in 2014 and then left the party in protest at its fail­ure to nom­i­nate a woman can­di­date to con­test the Seanad by­elec­tion caused by Deirdre Clune’s de­par­ture to Eu­rope, will be run­ning in the Kim­mage/Rath­mines ward. This will come as a dis­ap­point­ment to the two main par­ties as both had been eye­ing her up as a can­di­date next year. She will be fa­mil­iar to many peo­ple be­cause of the story she told ear­lier this year on “No Place for Women”, a grip­ping RTÉ doc­u­men­tary ex­plor­ing how Ir­ish women have been treated by the State in the 100 years since they got the vote.

Sa­man­tha and her twin sis­ter Etta were born in Dublin and adopted to­gether from a mother-and-baby home in 1972 when they were nine months old. In 1995, they traced and met their birth mother, Mar­garet. They were shocked when they heard about her sad life, dis­cov­er­ing many dis­turb­ing de­tails about what had hap­pened to her from the time she was placed in State care at the age of 2.

Mar­garet died at the age of 51, hav­ing spent all her life in in­dus­trial schools, mother-and-baby homes and Mag­da­lene laun­dries. This year, Kather­ine Zap­pone ap­pointed Long to the Col­lab­o­ra­tive Fo­rum on Mother and Baby homes, a vol­un­tary po­si­tion.

She works in Le­in­ster House as as­sis­tant to Sen­a­tor Michael McDow­ell and is also ad­min­is­tra­tor of the nine-strong Seanad In­de­pen­dent Group. So there should no short­age of ad­vice from that quar­ter when she launches her cam­paign.

Amanof many tal­ents

The an­nual mass for de­ceased Oireach­tas mem­bers and staff took place in the Mem­bers’ Pri­vate Din­ing Room in Le­in­ster House on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. There was a good at­ten­dance for the ser­vice which was cel­e­brated by Fr Ea­mon Ayl­ward, cousin of Fianna Fáil TD for Kilkenny, Bobby Ayl­ward.

Fr Ea­mon has of­fi­ci­ated at this mass for the last num­ber of years. We hear from a con­gre­ga­tion mem­ber that it is a lovely Mass, but he con­fessed he was taken un­awares, and some­what aback, by the clos­ing hymn. Sen­a­tor Rónán Mullen rose and sang a pas­sion­ate ren­di­tion of “How Great Thou Art.”

“I never heard any­thing like it. It sent shiv­ers down me.” A man of many tal­ents is Sen­a­tor Mullen.

The Green Party’s Cather­ine Mar­tin made quiet his­tory on Thurs­day by be­com­ing the first woman TD to speak in the House of Com­mons

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