25 September 1997 Edition

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Dialann Sraid Chill Dara

Kildare Street Diary

Kildare Street will be a weekly insider's guide to Leinster House. Micheal MacDonncha will report on the work of Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O Caolain as well as the wider political goings-on in the corridors of power.


It is a strange feeling to be the first Sinn Fein activist to work in Leinster House. The historical echoes are very loud. In the entrance hall are two huge portraits - on the right is Cathal Brugha in IRA uniform and on the right is Michael Collins in Free State uniform. Both were killed in the Civil War 75 years ago. Whatever we may think of Michael Collins there is little evidence that the high idealism which motivated both him and Cathal Brugha is present in many of the current occupants of the House. In particular there seems to be little sense of the momentous phase of the peace process which we are experiencing at present.

When the House returned on 10 September to discuss the McCracken Tribunal Report there was a brief debate on the ratification of the Agreement with the British government to establish an International Commission on Decommissioning. As soon as this item of business was reached the chamber emptied, with only a handful of deputies bothering to stay on. Yet this was the first opportunity Leinster House had to discuss the peace process since the IRA cessation of 20 July and the entry of Sinn Fein into talks on 9 September. We often castigate Westminster MPs for the rows of empty benches when Ireland is discussed but this time it was closer to home.


No sooner had the newly elected TD finished canvassing nearly every house in Cavan and Monaghan when the roles were reversed. We were inundated with canvassers from other parties, and from independents, looking for our votes in the Senate election. Caoimhghin had a vote as a TD, along with the other Sinn Fein county and city councillors.

You would be amazed at the people who came looking for support. In fact the very first visitor to our office here in Kildare House was a former TD from a party which would be regarded as Sinn Fein's most bitter opponents. Such is politics.

Of course the Senate itself is an undemocratic body, a strange combination of waiting room and retirement home. Aspiring TDs wait there for their next chance to get into where the real pull is; superannuated ex-TDs are glad of the platform to air their views. The system of election, much like the nomination system for the Presidency, is controlled totally by the the big parties - Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour. The body was conceived by de Valera supposedly to represent different sectors of society. What it represents is the power play within and between the dominat parties, with some very limited scope for independents. The whole set-up should be abolished and if there is to be a second chamber it should be truly representative and elected by universal suffrage.


Leinster House returns after the long summer holiday next week on 30 September. The scene will be dominated by the politics surrounding the presidential election. Mary Robinson rescued the presidency from stagnation, but now that she has made her career move to the UN, we are left with a legacy of hype which totally exagerrates the the importance of the office. It is getting so bad that this writer is nostalgic for old Paddy Hillery who played golf and didn't bother us much, as befits the occupant of an office which is almost wholly symbolic.

While the contending parties continue to use the presidential election to score points, we will be getting down to the business of marking our mark as the first Sinn Fein team in this place. Interesting times ahead.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1