Across the country, in a moment of overwhelming national solidarity, we stopped everything and started clapping our hands.
We applauded our soapy and soapy and disinfected hands, the cleanest hands ever, for the legions of front line workers in our health and other essential services – doctors, nurses, cleaners, caterers, prime stakeholders, retail staff and everything in between.
Work for us in the face of a deadly pandemic.
Thursday evening at 8 p.m., respect and gratitude found their place in the community. It was a small gesture, but it was something. In the dark emptiness of the quiet streets, the sound of clapping hands resounded on the stone, like the clatter of horses.
It wasn’t the cavalry that came to the rescue, but it looked like that.
And if all those who have gone out to show appreciation to front line personnel continue to observe the new rules made necessary by the spread of the virus, they will be a formidable auxiliary force in the war against Covid-19.
There is strength in unity.
At 8 p.m., Dáil Éireann also stopped.
The Ceann Comhairle was immersed in his papers and plowed through the amendments while the countdown was over.
The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste returned to the chamber, along with the opposition leaders. For a moment, it seemed that Seán Ó Fearghaíl had forgotten. Bríd Smith of People Before Profit, who earlier suggested that the House heeded the HSE’s request to cheer front-line workers at 8:00 p.m., spoke to remind her – but she shouldn’t have to worry.
Ó Fearghaíl had watched the clock in his office closely.
“Tá sé a hocht a chlog anois (it is eight o’clock now)”, he announced. “And, in accordance with the Dáil agreement earlier today, we must all stand up and applaud as a sign of thanks and respect to the front line workers.”
Applaud and applaud
Politicians stood up and applauded, and applauded and applauded. Journalists from the press gallery applauded. Noise echoed in the sparsely populated room, where the occupants were well spaced from each other in a well-coordinated display of social distancing.
We felt the wind rise. But the same goes for the course when a session is about to start at Dáil
The applause continued well beyond the scheduled minute. It was a moving sight, with many deputies on the verge of tears. After spending the day debating emergency legislation, it was a moment of reflection for them and a reminder of the responsibility they also have to bear in this time of crisis.
“Thank you all,” said Ceann Comhairle when the applause finally subsided. There was nothing more to say – the scene spoke for itself.
And they went back to work in an emotionally charged atmosphere.
On Thursday morning, a small group of DTs gathered in Dáil’s room and immediately set to work on the urgent task of neutralizing the national hatches.
They were in a race against the clock. This work had to be done in one day.
The storm is approaching.
You could feel it in the air – in the hallways of Leinster House and in the strangely deserted streets and squares of Parliament with their storefronts and closed shutters and pubs.
We felt the wind rise. But in all honesty, this is the norm for the course when a session is about to start at Dáil.
It was not a normal session. It was “taking unprecedented steps to respond to an unprecedented emergency,” as the Taoiseach said. It has given lawmakers a 12-hour window to vote on a complex bill containing an extraordinary set of laws designed to protect the country from the worst ravages of the coronavirus crisis.
Politicians of all stripes have united to put in place these protective measures. They questioned some aspects of some and offered constructive suggestions to improve others.
Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheál Martin spoke of the “right balance” between “supporting a common message to the public and maintaining space to ask difficult questions and indicate areas where action may be needed”.
The discussion throughout the day was serious and sincerely directed to Parliament doing everything possible to ease the burden for the many who will find themselves caught up in this calamitous pandemic in all kinds of ways.
Think of the passage of a bill in the Dáil staged by the
Reduced Shakespeare Company, but without the laughs
So it was a matter of upside down, of side differences and of everyone for the common good. These protective measures had to be in place before the storm, so the TDs hammered in until the day turned to night and the job was done.
How does it feel before a hurricane hits?
Head down, everyone walks in, the differences are temporarily set aside, hammering the plywood sheets to the windows and tying anything that moves.
The uniqueness of the occasion was noted by many speakers, in particular those deputies who were unlikely to see themselves or their groups appear in the next government. It was their contribution to Corona’s war effort, but don’t expect such compliance when it’s over. Normal political hostilities will resume.
The 2020 Public Interest Emergency Measures Bill (Covid-19) completed each stage of the Dáil in less than 12 hours, a process that would normally have taken months.
Think of the passage of a Bill through the Dáil written and produced by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, but without laughing. The Complete Works of Bill Completion (short): a fast-paced, impactful and heartbreaking drama, but one steeped in hope and performed with honor by excellent cast.
They shook him.
“This emergency has already cost lives and jobs, and it will get worse before it gets better,” said Leo Varadkar in the House, before having to leave for a videoconference with other EU leaders.
Sad and edified
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe quoted the poem by Derek Mahon titled Everything will be alright and managed to make us feel sad and elated at the same time.
Intonising the line “There will be deaths, there will be deaths”, he added, the government and all members of the Dáil “seek to reduce these deaths”.
Elsewhere, writes Mahon, “the hidden source is the watchful heart.”
Donohoe urged people to “use this watchful heart to make sure that social estrangement does not become loneliness.” It is an act of which we can all be accomplices or not, accomplices. “
Opposition members have asked government questions about certain aspects of the bill. Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty – who replaces party leader Mary Lou McDonald who decided to stay home because she had cold symptoms – was concerned that banks and vulture funds would take advantage of distressed mortgagees.
There were serious concerns regarding the continuation of construction work in situations where social distancing is almost impossible to observe. The government has promised to take action. The argument that student nurses were paid for their work was re-established and it appeared that this would happen.
The tenants had to be taken care of, just like the people benefiting from a direct service.
The socialist TDs were shaking their heads about how the government could implement measures such as housing, which they said could not be done because it would be unconstitutional.
The Taoiseach argued that the common good takes precedence over everything.
Politicians don’t always have a good reputation, sometimes rightly so, but we have the opportunity to shine
But while the necessary review was carried out by the opposition, there was general consensus on the passage of the law.
Employment Minister Heather Humphreys quoted Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization, when he admitted that the government might not fix everything the first time.
“When you’re in a crisis, speed trumps perfection.”
It’s time to move and go fast.
People want to be reassured, said Varadkar. “Politicians don’t always have a good reputation, sometimes rightly so, but we have the opportunity to shine. Not as individuals, but as a group. We can show that the ideals that first motivated us to enter politics can support us when our country most needs hope. “
And it certainly deserves to be applauded.