If the Dail was like any other workplace it would sit from 9-5 Monday to Friday…

So here’s interesting one. It seems that Sinn Fein’s campaign against selling alcohol in the national parliament has been passed on to the new generation of TDs. Louise O’Reilly yesterday questioned the necessity of having two bars in the Houses of the Oireachtas:

“I find it incredible that my new workplace has not one but two bars. Aside from providing employment, albeit with somewhat erratic hours, I cannot see any reason for the existence of bars in this or any other workplace.

We should use the opportunity presented to us by all the talk of new politics and a new way of doing politics to make some real and lasting reforms. If we think people outside this Chamber agree that we need two bars, we are fooling nobody.

The public certainly does not think two bars are needed.”

The two bars in question are the Members bar into which the press and non-parliamentarians are disallowed entry and a more public bar where members and employees can bring outsiders.

For all but a few Sinn Fein representatives, both bars are out of bounds. And all accounts when someone from Sinn Fein does turn up for a coffee (usually on their own) the chatter in the place drops like the pub scene in American Werewolf in London.

The truth is that if the Dail or any other parliamentary building was like any other workplace, it would sit from 9-5 Monday to Friday. But TDs, MLAs and MPs are all on short term contracts to the people who elected them.

And, crucially, Edmund Burke noted in his famous speech to the Electors of Bristol

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

The business of parliament is speech, deliberation and the pursuit of the public interest. Goodness knows our institutions are still hopelessly mired in the murk of 19th Century politics.

But the Dail Bar is key part of the business of parliament. It’s where parliamentarians across the aisle are able to get the measure of each other out of earshot mostly of the lobby.

Perhaps, as building a coherent opposition on a tiny budget becomes imperative over the next five years the members bar in Stormont will more used as all parties spend time trying to figure out what to oppose and what to let through without a fight.

No bar in any parliament has the centrality of place it once had. But an Assembly in which the bar is rarely used is a sure sign that those are rarely under the kind of pressure to make the sort of deal that means they need drink.

Ms O’Reilly might note too that tea, coffee and mineral waters are available for those who prefer to abstain from alcohol during ‘working hours. But next time I’m fortune enough to be invited in, you can make mine a nice pint of double.

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  • Declan Doyle

    Slow news day?

  • mickfealty

    Just reiterating a point…

  • Brendan Heading

    I’m not sure there is some particular aspect of the work of elected representatives that entitles them to subsidised 24 hour booze when the rest of the country are denied it. I think SF have a point here, especially after scenes a couple of years back where TDs were showing up in the chamber visibly intoxicated.

  • Declan Doyle

    Sounds like a bit of bullying. Cheering on the bad boys who are busy ignoring and isolating the recently arrived little guy in the school yard. Has Irish politics fallen that far? Is the Irish traditional political establishment machine so intimidated by a party who ‘failed to make huge gains’ in the recent general election that they are reduced to refusing to share a cup of tea with them in the Dail bar? The Shinners must be doing something right.

  • NMS

    My very limited experience of the visitors’ bar in Leinster House is that it functions more as a coffee bar for members, employees & most visitors. The people taking an alcoholic drink seemed to be visitors. Perhaps the Provos don’t like putting their hands in their pockets! I can’t comment for what happens at night.

    Alcohol is available (without charge) in the Google canteen. It is not the only workplace where the demon drink is served. I also remember that alcohol was available in the staff canteen many years ago in the Central Sorting Office in Sheriff St

  • mickfealty

    Subsidy doesn’t figure in the Deputy’s objections Brendan.

  • mac tire

    I think SF have a point here. During the debate on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill in 2013 the bar was open until 5am. Some TDs outside SF described some of their colleagues as “wobbly”. Many admitted drinking during that night but “not excessively”.

    Adams pointed out last month that he had met citizens and TDs intoxicated in Dáil corridors within this 32nd Dáil.

    Wanna pint? Be like the vast majority of us – wait until you get home.

    P.S. Mick, if you are going to the bar, I’ll have a wee one with that pint.