Yesterday Mary Lou finally met with Máiría Cahill. But first, both women were included in a group photograph taken in the Dail chamber of current and former Oireachtas members for the centenary of women being able to vote and stand for election. What then passed was bizarre.
Miriam Lord, colour and sketch writer for the Irish Times captured the brittle strangeness of the proceedings:
It was a happy occasion, with many blasts from the political past lining out for this special portrait of a unique band of Irish women. Seating was allocated in the front row for serving and former cabinet ministers, with the overflow joining ministers of state in the next two rows.
Former president of Ireland and former senator Mary Robinson was also allocated a seat in the front, along with dedicated seating for members of the organising committee from the Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus.
Just in the nick of time, with everyone in place and the photograph about to be taken, Mary Lou rushed into the chamber. She headed for the central stairs and her usual berth, the one she inhabits as party leader when the Dáil is in session and where Gerry Adams sat before her.
So far, so ordinary. But then…
Mary Lou is an accomplished woman with many achievements to her name, but having served as a government minister is not one of them.
As the rest of the women watched with growing interest, she arrived at her seat to find Mary Hanafin, the first female government chief whip – who held a number of senior ministries including Social and Family Affairs and Education, sitting in her spot.
“Who gave you permission to sit there?” asked Mary Lou, very put out, telling Mary H that this was her seat and she wanted to sit in it.
Former tánaiste and Fianna Fáil minister Mary Coughlan was sitting to Hanafin’s left while Mary Robinson was to her right, across the aisle. The four Marys.
Hanafin pointed out that she had been directed to her seat by the ushers, in accordance with the arrangements in place for the event. Former ministers were instructed to sit in the front row. She reminded the Sinn Féin leader it wasn’t a normal Dáil sitting and the usual seating plan was not in operation.
Mary Lou replied she didn’t really care where anyone else was sitting but this was her seat and she wouldn’t be sitting for any photograph until she got it back.
As the stand-off continued, Mary H declared she was where the ushers put her and perhaps Mary Lou should check with them. Which she did, marching over to the chief usher and informing him that an interloper was sitting in her place. (It didn’t seem to bother anyone else. Serving TDs just sat where they found a vacant spot.)
An usher approached Hanafin and asked apologetically if, maybe, she might facilitate deputy McDonald who was refusing to sit anywhere else.
So the former cabinet minister vacated her prime ministerial spot (front and centre) and looked for a seat elsewhere. She finally found a welcome off to the side next to former Fine Gael education minister Gemma Hussey.
Afterwards, Hanafin said…
“I did the gracious thing and moved when the usher asked me. I didn’t want to make a scene or make the situation any more difficult for the staff,” said Hanafin afterwards, who described McDonald’s actions as “bullying, pure and simple”.
Her later meeting with Cahill didn’t go well either. Ms Cahill said she put a number of issues to Ms McDonald including the dispute over whether an IRA investigation into her case took place., reporting that “Ms McDonald said she did not know”.
Today, on the day that an audit by safeguarding expert Ian Elliott revealed details of 71 alleged child abusers within the southern Scouting movement over decades was the biggest news in the Republic, there was no official statement on the Sinn Fein website.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty