It's no way to run a country. Yesterday, the Seanad sat through a novel weekend sitting. The state of emergency was brought about by the mad rush to pass the finance bill. The bill must be rushed because there's a mad rush to have a general election. And the election was brought forward, because everybody wants to be seen to be in a mad rush to do something.
This was the last official sitting of the Seanad during this parliament. The way things are looking, the Upper House may not make it all the way through the next one. Thus, the senators were nearly all present and accounted for to debate the finance bill yesterday. It's not as if many of them didn't have more pressing issues. At least a dozen are to fight for a Dáil seat in the next election.
The seat of parliament was eerily quiet for the occasion. The only visitors being processed at the main desk were a sister of Deputy Beverley Flynn and three children. Bev isn't running in the forthcoming election, so maybe the little ones were being given a taste of what it was like to trawl the corridors of Leinster House in the time of the Flynn dynasty. Another dynasty sitting through its last day was that of the O'Malley clan. Fiona O'Malley made her final contributions, ending a lineage that goes back through her father Des and grand-uncle, Donagh. The era of political dynasties may itself be entering a final chapter.
The fare inside the chamber itself rarely rose above middling. Donie Cassidy made an early contribution on a provision for tax reliefs, referencing developments down along the west coast "from Donegal to Waterford".
The committee recommendations were dealt with at a pace of knots. Repeatedly, in response to contributions, Lenihan got to his feet to decry the speed at which the opposition wanted this vital piece of legislation to be processed. "Normally, I would spend a week going over the finance bill, this year I was given a day," he said.
There were dire warnings that the bill would provide fertile ground for tax advisers fishing for loopholes. Meanwhile, in the ante room, outside the chamber, at least 18 officials looked on nervously. When the politicians rush for the hustings, these men and women will have to implement the rushed legislation.
The recommendations from senators included tightening up a section on bank bonuses, and loosening a section on tax assessment as it affected the self-employed. All sections were dealt with against the clock.
Some of the senators began to show nerves by the afternoon. Selection conventions around the country were taking place. It's all systems go for the great showpiece of democracy, while the messy business of actually legislating was being afforded the leeway one might usually associate with a parliament set up to rubberstamp a dictator's decree. Except in this case, it's the opposition rather than the ruler who's calling the shots.