By anybody's assessment, last Thursday has to rank among the most cataclysmic days of political theatre ever witnessed in Dáil Éireann.
If the sight of a parliament sitting on Thursday morning with the opposition asking the government if it had enough ministers to continue in office was shocking, then what followed was downright bizarre.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen's announcement that six of his 15 cabinet ministers were resigning and he was reassigning their portfolios, or doubling them up, among his remaining five Fianna Fáil ministers was, as Charlie Haughey once famously said, grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented – 'Gubu'.
Thursday 20 January 2011 will long be remembered in the annals of Dáil Eireann. But there have been other astonishing episodes that rocked Irish politics, as the Sunday Tribune recalls.
Dev's 'empty formula'
Eamon de Valera's new Fianna Fáil party won 44 seats in its first general election outing in June 1927. The party was within three seats of Cumann na nGaedheal's seat tally of 47. But De Valera's demand to enter the Dáil without taking the maligned oath of allegiance, in which he would have had to swear fidelity to the king of England, saw the doors of Leinster House slammed in his face.
A month later, justice minister Kevin O'Higgins was shot dead in Booterstown and William T Cosgrave, the president of the Executive Council (precursor to the office of Taoiseach) responded by introducing legislation that required all future Dáil candidates to take the oath.
As DeValera was now faced with the prospect of his new party being unable to contest the election, he led his party into the Dáil with his "empty formula" solution. This involved Fianna Fáil deputies signing the book containing the oath, but with the words covered as they signed it, the Bible placed face down in the furthest corner of the room and insisting they were not taking any oath. Dev's "empty formula" ceremony was bizarre, to say the least.
John Jinks' boozy lunch
Shortly after the "empty formula" episode, De Valera sought to put pressure on Cosgrave and his government, which was now a minority with just 47 of the 153 seats. De Valera was eager to topple his bitter political rivals Cumann na nGaedheal so he offered support to the Labour Party, which had 22 deputies, if its leader, Tom Johnson, could put a coalition together.
Along with a number of smaller political groupings such as the National League, Labour placed a motion of no-confidence for 16 August 1927. Given the support of the 44 Fianna Fáil deputies, Johnson's motion seemed guaranteed to succeed. But on the day of the vote, government TD and former unionist MP Major Bryan Cooper bumped into the National League TD for Sligo, John Jinks.
Cooper quickly detected Jinks' unhappiness at the prospect of voting with De Valera and invited him to lunch to discuss the matter further. Cooper then plied Jinks with alcohol over the lunch and escorted him in a befuddled state to Westland Row train station.
As the vote on the confidence motion was taken later that afternoon, Jinks was snoozing on the train to Sligo. The vote was tied at 72 votes for and against the motion and the Ceann Comhairle Michael Hayes' casting vote saved Cosgrave and his government.
Jinks made headlines in publications across the world, including Time magazine.
Guns in their pockets
The general election on 16 February 1932 was one of the landmark elections of the last century. After winning 72 of the 153 seats in the Dáil, De Valera's Fianna Fáil took power for the first time and on 9 March the first-ever change of government in the Irish Free State took place. The men who had won a civil war a decade earlier were set to historically hand over power to their opponents. Such was their fear that a coup d'état would take place, many of the Fianna Fáil TDs had guns in their pockets as they entered the Dáil chamber to take up their seats. But the outgoing president of the Executive Council, WT Cosgrave, did not want to allow the country return to the dark days of the Civil War so the meeting was brief and uneventful. The guns were not needed.
McCreevy attacked for attacking Gubu government leader
The Leinster House car park has played host to nearly as many bizarre events as the Dáil chamber itself. Just ask Charlie McCreevy. In October 1982, Charlie Haughey's notorious Gubu government had been in power as a minority government since the previous March. The government lurched from one crisis to another so Charlie McCreevy, who was an outspoken critic of his leader, put down a no-confidence motion in Haughey.
McCreevy, and the other members of the 'Gang of 22' that supported him, lost the motion. On the night of the parliamentary party meeting there was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and McCreevy was chased around the car park, kicked and jostled, called a "bastard" and a "Blueshirt". Gardaí had to help McCreevy to get into his car, and as he drove away, a crowd surrounded it, banging on the roof and shouting insults.
Albert's last stand
On 16 November 1994, the Albert Reynolds-led Fianna Fáil-Labour government was on the verge of collapse over the handling of the Fr Brendan Smyth extradition case. There had been a delay of seven months in processing the Smyth extradition warrant in the office of the attorney general. Wild rumours spread through Leinster House, including the unfounded rumour that the AG's office had received a letter from a senior Catholic Church figure which contributed to the delay in the Smyth case.
In a dramatic week, Pat Rabbitte, then a member of Democratic Left, got up in the Dáil chamber and asked the Taoiseach and Tánaiste if there was another document "that ought to be before this House that will rock the foundations of this society to its very roots?" Rabbitte's sensational language suggested a scandal of unprecedented levels. There was no such document, but the highly charged atmosphere in Leinster House fuelled speculation in a week that signalled the end of Reynolds' reign as Taoiseach.