WE all wondered what we would do without the comic talents of Joe Higgins.
But on the first real day of the Dáil returning, a ready-made joker emerged from the pack.
This might strike you as a bit strange but the very same deputy who was responsible for keeping order in the house was also single-handedly responsible for some of the most unruly scenes of disorder in the house for many years.
It was Kerry TD John O’Donoghue’s debut as Ceann Comhairle and he gave a textbook example of “a turn-up for the books”.
The problem wasn’t that the new Ceann Comhairle’s ability to keep easily excitable deputies under control. It was more deputies not being able to keep an easily excitable Ceann Comhairle under control.
The man who is known as “The Bull” had finally found his china shop. By the time the rampage had come to an end a debate that should have taken half an hour had dragged on for almost three, two TDs had been chucked out of the house and anyone who dared to wave the red flag to him was trampled over with a verbal onslaught.
O’Donoghue has many extraordinary qualities but one of them isn’t a long fuse.
Perhaps he came into the chamber yesterday with the intention of laying down the law but it was hard to figure what law we were witnessing. Sure, John O’Donoghue was wearing the Cathaoirleach’s robes but at times you were unsure if you were in the Dáil or in the Wild West and whether he was the sheriff or the chief outlaw.
Within three minutes of the start, his hackles had been raised. The mild-mannered Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny had gone over his three minutes and O’Donoghue was in no mood to play extra time.
After a couple of exchanges, Kenny made the mistake of saying: “Quiet now, you are new in the job”.
The Ceann Comhairle was out of his chair like a greyhound out of traps.
“You will not say ‘quiet’ to me sir,” he roared at Kenny.
“The deputy will be seated when the chairman is standing,” became the recurring theme of the afternoon.
Kenny’s good humour gave way to jibes. “The perception in Kerry is that you have no power down there,” he said. The taunts came thick and fast from the opposition benches. Zero tolerance, they shouted, reminding the Ceann Comhairle of a previous incarnation.
Strangely Pat Rabbitte, who clashed frequently with the previous ceann comhairle, was as good as gold yesterday, and (uncharacteristically) waved no red flags at the Bull.
For at this stage, O’Donoghue was distracted by all the other miscreants. The first to get the red card was Sinn Féin’s Arthur Morgan, who was told to sit down by the Ceann Comhairle when he got up to speak, but refused.
He was kicked out but refused to go, and stubbornly stayed on for 20 minutes before sheepishly making his exit.
And then — surprise, surprise — it was Fine Gael’s Michael Ring. He made the mistake of accusing O’Donoghue of “making it up as you go along”.
A mini-volcano erupted from the summit of the Ceann Comhairle’s chair.
“That’s a disgraceful statement and completely untrue,” roared the Ceann Comhairle.
You will leave the house, he told Ring. I won’t leave the house, replied Ring. There followed a pantomime exhange along the lines of 'oh yes you will leave' and 'oh no I will not leave'.
The upshot was that house was suspended twice as the mulish Ring refused to leave. The long and short of it was that he later left under a protest loud enough for his supporters in Belmullet to hear.
The delay was so severe that the debate on the new Stamp Duty Bill for first- time buyers was allotted all of 35 minutes, making it one of the shortest debates on a new piece of legislation in recent history.
A version of this appeared in this morning's Irish Examiner