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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