Did you ever hear such nonsense as the row over how people should dress in our national parliament?
It seems now that an unofficial dress code is on the way, requiring men to wear slacks, a jacket and a shirt with a collar. Well thank God our democracy is safe at last. This breakthrough will make all the difference when it comes to governing our country. It goes without saying that an elected representative will be far more effective if he adopts the sort of uniform preferred by upstanding members of society such as, eh, bankers and eh, solicitors and eh, estate agents and eh, mortgage brokers.
It’s all about appearances, you see, and that’s why Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barrett, spoke out so strongly in favour of what he called a “tailored” shirt. Given the state of some members, it would be a mercy if only a few more of them would wear loose-fitting t-shirts, but it’s not to be. With Sean, the collar is everything. You must have a collar or you’re not showing respect to the parliament, but if you choose to conform and wear the standard business suit as defined in the 20th century, you’re free to screw the country into the ground, you’re free to bail out every crook in the western world and you’re free to fiddle every perk that comes your way before walking off with a giant pension.
You see? Suits are everything. That’s why superheroes wear them and that’s why fat, ignorant gobshites in Dáil Éireann wear them too.
Sean is very particular about what clothing is disrespectful and what isn’t, right down to the choice of textile your trousers are made from. If they happen to be of one particular kind of fabric, you’re being disrespectful. Grey silk is fine. Blue serge de Nîmes is not. Obviously. Any fool could see that, couldn’t they?
I find Ming Flanagan irritating, even when I agree with him. His delivery grates on me, and the built-in sneer in his voice makes me want to claw at my eyeballs, but he’s still an elected representative, as are Richard Boyd-Barrett, Mick Wallace and all the other independents. Their constituents voted for them while knowing perfectly well that they wouldn’t wear a suit. Indeed, their sartorial preference was the last thing on voters’ minds. And yet, in a plan that’s as sinister as it is laughable, these representatives and their electorate are to be deprived of a voice in the House.
Well, it seems there’s no constitutional basis for forcing a TD to wear any particular style of clothing, so here’s what will happen instead. If a member tries to speak, while dressed in a way that Sean Barrett disapproves of, he will simply be ignored, or to put it another way, the Ceann Comhairle will sulk.
The dress code will be enforced by passive aggression. Those who voted for certain independent TDs will be disenfranchised until such time as the Speaker of the House approves of the apparel being worn by its members.
Women, meanwhile, can wear whatever they want apart from jeans, presumably because Sean Barrett knows nothing whatever about women’s clothing and in any case wouldn’t get away with telling the ladies what to wear. Saying that, I’m presuming lacy basques with suspenders are out, along with the mankini, and that’s a blessing in itself.
Years ago, this argument sank to unplumbed depths of absurdity when Pól Ó Foighil was denied access to the chamber because his traditional báinín jacket lacked a collar. Here was a member, wearing a quintessentially Irish garment, refused access to our national assembly for not dressing as they did in Westminster. Later, Tony Gregory was considered a real maverick because he chose not to wear a tie, but we thought we’d moved on a bit from those stuffy, judgemental days.
Not a bit of it. At a time when our country faces its gravest ever crisis, when any right-minded parliamentarian should be storming the barricades, denouncing the injustice of the bank bailout and defending the poor from the most savage budget in our history, what are Irish politicians getting worked up about?
Collars on shirts, that’s what. Collars on shirts.
Doesn’t this tell us a lot about them? Doesn’t this show us what a drab, unimaginative, hidebound bunch we’re dealing with? Is it any wonder that an assembly composed of such shallow thinkers has been unable to grapple with the existential threats to our sovereign nation?
Could we seriously expect this lot to come up with original ideas?
I suppose Ming, Mick and Richard will come up with innovative ways to lampoon and ridicule Sean Barrett’s pomposity, and I hope they do so, but at the same time I’d prefer if they didn’t have to deal with such pettiness and instead gave their full attention to their duties as public representatives. Having laid down the law on collars and on denim, I wonder if Sean will have to issue a list of forbidden colours (for men only)? How will that work? Supposing Ming and Joan Burton both turn up in identical shades of cerise, will the Ceann Comhairle find himself informing the country that some colours are for boys and some colours are for girls?
Now that would be fun.