Miriam Lord's Week

Sat, Feb 20, 2010, 00:00

Tale of the tape; clash of the ash; Ivana flips her lid; think of the children; real emotion, Real Inda; Carey takes a shower; those in Lego houses; Regan’s reward

THE O’DEA debacle precipitated an outbreak of panic buying among the Greens on Thursday when a handler was dispatched on a mercy dash to Easons to buy up the last remaining copies of the Limerick Leader.

As the Brothelgate crisis deepened, members of the parliamentary party scrambled to see if Willie O’Dea’s promised vindication would be contained in the pages of the paper’s country edition.

The breathless messenger returned with a dozen copies. Politicians and handlers alike fell on them, thumbing urgently through the pages to reach the double spread on four and five. (Telephone inquiries had already been made to the newspaper’s office to find out which pages they should go to.) The fraught scene in the Greens’ room mirrored the sort of fraught scenes in the green rooms of Broadway theatres when the first-night reviews land.

As they scanned the body of “Willie, Me and That Tape” it quickly became clear vindication was not to be found within the pages of the broadsheet. The report from journalist Mike Dwane, detailing the full circumstances surrounding his taped interview with the former minister, offered no solace.

Mike, by the way, was the toast of Leinster House journalists for having had the presence of mind to preserve the tape – although a prompt threat of legal action from the local election candidate defamed by O’Dea may have played a big part in that. (Most hacks tend to recycle the one tape they possess until it falls apart and they have to buy a new one. If Willie was unlucky, it was that the tape remained in existence. A most rare occurrence indeed – and one which must have come as a very big surprise to such a savvy old media hand as the minister.) The original story that eventually led to the minister for defence’s downfall appeared in the Limerick Chronicle. Perhaps Willie might take some consolation in the fact that he was taken down by the oldest paper in Ireland – established in 1788.

But back to the present day, and those 12 copies of the Chronicle’s sister paper: it would have been two per TD if Minister for Food and former leader Trevor Sargent had been present. But he was otherwise detained in Nuremberg, attending the world’s largest organic food fair with a Bord Bia delegation.

However, a phone link was set up to allow him to listen in on the meeting while he travelled by train to Frankfurt airport for his return flight to Dublin. Signal difficulties prevented Trevor from following proceedings at some points, but he remained in contact with colleagues throughout the day. Via Twitter, no doubt.

The events of the week proved that party members, particularly Chairman Dan Boyle, are committed twaddlers. As their marathon meeting wound up, the parliamentary party finally learned that “the O’Dea issue” had been resolved to “their satisfaction”. Interestingly enough, their billet is in Agriculture House on Kildare Street, which just happens to be in the same building that houses Willie’s pet project, the National Emergency Centre.

He might have been wise to heed some of the handy tips continued in the Government Handbook on Emergency Planning he launched early last year: “Go in. Stay In. Tune in”; “Keep calm, think before you act”; “Keep you mouth shut, hide under the table and keep your back to the flash.” Okay – we made that last one up.

Labhrás ensures a black mark against Donie

It’s coming up to half past 10 in the morning and Senators are rushing into the chamber for the Order of Business.

House leader, Fianna Fáil’s Donie Cassidy, bustles through the anteroom to the door of the elegant chamber. Suddenly, he stops dead in his tracks. A look of horror spreads across his face. Standing before him is his colleague Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú and him sporting a large black mark in the shape of a cross on his forehead. Momentarily, Donie is rendered speechless. He regains some composure. “Oh. Oh. Oh,” he squeaks. “I never realised. Nobody told me. It’s Ash Wednesday!”

The stricken Donie motions urgently towards his friend. “Labhrás! Labhrás!” And with that, the pair of them barrel off into a far corner of the anteroom as a number of Senators look on in fascination.

They stand nose to nose. What are they up to? And then they stride swiftly back to the chamber, Donie holding his head high, a pious expression on his serene face.

Labhrás’s quota of blessed ashes looks somewhat diminished, but still bears the shape of the cross. And – why, it’s a miracle! – Donie now bears a large, dark-grey smudge on his forehead.

“We were fascinated. How did they do it? Who applied the ash, or did they rub their foreheads together like a pair of Eskimos?” one Senator confined after the event. “One of the women said she could have loaned them her mirror, if only they had asked.”

Bacik ready to flush out serial offenders

There is rebellion in the air. Our female parliamentarians are up in arms. Labour Senator Ivana Bacik is leading the charge. (Breakfasting readers of a delicate or sensitive disposition may wish to skip this particular item.)

The reason for Ivana’s ire is the ladies’ toilet in the members’ bar. Separate ladies and gents lavatories, both clearly marked, are located inside the entrance to the politicians’ private bar, which means they don’t have to scoot out to the public washroom located in the corridor when nature calls. A convenient convenience for those who are trying to hide, or those who – perish the thought – might be somewhat the worse for drink.

We’ll let Bacik take up the story. “I go to the bar for a coffee most mornings and every time I visit the loo, the lid and seat are up and the toilet isn’t flushed. It seems that some of the aul’ fellas in this place still haven’t come to terms with the fact that women frequent the bar now.

“I have mentioned this to a number of the other women around here and they are really annoyed about it too. We all know that leaving the seat up has long been an absolute bone of contention between men and women.”

Ivana has decided that this willy-nilly use of their facility must stop. “I am going to put a big notice above the sign on the door saying ‘Women Only. Mná na hÉireann’.” The gentlemen members should be advised that a determined Ivana has taken to lying in wait for one of their number to emerge from the wrong loo. “I haven’t caught anyone yet. I’m still waiting.” If this continues, the ladies may resort to drawing up a surveillance rota.

You’ve been warned, lads. Disgraceful carry on.

Even though the job would be child’s play . . .

It wasn’t all bad news this week. Full marks to Mary O’Rourke and her colleagues on the Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children. They delivered their final report after two years of deliberation, two interim reports and 62 meetings, all held in private.

More importantly, they delivered their wording for a referendum and a rewrite of article 42 which will recognise the rights of children as individuals. The committee sailed through some stormy waters along the way – with some strong opinions from the likes of Michael Noonan, Alan Shatter, Brendan Howlin, Paul Gogarty Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Geraldine Feeney and Alex White.

Bringing about a wording that all could agree upon was worthy of a Nobel prize.

At the public hearing to announce the report, Minister Barry Andrews discussed the pros and cons of holding a number of referendums and elections on the same day as the vote on children’s rights.

At which point the droll Deputy Noonan remarked that it should work fine: “As long as you wouldn’t end up with a child who’s mayor of Dublin.”

John loves it when a plan comes together

Now that Continuity Inda has been decommissioned and the Real Inda is free to give rein to his emotions, a certain degree of calm has settled upon Fine Gael. Although not where the leader is concerned. Frightening audio evidence of an impassioned speech to the faithful at Monday night’s Donegal byelection selection convention was such a hit with Newstalk listeners that it has been incorporated into an advert for the station with the tagline “Everyone needs a rant once in a while.” Frenzied Enda sounded like he about burst a blood vessel as he bellowed about the jobs crisis.

Some people have been making fun of one question roared by the overwrought Kenny at his cowering crowd: “Why is it that our young people say to me in the ITs: ‘Will there be a job for me in Ireland when I finish?’ There’s no answer to that.”

But it was a good week overall for the Fine Gael leader. The O’Dea debacle pushed their George Lee fiasco into the background. The internal “mutterers” are relatively silent, for the moment, as the Kenny camp regain their confidence.

Speaking of Gorgeous George, while he was swiftly removed from the FG website after his shock resignation, he was surprised a week after the event to find he was still on the party’s text alert system. George’s last post consisted of the results of an opinion poll taken two days after he left. It showed party support had risen by 4 per cent.

That won’t have pleased him.

Meanwhile, during Wednesday night’s parliamentary party meeting, a mobile phone went off. The ringtone was a very loud version of The A-Team theme tune. Eventually, Wexford’s John Deasy, who is seen as a leading light among the mutterers, went outside to answer it.

The A-Team? We hear the Real Inda wing found this very amusing.

Hayes proves that quick quips sink ministers

In a crazy week of smear and loathing in Leinster House, 10 out of 10 for observation must go to Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes, who was quick to pounce on a petulant remark from Willie O’Dea in the course of Wednesday’s shambolic Dáil confidence motion.

Enda Kenny told the House that if the then Minister O’Dea believed what he told a reporter about a Sinn Féin candidate running a brothel, he should have gone straight to the Garda and reported it.

To which a cocky O’Dea retorted: “They reported it to me.” Hayes pricked up his ears. “I turned to Michael Creed, who was sitting beside me and said ‘Did you hear that?’,” he told us afterwards.

The Fine Gael deputy for Dublin South West then pressed O’Dea on the issue, and he confirmed that he was told the information by a member of the force.

The admission provided the fig-leaf needed by the Green Party to effect their U-turn on supporting the minister. In the light of this information, they were able to argue that circumstances were changed and they could no longer have confidence in Willie O’Dea.

Despite winning the vote on Wednesday evening, both the Greens and Fianna Fáil knew by Thursday morning that the situation was grave. Ciarán Cuffe cheerfully tweeted on Ash Wednesday: “From dust thou came, to dust thou shalt return – a profoundly Green blessing.”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil were beginning to regret their cleverality in bundling the dazed little group of Greens into supporting Wille before they knew what was happening. Is it a coincidence that it was whispered to a number of reporters – including this one – that it was Chief Whip Pat Carey who came up with the idea of holding the confidence vote as quickly as possible?

And what’s more, he was in the shower when inspiration hit. Lovely detail there. It also conveniently absolved the Taoiseach and other senior figures in the party from having anything to do with the wheeze. But before the plan backfired, one insider, very pleased with the tactic, told us before the vote that it be held quickly to thwart the weekend papers.

By yesterday, Pat Carey was taking a mauling at the hands of Morning Ireland’s John Murray. Ironically Pat, a decent man, was one of the few who went against the consensus and publicly voiced his reservations about what Willie did.

As for the Cabinet, it was back to the days when they shamelessly took to the plinth and the airwaves to lambaste the Dublin 4 media and prurient lawyers for doing a good man down at the Mahon tribunal, while those who actually bothered to go to Dublin Castle and observe the proceedings saw Bertie Ahern talking nonsense in the witness box and making a fool of the good people those paragons claim to represent.

Willie, it seems, was wise long before the event

Let’s end with a little history lesson. Here’s Willie in full flight on November 12th, 1996, speaking from the opposition benches against a government confidence motion. It followed a controversy involving then minister for justice Nora Owen, judicial appointments and missing faxes: “The central plank of the minister’s defence is ignorance – she knew nothing, therefore no blame can be attributed to her . . . The minister for justice should know, as every independent commentator in this country knows, that that argument is about as solid as Legoland. If accountability means anything, blame must sometimes be taken and consequences sometimes ensue in the absence of knowledge and, therefore, in the absence of culpability in that sense. If that were not the position, nobody would ever have to resign because, however great the disaster, it could never be proved as a definitive fact that a minister had actual as opposed to constructive knowledge.”

Thundering Willie finished with quite a flourish: “I was about to use the majestic intonation of Leo Amery to Chamberlain – ‘In the name of God go’ – but that would lend too much dignity to the occasion. In the circumstances it would be more appropriate to quote the words of an obscure turn-of-the-century music hall songwriter, William Jerome: “You need not try to reason, your excuse is out of season, for Heaven’s sake just kiss yourself goodbye.”

Ever so gallant, all these historical hecklers

Speaking in the same debate, his colleague, the ever gallant Charlie McCreevy, had honeyed words for John Bruton’s embattled minister: “I can think of no finer travelling companion and friend than Nora Owen. She is affable, good-humoured and undoubtedly hard-working but her job is minister for justice and not friend of mine.”

And then a most ungallant Michael McDowell – what would they have thought above in the King’s Inns? – pipes up: “I don’t know which job would be more difficult.” The transcript of that debate is available on the Oireachtas website. Volume 471. It makes for entertaining reading, and guess the hecklers in chief? Yes – Willie O’Dea and Dermot Ahern.

Regan can afford to smile at last

Happiest Man in the House of the Week: Senator Eugene Regan of Fine Gael. His repeated efforts over the last couple of months to raise the O’Dea issue in the Upper House were shouted down by scandalised Government Senators. On Thursday, barrister Regan did his best to remain a statesmanlike reserve, but he just couldn’t prevent that smile coming to the surface.