Miriam Lord's Week


Bull dozer in the easy chair; the Hoarse Whisperer of the Dáil; Paul Murphy's disenchanted evening; Cecilia's camogie pin-up; Bertie and the butler; one Stroke and he's out; Doherty remembered; and young Leo the Lip is now too old to vote

Raging Bertie, Sleeping Bull - now showing at a Dáil chamber near you! It was probably a combination of stress and fresh air that took its toll on the hard-working Ceann Comhairle last Wednesday evening.

The Bull was in the chair when Bertie blew his top over comments by Labour's Eamon Gilmore about Government interference in the Civil Service Communications Unit.

After the poisonous atmosphere of the chamber, John O'Donoghue must have been glad of the breather when he went outside to switch on the Leinster House Christmas tree. "Here comes the Crann Comhairle!" chortled a delighted gaelgoir as John inspected the impressive tree, provided by Coillte.

"O come let us adore him," sang the Oireachtas choir when Bertie made his appearance. However, before the Opposition rushes to take advantage, we must stress that this was not as a result of Government interference in their repertoire. It seemed to cheer up the Taoiseach, though.

The party leaders behaved themselves. The Ceann Comhairle spoke of magnanimity and generosity and suggested a period of reflection in the spirit of the season. He may have had in mind that evening's no-confidence debate, which promised to be more acrimonious than generous.

But there were other duties first. By late afternoon, the Bull was back in the chair for a debate on Irish military involvement in Chad. In fairness, it was very dull and rather hot.

After an inspirationally boring contribution from FF backbencher Michael Mulcahy, followed quickly by another verbal sedative from his colleague, Chris Andrews, the TDs present noticed the Bull's head lolling on his chest. He was fast asleep.

"We were rolling around the place laughing," one deputy tells us. "Even Willie O'Dea couldn't keep a straight face. This was a serious snooze." When Andrews finished, Longford's Peter Kelly rose to speak, looking a bit unsure of himself given that the Bull was clearly in the land of nod.

Some of the few TDs present began to cough loudly. Then an usher sprang forward like Jeeves and made a discreet intervention, whereupon the Ceann Comhairle woke with a start and immediately called Kelly.

There were a few wisecracks in the Dáil bar that night. Our favourite: "Big Chief Snoozin' Bull."

If there's one thing politicians' love, it's the sound of their own voice. They love talking. A bellowing deputy is a happy one, which is why Fine Gael TD Michael D'Arcy stands out. He is the quiet man of politics. To pun it another way, Michael is the Hoarse Whisperer of the Dáil.

The Wexford deputy's distinguishing feature is his voice. When he speaks, he sounds like he has a very sore throat or was up all night singing sea shanties in a smoky room.

Met him recently at a book launch, and he was still whispering. We sympathised and hoped his laryngitis would clear up soon.

But Michael explained he was speaking as loud as he possibly could. The father of two from Gorey, who is a son of former Fine Gael TD Michael D'Arcy, lost the use of all but one of his vocal chords in a football injury. D'Arcy, who represented his county at senior level and won five Wexford titles with Kilanerin, says it is thanks to the surgeons he can speak at all.

Is this not a problem for someone in public life? Clearly not for D'Arcy, a former county councillor and chairman of Wexford VEC.

Michael finds when he speaks in his soft, low tones, people ease back on the volume. He says he has never had a problem making himself heard. Maybe some of the Dáil's noisier windbags should take note.

The British Irish inter-parliamentary body met this week in Oxfordshire, where all sorts of worthy subjects were discussed by the delegations of backbenchers from Dáil, Commons, Seanad, Lords and assemblies.

They stayed in the somewhat faded splendour of the Heythrop Park Hotel, where their host was Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward (see below). The social element is very important. On Monday night, after dining on roast guinea fowl in the Duke of Marlborough's Blenheim Palace, the politicians returned to their hotel and gathered around the Steinway grand piano in the Great Hall. Senator Cecilia Keaveney took up position at the ivories and a hands across the piano sing-song ensued.

Lib Dem peer Lord Smith of Clifton proved a very eloquent tenor with his rendition of Some Enchanted Evening while Lord Glentoran confessed at breakfast that he got out of bed at midnight so he could listen to the beautiful version of Danny Boy. From Ireland's Call to Flower of Scotland, from The Sash to The Four Green Fields, this was an equal opportunities knees-up, embracing all traditions.

Not all delegates were in a musical mood, particularly those billeted in the rooms directly above the piano. The morning after, delegates were trying to work out what time the singing finished. "It was around one o'clock, I think," said one. At which, former NI secretary Paul Murphy hissed through gritted teeth, "It was three minutes past one. EXACTLY!"

Why not frighten the children this Christmas by putting a Dáil charity calendar in their stockings? It's a nice idea, but unfortunately, there isn't one. Think of it: the Bull smiling coyly from behind a strategically placed gavel and gong. An electrified Inda preserving his modesty with an unused FG contract. Willie O'Dea draped across a tank with nothing but his moustache and a turret to hide his blushes. Mary Hanafin doing a fan dance with artfully positioned copies of Judging Dev. A grinning Bertie, holding a packet of smokes in one hand and a dagger in the other.

And so on. The idea came to mind when we heard Senator Cecilia Keaveney features in a charity calendar for her local Bun an Phobail GAA club in Donegal. It was unveiled at a dinner in the Point Lodge (formerly owned by Frank Shortt of Morris tribunal fame) and there was Cecilia under January, teenage camogie player, in a team photograph from the mid-eighties.

"Thank God for all concerned, I'm in the back row, so you don't see my legs. They wouldn't sell any copies otherwise," she says.

Here's a few things Bertie Ahern and Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodword don't have in common.

Shaun Woodward is rich. Bertie isn't. Shaun Woodward has a butler. Bertie doesn't. Shaun Woodward married a Sainsbury. Bertie didn't. Shaun Woodward elected not to draw his ministerial salary and remains on an MP's wages, forgoing a £76,000 increase. Bertie ... Oh, never mind.

A number of candidates visited Castlerea Prison and canvassed Cllr Michael "The Stroke" Fahy for his support during the recent Seanad elections. And the Stroke, under the supervision of prison governor Dan Scannell, duly cast his vote. One man grateful to get a scratch from The Stroke was Senator Terry Leyden, who was among those callers. Former Fianna Fáil junior minister Terry was the only politician in court last Wednesday when the Galway councillor was freed on appeal and his conviction for fraud and attempted theft set aside. A retrial was ordered and Cllr Fahy, who has served seven months of a twelve-month sentence, was released on bail.

"It would restore your faith in the judicial system, the way in which the judges handled the case," said Terry afterwards. "I felt from day one that Michael is an innocent victim, and my belief hasn't changed. I was in court to show my moral support. He should never have been put on trial in the first instance.

"He's 28 years a Fianna Fáil councillor and his mother is 97. Why wouldn't I go and give him moral support. It was a great day for Michael Fahy. The man went through a living hell." Leyden said he has been getting lots of texts from county councillors congratulating him for attending the hearing. "I've received no negative response."

After the judgement, Terry drove The Stroke to a hotel on the outskirts of Dublin, where he picked up his car and returned to Galway. During his time in prison, the councillor was housed in "The Grove" wing of Castlerea, along with republican prisoners. He read the lesson at Mass most Sundays, and was allowed to visit his mother in Kilcolgan nursing home. Fahy is staying with friends this weekend before returning to his home in Ardrahan where he hopes to resume his council duties.

There was a Mass in Clarendon Street Church, not far from Leinster House, last Tuesday in memory of former Fianna Fáil justice minister Sean Doherty one year on from his death.

The controversial Roscommon politician, who is credited with bringing down Charlie Haughey, was a larger than life figure and the small attendance swapped stories about his colourful life.

Among the congregation was Sean's wife Maura and his brother Kevin, along with FF deputies Michael Finneran, Eamon Scanlon, Sean Ardagh, Tony Killeen and Senator Ger Feeney. The Mass was organised by Deputy Frank Fahey.

Deputy Leo Varadkar is all growed up now. At Young Fine Gael's annual conference last weekend the brash young doctor, who has delighted in discommoding Government deputies with his upfront speaking style, cast his last ballot in an YFG national executive election. Next year, he'll be 30 and too old to vote.

This means his Fianna Fáil detractors won't be able to call him a young pup anymore. Just a pup, so.