All in a week: De Udders, provocative fables, new scandals and the pope’s visit
TDs pay price for being party poopers
Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell with Lord Mayor of Dublin, Oisin Quinn, and Senator John Whelan as he launches the e-book. Photograph: Michael Chester
There are a lot of unhappy TDs going around Dáil Éireann these days with a price on their heads.
The going rate for a member of Fine Gael is €27,000, for Labour representatives €36,000; a Fianna Fáil deputy is worth €64,000, while a Sinn Féin TD commands a handsome €64,000.
This represents the allowance per member paid annually to the political parties in the Dáil. The amount is decided on a sliding scale, depending on numbers.
When a TD leaves to go it alone as an Independent, their erstwhile party can still claim a subvention for them because they were elected under their banner.
Show me the money
However, the growing ranks of the recently estranged – aka De Udders – are not happy with this arrangement. They feel their former parties are claiming money under false pretences and should return the cash to the exchequer.
On Tuesday, former Fine Gael deputy Denis Naughton, who left over the Roscommon hospital issue, proposed amending the Ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Bill so that parties would not be entitled to collect headage payments for TDs who are no longer members.
But bearing in mind that mavericks often return to the fold, he suggested the situation be reviewed at different stages during a Dáil term.
Where this contentious area is concerned, there is great admiration from the new Independents for Socialist TD, Joe Higgins,
“In this Dáil we have had the recent precedent where Clare Daly left the Socialist Party. When she raised this issue, Joe Higgins did the honourable thing in returning a portion of that funding to the exchequer because he recognised that he was in receipt of it under false pretences. It was allocated on the basis of the Socialist Party having two members. Once that number was reduced, he returned a portion of that funding.”
Which leads us to another leading Socialist who recently lost the other wing of his party. Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit Alliance parted company with Joan Collins last April over an ideological difference.
The two members of the PBPA are entitled to an allowance of €71,520 each. So since Joan’s departure, Boyd Barrett has a tasty allowance of over €140,000 to further his political work. Collins, now classed as an Independent, gets nothing.
Would Boyd Barrett follow the example set by Higgins and return to the taxpayer the money allocated for the departed Collins?
When Higgins consulted his party after Daly’s exit, they decided the money should be given back. When Boyd-Barrett’s People Before Profit Alliance/Socialist Workers’ Party considered Collins’s exit, they decided to hold onto her whack.
The Dún Laoghaire deputy says he personally doesn’t get one penny of the allowance, which is strictly audited. People before Profit are claiming their full entitlement “exactly the same as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.”
The combined payment is used for “parliamentary activities”. It also goes towards employing up to six staff. “It would mean sacking people, so that’s obviously a concern.”
As PBPA is legitimately collecting over €70,000 in her name, supporters of Collins have suggested that perhaps some staff be deployed to her office. This has not happened.
Meanwhile, Richard stressed yesterday that we were not comparing like with like when citing the example of Joe Higgins refusing to accept an allowance for Clare Daly when she was no longer a member of his party.
“But Joe and Clare fell out,” he says. “Joan and I didn’t fall out.”
She fell out with People before Profit, which is a different thing. Or should that be Profit before People?
Labour Senator John Whelan has brought out a new book. Actually, it not so much new as electronically recycled.
It’s not the usual sort of earnest effort one expects from members of the Oireachtas. And that includes Alan Shatter’s celebrated work of fiction, Laura.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Oisín Quinn, launched The Buddha of Ballyhuppahaun in the Mansion House on Tuesday.
“It’s a provocative fable,” says Whelan of his “quirky environmental fantasy”.
The book used to be available in print – this event marked the launch of an e-book version, which the Laois-based senator hopes will bring his work to a global audience.
The Buddha of Ballyhuppahaun sprang from a gathering by Rainbow Travellers from all over the world in the Slieve Bloom Mountains in 1993.
Here’s the senator again: “This seminal event provides the context for a conceptual text which teases out an odyssey across the pages of time to challenge the reader to embark on a journey, the destination yet to be determined.”
What sort of quare stuff are they putting in the Seanad water these days?
Anyway, John thought it would be a good idea to hold his launch on April Fool’s Day to suggest we would be fools to ignore the issue of climate change and the related matters of sustainability and food security.
His colleague from the Upper House, Marie Louise O’Donnell, acted as MC for the occasion, while Drum Nature provided suitably new-age percussion for the launch.
Whelan – under the pseudonym Johnny Renko – got the idea for the book during his hippy phase, when he was on the dole and thoughts of becoming a senator were far from his mind.
He had attended Rainbow gatherings in the Slieve Blooms and in Slovakia and was influenced by “their eco and environmental aspirations and philosophy”.
It wasn’t until he found himself out of work just over a decade ago that Whelan got time to “capture some of that spirit” in a book.
Whelan decided not to dig out the frayed jeans and love-beads for Tuesday’s reception. In fact, he went to the other extreme, sporting a sharp three-piece suit and snazzy bow-tie for the evening.
After weeks of not making sense, the Government surfaced for air on Thursday as the penalty points/GSOC/Garda tapes crisis abated for now.
Michael D’s historic visit to London next week should provide further respite, with the Easter recess just a week after that. But nerves are badly frazzled. Tempers are frayed.
On the plus side, the Labour Party appears to have rediscovered some bite. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, when Alan “Tell Me Something I Do Know” Shatter was surprised with news of more dodgy taping, the Coalition got busy trying to sell the silver lining in this particularly murky cloud. But not before Pat Rabbitte let fly at Simon Coveney across the Cabinet table.
Furious with Coveney
The Minister for Communications was furious over Coveney’s radio comments about the Attorney General’s absence from that crucial Cabinet meeting in the wake of the Garda commissioner’s shock resignation. This is the meeting at which a Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate a gravely serious issue flagged two weeks earlier by the Commissioner, but inexplicably overlooked until the day after he was sacked.
The new AG had compelling family reasons for missing her first Cabinet meeting – with the Taoiseach’s blessing.
Rabbitte and fellow Labour Ministers, while usually on message, have appeared uncomfortable during this sorry episode, which began to run out of control when Shatter dug his heels in over the whistleblowers and took the Garda line on the GSOC bugging controversy.
Before we knew it, the Garda commissioner was gone, Shatter apologised, there were vague warnings of new explosive scandals, the Taoiseach spoke in riddles, Ministers contradicted each other, stupidly loyal backbenchers peddled risible explanations to an exasperated public and Fine Gael fell five points in the polls.
But never mind the confusion, feel the width of all the shiny new authorities and inquiries. By Tuesday, a Cabinet sub-committee on justice had also been established. Labour claimed the credit.
Affronted Fine Gael spinners insist this is not the case. Nobody tells Enda what to do. Labour’s people are not backing down. We hear the bickering culminated in a stand-up row between two senior advisers to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste. Apparently it was like a cheap version of West Wing. With a bit of cursin’ thrown in.
We don’t want to raise the hopes of the bunting industry, but Papal Nuncio Charles Brown was spotted in the corridors of Leinster House again this week.
Two weeks ago, the Seanad voted unanimously to invite the pope to come to Ireland and address the Upper House. The motion was proposed by David Norris, who has turned out to be a big fan of the new boss in the Vatican.
Pope Francis is a man with a “prophetic, compelling and comprehensive vision” who has changed the climate of debate within the Catholic Church “allowing for genuine dialogue”, said Norris. Francis recognises “Christendom is in a perilous state” and he “has spotted the iceberg and is trying to turn Titanic around”. A visit from him would give us all a lift, said David.
So, having passed their motion, the Seanad hosted a reception for the nuncio on Wednesday, making sure to impress on Msgr Brown that the pope would be most welcome to these shores.
The nuncio indicated the pontiff is not averse to the idea. He told Senators, including a delighted Norris, that Pope Francis told him about the short time he spent in Ireland while a student and how he would like to return. By the time Government whip Paul Coghlan stopped waxing lyrical about Ireland’s ties with Argentina, some Senators were talking about a visit in the next couple of years.