Miriam Lord: A year of eloquence, hot air and cheese in the Oireachtas

Sun, Jul 28, 2013, 14:25

Enda’s speech on the Magdalene women was a stand-out moment. The emotion of the occasion got to everyone in the Dáil chamber that special night in February.

“I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene laundry,” he said.

It was a stunning speech, but problems remain over the compensation he promised.

So our speech of the year goes to a man who doesn’t have speechwriters to polish his prose.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan from Listowel joined his two female FF colleagues in the Seanad to vote in favour of the abortion Bill, breaking ranks with the rest of his male colleagues.

His speech on July 15th was courageous, honest and considered. He concluded: “If I had as clear a conscience about the rest of my life as I have about supporting this Bill, then I would be in very good terms with myself when I go to meet my maker.’’


Waffle
Floodgates award for most annoying and overused phrase goes to “Best International Practice.” It just about shades “evidence based”.

Pure waffle. Expect to hear it again and again during the Seanad abolition campaign. Or when a particularly vicious cut needs to be justified.

Have a drink each time you hear it. The rest of the year will be but a happy blur and it’ll be Christmas before you know it.


Monument to madness
The Dáil Sweetie Shop closed down due to lack of business.

The tiny glass structure took three years to build at a cost of over €1.3 million and was opened with great fanfare five years ago by Bertie Ahern and John O’Donoghue.

Tucked out of bounds to the public inside the Kildare Street gate, it specialised in newspapers, snacks and knick-knacks, although the chocolate bars had to be kept in a special fridge because they were melting under all the glass.

A top seller was a wheelie bin pencil sharpener with the Oireachtas logo on it.

It’s unoccupied now, a monument to the madness of the Bertie years. They should put a few tomato plants in it – it’d be the swankiest greenhouse in town.


Have your cake
Eamon Gilmore had Georgia on his mind in March.

He was down to attend the St Patrick’s Day parade in Savannah, but he decided to drop the city from his tour list because he would have had to attend the Hibernian Society’s male-only annual dinner.

“Count me out – I’m not doing it,” the Tánaiste said. “I don’t believe in segregation either on a gender basis or on any other basis.”

But Alan Kelly, Labour Minister of State at the Department of Transport, quietly attended the Friendly Sons of St Patrick’s bash in New York the night before.

He wasn’t defying his leader because the Labour Party doesn’t have rules about representatives attending men-only functions.

The Have Your Cake and Eat It Award goes to Labour.


Alan the Great
The Eighth Wonder of the World was discovered in May.

It’s Alan Shatter.

We hear National Geographic are coming to Leinster House to do a feature on him in his natural habitat.

This news came as no surprise to the Minister for Justice, who has always known he is a wonder. However, when he got into trouble over his disgraceful disclosure of confidential (if harmless) Garda information about Mick Wallace, his Fine Gael and Labour colleagues piled in to say how wondrous he truly is.

Alan is the most reforming minister in “certainly over the last 100 years” marvelled Enda, who would know, seeing as he’s been a member of Dáil Éireann for what seems like over 100 years. The Taoiseach spent nearly four minutes reading out a list of his Minister’s achievements to the Dáil during the confidence motion against his Minister. This was almost as long as Shatter spent repeating them.

Alan also revealed he is “Minister for Time”, when he sent out a press release reminding people to put their clocks back for summer.

He is a medical phenomenon. Dire mutterings from Mattie McGrath about him getting into a spot of bother at a Garda checkpoint came to nothing, but not before we heard that Shatter’s mild form of asthma makes him unable to blow into a breathalyser bag.

And he is an author. A long-forgotten work titled Laura has been republished after a toe-curling sex scene from the novel appeared in the newspapers.

He even won praise from Sinn Féin. On the last day of the Seanad, Peadar O’Clochartaigh told him: “We do not necessarily always agree on policy issues, but I commend the Minister for his work rate, as he has been one of the busiest Ministers and I hope you have a good break over the summer.”

The OPW has widened the door-frames to allow Shatter get his head in and out of Leinster House.


Top form
The “This Man Has Form Award” goes to David Norris, who has been shooting his mouth off in the Seanad for more years than we care to remember.

He rightly caused consternation when he accused Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty of “talking through her fanny”. But the outburst from Norris wasn’t untypical.

Here he is on the banks: “They are unelected and it’s undemocratic and it’s time we told them to ‘F’ off . . .” said a typically understated Senator Norris in the Seanad.

“The Cathaoirleach will note that I have used one letter,” he pointed out.

“I ask him to withdraw it. Everybody knows what he means,” said the chair. To which Senator Norris replied: “Yes. I meant they should go forth and multiply, to put it biblically.”

Cheese Royale

Michelle Obama looked to have the Cheesiest Moment award in the bag after her improbable declaration of kinship with the Irish during her visit here in June.

Addressing an audience of schoolchildren in the Gaiety Theatre, she began by saying “It’s good to be home.”

Yeah, right.

“It’s really hard to know which is worse, whether it’s the outpourings of the Obamas themselves or the sycophantic falling over them by sections of the media and the political establishment,” fulminated Clare Daly in the Dáil after the visit, disgusted by the “slobbering” nature of the welcome given to the American first lady and her daughters.

But the Taoiseach, a noted cheese connoisseur, carries off the top prize with his note this week to British prime minister David Cameron on the birth of the royal baby.

“On behalf of the Government of Ireland, and particularly on my own behalf, I want to express warmest congratulations to you and through you to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on the wonderful occasion of the birth of their son, heir and third in line to the throne.

“I am sure it is a day of joy and pride for [the] whole of the United Kingdom,” he writes.

It’s odd – Enda congratulating the prime minister, but that’s protocol for you.

The cheese comes at the end, in a little handwritten, sweetly republican addendum: “Their most important title now is Mum and Dad! Enda.”

Only he could get away with that.


Best sides captured
Two photographs stand out. The first is proof that Enda has become one of the most ruthless taoisigh ever. He is the iron-fist in the velvet glove – the nicest fella you could hope to meet, unless you get on the wrong side of him in the party. Lest anybody think he isn’t serious, we bring you again that chilling image of his elite Fine Gael palace guard the men who would take a bundy for their leader: Enda’s enforcers.

In the picture, taken before Billy Timmins was drummed out for treason, we see Senator Martin Conway and deputies Timmins, David Stanton and Liam Twomey getting tips from Comdt Keith Murphy on how to quell mutiny in the ranks.

The other memorable photo stars Calamity James, stuck in a lift in Grangegorman. The Minister for Health was there to open a new mental health facility and ended up spending nearly 20 sweltering minutes suspended between floors with Minister Kathleen Lynch, assorted handlers and medical people and three photographers.

A late entry in the picture stakes comes from our newest Senator, Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton, who was appointed by the Taoiseach this week to fill the seat vacated by Martin McAleese.

Hildegarde is a talented singer and a stalwart of musical theatre in her native Galway. Here, we see her in a publicity shot for her starring role in a production of Calamity Jane.

Fetching as it is, we think the picture of Calamity James is funnier, although it’s a pity he didn’t have his horse in the lift too.


Austerity’s bitter taste
A nice glass of “chilled buttermilk” goes to those TDs and Senators who overdid it on the drink during the two late-night sittings this year. Their antics have led to moves to bring the opening hours of the members’ bar in Leinster House in line with the public bar next door.

Socialist TD Joe Higgins suggested the buttermilk option when figures were released detailing the expensive contents of the wine cellar kept by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Iveagh House.

“The elite of Europe who are coming here to drink that fine wine are the ones who are demanding savage austerity on the Irish people,” he said. “Would it not be more appropriate perhaps to serve them chilled buttermilk instead of fine expensive wine, which is a further burden on the Irish people and thereby make them practise what they preach a little?”


Windbag wonder
The Bernard Durkan Award for Services to Windbaggery: This is named in honour of the Fine Gael TD for Kildare North, who won the admiration of political colleagues from all sides when he went on Vincent Browne’s TV programme and stumped the presenter by wittering on incessantly.

“Stop Bernard, stop!” wailed Browne. “Shut up!”

He didn’t.

In order to give others a chance, Durkan is not eligible this year. Front runners are Fianna Fáil’s Jim Walsh and Brian O’Dómhnaill, who monopolised the abortion debate in the Seanad until guillotined into silence. However, as they don’t figure much on other subjects, they are dismissed as one-trick ponies.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin is a natural, but since the first-time TD Gerry Adams took his job as the party’s leader in the Dáil, poor Caoimhghín rarely gets a chance to cut loose.

Winner, by mile, is Peter “sure, we’re all going to end up dead anyway” Mathews, who can talk at great length on any subject and usually does. (He subsequently apologised for his “dead anyway” line, given when asked if a woman should be forced to continue with a pregnancy if it were to seriously damage her health.)

Where Peter is concerned, let us paraphrase Mr Collins on the subject of Lady Catherine de Burgh: “We have been treated with such affability, such condescension as we would never have dared to hope for.”

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