Miriam Lord: Michael D’s bashfulness will plough on

Independents want a race, but Uachtaráin na hÉireann is leaving us all in limbo

Almost 300,000 people will travel to Screggan in Co. Offaly over the three days of the 2017 National Ploughing Championships.

 

Isn’t it sweet the way Michael D Higgins goes all coy and bashful when asked if he fancies a second term as President?

On Tuesday at the Ploughing Championships, he blustered his way through some gentle questioning on the subject from RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke.

“My concentration is on doing this term very well and that’s why I don’t answer the question now because my concentration is on doing the job I’m doing and I’m getting great support from the Irish public in it. And then, in the fullness of time, and it’s just my decision – it doesn’t affect anyone else’s. But I have, and, in just being dead straight about it, I haven’t ruled anything out and therefore by the time of the Ploughing next year when the numbers will be up again and, eh, and I...”

O’Rourke, laughing out loud, tried again. “When will you decide?”

“I think that this is the way it goes: I think that I’m going now to, in October, to Australia and New Zealand. I’ve a very very full programme. I think I’m doing some European Union visits in the Spring [and] when prime minister Trudeau was here he invited me to visit Canada where we have a very significant Irish diaspora...”

And so on, right through to next summer and the fierce heavy schedule of garden parties he will have to host and everything else before he even gets to thinking about future plans.

Oh, but it’ll be next September at the earliest.

Of course, Michael D would love to stick around. He is the happiest President ever. And doing a great job, to be fair. Proud as punch and loving every minute.

But Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell, who is no shrinking violet, wants people to have a vote. In order to ensure there is an election he is going to chase up the number of nominations required to get on the ballot paper.

And now Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has joined him. He isn’t happy with what he calls a “go with the flow and let it ramble away” approach to selecting the President. The choice of who resides in Áras an Uachtaráin should be made by the people and not by arrangement among the big political parties.

“It shouldn’t be the same noddin’ that goes on all the time. I think it’s wrong. It’s an awful important office.”

The turf cutters’ champion from Roscommon-Galway told the Longford Leader last month that he doesn’t want to see Michael D “getting a free run” next November and will stand against him if necessary if nobody else enters the race. “It’s well known that I wouldn’t be a big supporter of Michael D” he told reporter Liam Cosgrove, a view he formed in 1997 when then Minister Higgins signed the EU Habitats Directive into law.

Yesterday he said he hasn’t changed his mind about possibly standing, or on his opinion of Michael D.

“I’ve nothing against the man, I just think that there are other people out there who should have a chance.”

He is fairly confident one or two contenders, such as Craughwell, will emerge, but if it transpires he is the only one who can secure the required number of nominations, Fitzmaurice reckons his campaign has to start in early summer of 2018 if he is to make any kind of impact.

The incumbent, of course, is cleverly keeping his powder dry until September.

“It would be like the mouse against the elephant, although I’m bigger than him,” says the Galway farmer and agricultural contractor.

“It’s not about who wins or loses, it’s about making sure there is an election. As it is, we’re basically making the office of the President nearly like an old-folks home, like it doesn’t matter and just let them [the main parties] off with it. For the sake of democracy there should be a contest.”

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Paschal’s bit of culture on display

The Department of Finance in Merrion Street participated in Culture Night for the first time this year. The event was fully booked.

Visitors were taken on guided tours of the magnificent building which houses the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Extensive renovation of the interior was completed last year and included the restoration of original features.

A highlight of the tour was a chance to take a gander at the office of the Minister for Finance. It’s all systems go there these days, with the budget looming.

The vistors weren’t allowed into the room, but they could stand inside the door behind a rope and take everything in.

Paschal Donohoe abandoned his office for the night, but he left three folders out of arms’ reach on the large meeting table. The official-looking covers, edged in green, read: “Budget 2018”, “Budget 2018 Top Secret” and “Top Secret”.

And on a radiator cabinet by the window was the Minister for Finance’s collection of action figures, or “bobbleheads”. Fifteen in all, they include characters from Star Wars, Dr Who, the X-Men and, eh, Hillary Clinton.

Paschal doesn’t have a favourite. (The Dalek is nice). He started his collection in 2004 upon entering politics and has added a new one every year. He gets them as gifts now too.

Visitors will have noticed the printed hashtag under his toys. “#freethebobbleheads.”

So no need to panic about the budget. None at all.

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Healy-Raes hit the road

Leo must love the farmers. They get up very, very early in the morning.

He forget to mention this during his whistle-stop tour of the Ploughing on Thursday.

The Taoiseach will also be impressed by Independent TD for Kerry, Danny Healy-Rae, who told people in Leinster House about his trip from Kilgarvan to Screggan in Offaly for the event.

The big obsession at the Ploughing is the traffic. Is it moving at all? Should you go early to miss the congestion or nip in nearer midday when everyone is already inside?

Danny was taking no chances. Apparently he left his home at 3.10am and was parked up at the Ploughing, sitting in the dark at 6.10am, waiting to get in.

His brother Michael wasn’t so fortunate on the transport front. As he was driving to Offaly, his car started giving trouble and he pulled into the hard shoulder. But who was driving the car behind him only big Kieran Donaghy, the great Kerry footballer.

“The car broke down and Kieran pulled in behind and offered me a lift,” recalls Michael. “I abandoned the vehicle, took me boots out of it for the Ploughing and off we went.” His stricken Skoda is undergoing treatment in a garage somewhere near Monastrevin.

After his visit to Screggan, Healy-Rae took a bus to Tullamore, then a taxi to his clapped-out car, and then hired another one for the drive to Leinster House.

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‘I wouldn’t be a women’s libber’

Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony did an in-depth interview with the Southern Star in the run up to the new Dáil session. It’s a great read.

The newspaper reminds us that Bandon native Margaret made history at the last general election by becoming the first woman elected to Dáil Éireann in the Cork South-West constituency.

She won a convincing victory, topping the poll with a final vote of 11,962.

The popular Dáil first-timer talks of how she combines family life – Margaret is married to Paddy and has two sons – with the full-on demands of political office. Thankfully, “while Margaret is away two days a week, Paddy feels that he and the two boys cope well enough and especially when the school is on, as there’s more of a regular routine”.

The TD worked hard to make the breakthrough to national politics. She certainly isn’t making a big deal about all this gender quota mullarkey and the like, although Murphy O’Mahony is pleased that, at long last, one of the three TDs in the constituency is a female.

In a quote which will have a lot of women reaching for the smelling salts, she declares: “It is nice to make history and I wouldn’t be a ‘women’s libber’ by any means. I’m actually against that as I think we are all equal.”

There are many women in politics here – including in her own Fianna Fáil party, who would beg to differ. And an awful lot more who will be absolutely delighted (if somewhat confused) to learn that they are “equal”. You’d have to wonder why female TDs from all sides recently felt the need to set up a woman’s caucus.

But now, with this heartening news from Murphy O’Mahony, they can give up their aul “feminism” and stop whinging about rights and equality.

She certainly has a great sense of humour, which is warmly reflected in the interview. And perhaps in one of the photographs too. The one captioned “Margaret gets to work ironing Paddy’s shirt while he relaxes with a rare cuppa in their kitchen”.

And speaking of women in politics, it’s interesting to note that on the list of TDs who have a full attendance record in this Dáil, Fianna Fáil’s Niamh Smyth is one of them. And she had a baby last year.

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McDowell makes the move

The Seanad resumes on Tuesday afternoon after the summer recess. Due to major renovations taking place in their usual place of work, Senators will sit in a temporary chamber located in the adjoining National Museum. A concealed entrance was knocked through between the two buildings and they will be able to access the room from inside Leinster House.

Their new billet looks very impressive and is sure to satisfy those Senators who have a very large welcome for themselves and their lofty station in life.

But there are some (in the majority) among them who yearn for the rough and tumble and vulgarity of the Lower House. A lot of people believe that former Tánaiste and PD leader Michael McDowell is one of them.

Senator McDowell has been active of late around his old Dáil stomping ground on Dublin’s southside, dropping leaflets in homes around Dublin 4 and Dublin 6.

“Property Tax Injustice” roars the headline on his glossy leaflet, which explains in some detail how a family earning €40k and living in a very modest two bed redbrick terraced house in Ringsend will pay considerably more property tax than a family on €250k living in a substantial detachted four-bed property in Leitrim.

Senators, of course, do not represent any constituency, but the Senior Counsel would argue that his former Dáil constituency has a huge concentration of NUI Seanad voters and so he needs to keep them sweet.

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