Miriam Lord’s Week

Life is tough for our Janitor in London

 John McGuinness: “The restaurant in London might be a better headline!”   Photograph : Matt Kavanagh

John McGuinness: “The restaurant in London might be a better headline!” Photograph : Matt Kavanagh

Sat, Mar 8, 2014, 01:00

The Public Accounts Committee has been hogging the headlines lately with its work on the CRC, Rehab and Garda penalty points front.

This week they returned to more mundane matters. Take Thursday, when members drilled into the accounts of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“I see ticket sales are well down this week” remarked committee chairman John McGuinness, noting the lack of media interest on his way in.

As it turned out, their rather dull tour of the Iveagh House ledgers took a lively turn when Labour’s Derek Nolan got stuck into general secretary David Cooney over the living allowances afforded to officials.

“Is food provided for the ambassador?” he asked Cooney, who used to be Our Man in London. “Is that covered by the embassy? Are there full-time chefs? Is there a driver? Are there other supports and costs that are associated with ambassadors that would ease their cost-of-living costs?”

“The ambassador pays for all the food they eat themselves,” replied Cooney.

‘Running a restaurant’

“In a number of embassies there are full-time chefs – the chefs are employed not for the comfort of the ambassadors. They are employed so the ambassador can do their job in terms of entertaining at home.
“I was the ambassador in London; there was a full-time chef. We were running almost a restaurant there we had so much entertainment going on,” he sighed wearily.

The supports and facilities available to ambassadors and their staff are to help them do the job. “They are not there so that certain people can go out and have a good time.”

As for the diplomatic life being a glamorous one, Mr Cooney gave another side of the story.

“Running an embassy – a foreign ambassador and their spouse – is a big responsibility. They have a premises, often a very elaborate premises, often a very old premises that needs a lot of care and maintenance. The ambassador and their spouse are often like janitors. The spouse gets no compensation for the work they do.”

It seems that while guests are in the drawing room up to their oxters in pyramids of chocolate bonbons, ambassadors’ significant others are up to their elbows in the scullery unblocking sinks.

They work with a canape in one hand and a mop in the other, apparently.

Foreign Affairs is no doddle. “The sort of sense that ambassadors are out there living a pampered lifestyle? Frankly, I could take it or leave it.”

‘No picnic’

Former ambassador Cooney wanted to stress that officials stationed abroad were not living the life of Reilly. It’s a tough job and often very disruptive on family life.

“It’s no picnic, believe me, having dinners and receptions. I’d rather be home on Saturday night with a beer watching Match of the Day than going out to some reception or dinner.”

Deputy Nolan was quite taken with one aspect of the job: “I think you may have got yourself an unwanted headline with the word ‘janitors’.”

Cooney wasn’t worried. “I am quite happy to put it up there in the headlines because people need to know what it is like.”

John McGuinness butted in: “The restaurant in London might be a better headline!”

“Well, you’ve dined there, Chairman!” retorted the witness.

“It’s a very good restaurant!” cried the chairman, with a hungry smile.

Then everyone went to lunch.

But not before the secretary general did a bit of light dusting around the committee room and fixed a leaky tap in the gents.

Plucky Lucinda puts a brave face on it
Lucinda Creighton was in good spirits at the big European People’s Party Congress in the Convention Centre Dublin as she met up with political acquaintances from across Europe. The former minister of state with responsibility for European Affairs had no intention of withdrawing quietly from proceedings, even though she is no longer a member of the Fine Gael parliamentary party. She is a paid up member of the organisation, though she now trades under the Rebel Alliance banner. Lucinda attended as one of the many vice-presidents of the EPP.

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