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


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.

On the eve of the convention, she cheekily issued a press release claiming full credit for bringing the political jamboree to Dublin. She also outlined what she will be doing over the two days of the event.

Sitting as far away as possible from Enda, one imagines.

Walsh taking the 12 steps back to Fine Gael
While most of Fine Gael’s prodigal sheep continue to wander farther and farther from home, one of them has been standing patiently at the gate for nearly a year now.

Brian Walsh from Galway West left the parliamentary party because he couldn’t support the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. However, since he abandoned the fold, Brian is keen to be readmitted.

His colleagues are well-disposed towards his repatriation and Brian looks sure to return once he has completed his period of penance.

“It’s a bit like one of those 12-step programmes,” an FG backbencher explained. “Brian has to do a series of tasks to atone for his sins”.

On Thursday, Walsh made a speech in the Dáil lambasting those other Fine Gael TDs who left the parliamentary party over the same issue. Since then, as he helpfully pointed out, he has supported the Government on everything.

“When I lost the party whip last July, I could have become bitter, I could have borne a grudge” pouted Brian, not mentioning any names.

“I could have spent the next two years sniping at the Government benches and touting populist policies in the interest of self-promotion rather than the common good.”

Still mentioning no names, but down at the convention centre the fire brigade was hosing down Lucinda’s ears.

As a politician elected on a Fine Gael ticket, Walsh wondered how somebody could spend two years consistently supporting the Government in difficult circumstances before suddenly deciding to oppose those same policies.

He, on the other hand, resolved to honour his mandate “despite being sneered at by some for not pursuing a populist path”.

Oh, for God’s sake, Enda, let the poor man back into the party and be done with it.

Delegates strike a blue note at EPP congress
Nice gig for broadcaster and communications consultant Anton Savage at the EPP congress. He looked very much at home as MC doing a double act with Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin. All in a day’s work for Savage, who was lavish in his praise for Enda Kenny while introducing him.

Hundreds of journalists are in Dublin for the event. As is the custom, they got press kits/ goodie bags. In the boom years visiting hacks got smoked salmon, crystal geegaws and whiskey with their fact packs. This week, they got literature, some branded tat, Ballymaloe relish and a mini whiskey.

The main business of the conference was the election of a candidate for the EC presidency. As the lights went down, the delegates raised their arms. They had been given wristbands to mark the occasion and the hall pulsated with flashing blue lights. It was like closing time in Temple bar.

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