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Miriam Lord’s end-of-term awards: The best and worst of the cribbers, ditherers and hitmen

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald emerges as Politician of the Season, touring the world like she is already in charge

Piddle or Get Off the Pot Award: Fianna Fáil’s dithering backbenchers/thwarted careerists who cannot pass a corner without huddling in it or a pol corr without anonymously bellyaching about Micheál Martin’s leadership. Their latest widely publicised hush-hush meeting happened when the boss was visiting Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv. The party’s woeful showing in this week’s Irish Times/Ipsos opinion poll will fortify the moaners and cribbers, but will any of them have the backbone to make a move against Micheál?

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Best Outburst of the Season: President Michael D Higgins savaged the Government’s housing policy during a scathing speech at the opening of a new housing facility for young people. The situation has gone from crisis to disaster and is “our great, great failure”, he thundered. The Opposition was delighted, particularly Labour politicians who have precious little to crow about these days. “My Michael D T-shirt still hangs proudly in my office. His critics aren’t worthy to lace his shoes,” tweeted Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, posting a photo of said garment as his colleagues rushed to remind everyone that the President is one of their own. The Government was not amused but decided against getting involved in a spat with a hugely popular President making widely popular remarks. And then there was Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, bringing us governing as an out-of-body experience: “I think some of what he said was true, quite frankly.”

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You Stay Classy award: Solidarity’s Paul Murphy for his gracious tweet after Alan Kelly was clinically taken out as leader of the Labour Party, clearly shocked and upset by what happened: “Nice to get some good news in a generally pretty grim situation.”

Many in Leinster House might feel this award should go to Murphy and his colleagues in Solidarity/People Before Profit for failing to applaud President Zelenskiy after his historic speech by video link to the Dáil and Seanad. The gesture didn’t go down well with most politicians.

The Dublin South West TD said afterwards that they stood for the people of Ukraine and their struggle against the Russian imperialist invasion but could not applaud sanctions which were hurting ordinary Russians. It was a petty gesture, given the context of the occasion, but the deputies had a point and were fully entitled to make it in the national parliament. It is a democratic right to be cherished.

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The Sleeping with the Fishes Award for Best Hitmen: This goes to Labour’s Sopranos who rubbed out their leader AK47 in March after telling him his services were no longer required by the organisation.

“Once the lads came to me, within seconds, I said: ‘Yeah, let’s just work this through,” said Alan Kelly, telling reporters about the precise moment he knew his number was up.

Kelly was clearly shocked and upset by the swift and clinical nature of the coup. “This was a surprise to me,” he remarked. It was a surprise to everybody else to discover that Labour was harbouring some ruthless sopranos among the castrati.

Fianna Fáil take note.

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Long-Haul Award for Overnight Success: After a number of failed attempts to win a Dáil seat, serving Labour senator Ivana Bacik finally became a TD last year when she won the Dublin Bay South by-election. Eight months later she was the new leader of the Labour Party after a small group of TDs and senators met to plan the removal of the incumbent Alan Kelly and subsequently handed him his marching orders. The former senator was quickly dubbed “Princess Ivana” and, as was widely predicted, she ran unopposed for the top job a few weeks later. Despite many attempts by journalists to ascertain her role in AK47′s ousting, she managed to sidestep the questions and keep a clean pair of hands. She is a good, if understated, Dáil performer.

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Biggest Disappointment: Taoiseach Micheál Martin missed out for a second time on the traditional St Patrick’s Day hooley in the White House when he tested positive for Covid-19 on the day before he was due to meet President Joe Biden in the Oval Office. Micheál had to be content with a virtual meeting instead. He had to cancel the trip in 2021 because of the pandemic and with Leo Varadkar due to rotate into the Taoiseach’s job at the end of this year, it looks like unlucky Micheál will never get a chance now to hand over the bowl of shamrock in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Unless Leo “been there, done that, bought a cool T-shirt” Varadkar lets him go next year. There’s a thought (if both are still in their jobs).

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Eaten Bread is Soon Forgotten Award: In January, finally, the Taoiseach stood on the steps of Government Buildings with some good news. “We have weathered the Omicron storm. Today is a good day,” he told a relieved nation, paving the way for the lifting of Covid restrictions. “We need to see each other again. We need to smile again. We need to sing again.” He had done a good job in very difficult circumstances. But that’s his job. Then the cost-of-living crisis and the housing crisis took over and there was cross-party consternation about restrictions on turf-cutting. “You want to let the people perish and die in the ditches,” said Mattie McGrath. Ructions over fuel prices.

Haulage expert Verona Murphy told him to cut tax on fuel. “It’s time to be brave and grow a pair, Taoiseach,” she told him. “If you had brains... [you’d be dangerous].”

“Okay, we’re not all as intelligent as you, clearly,” retorted Micheál.

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Best rows: The Dáil year thus far has been characterised by the ongoing spleen between Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald and equally bad blood between Leo Varadkar and Pearse Doherty. The Taoiseach lost his rag with the Sinn Féin leader when she kept accusing him of being out of touch with ordinary people struggling to find accommodation and pay rent. Bus driver’s son Micheál hit back at the privately educated Sinn Féin leader from Dublin’s Rathgar. “I just want to say to you, deputy, my background and where I grew up and what we had to put up with is far different to yours… Don’t you dare lecture me. Okay?” The Tánaiste and Mary Lou’s second in command had a vicious row over the cost-of-living crisis, culminating in Doherty urging Varadkar to be “a bit more humble” given that the Director of Public Prosecutions was still assessing whether to “prosecute you under the Corruption Act” in relation to the sharing of a confidential document on pay negotiations.

The Fine Gael leader responded to this “cheap and personal shot” by reminding Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman that he actually had been prosecuted. “You abused, mistreated, a Garda Síochána. For that, you were prosecuted. You were found guilty. Yes, you got away without a conviction because of your age at the time but you were actually prosecuted, you were arrested — that’s what happened to you.”

But the crowning spat also involved the Tánaiste, this time taking grave offence during a rancorous exchange with Michael Healy-Rae who was bizarrely complaining about “big shot” Varadkar looking down his nose at him. “But like I say, off with you with the airy fairies and see how far ‘twill get you.”

The Tánaiste, a gay man, took serious umbrage and was unusually forthright with his reaction. “Reflect on it, think about it and come back here tomorrow or the next day and take it back, if you want to.” He didn’t.

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January’s Trial of the Century: An outright win by TD Noel Grealish and former TD Donie Cassidy when they were cleared of holding an illegal event and contravening lockdown rules by putting on a dinner for 80 members of the Oireachtas Golf Society in 2020. Acquitting the defendants, Judge Mary Fahy said there was no case to answer and described the people who attended the hooley as “responsible people” who wouldn’t have gone to a dinner if they had not felt comfortable or safe. “I have been all my life, a lawmaker not a law breaker,” quivered an emotional Donie on the steps of the courthouse as his “golfgate” nightmare finally came to an end.

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Fit of the Vapours Award: Mary Lou McDonald for deliberately getting the wrong end of the stick when the Taoiseach condemned what he says is her party’s “doublespeak” on climate policy. “It seems to me very much that it’s the St Augustine approach you are taking to climate change: Oh Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!”

Mary Lou was scandalised. “I’ve told you before. Attacking me is not an answer! Attacking me is not an answer! My chastity or otherwise is not an answer!”

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The “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Putin?” Award goes to Rear Admiral Senator Gerry Craughwell, who saw off the Russian navy by threatening to assemble a crack force of Oireachtas commandos to confront Putin’s fleet as it planned war games off the coast of Cork. “We must send a Naval Service vessel to the southwest with members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence observing what’s going on there,” cried Gerry. “In my view, the issue of the Russian fleet being off the southwest coast of this country in the next few weeks carrying out an exercise is something that we must monitor,” he told the Seanad. Once the terrifying news reached Moscow (Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan chairs the committee), Vlad’s sailors hauled anchor and charted a course away from Irish waters.

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And here are the end-of-term winners:

Best Opposition performer: Peadar Tóibín of Áontu. He is the party’s only TD and his hardline views on social issues alienate many voters, but as a sole trader he gets more attention than many deputies from larger, more established parties. Peadar has a knack for identifying issues of interest to the public, he is an excellent speaker and has an eye for a good soundbite. He is the de-facto leader of the Save Navan hospital campaign.

Most quietly effective TD: Independent TD Cathal Berry swooped in at the last minute and carried off this gong for playing a major part in securing the multibillion finance package for the Defence Forces while promising to support the Government in this month’s confidence motion.

Best Committee performer: Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane, who played a blinder at the health committee.

Best Minister: If this was judged on standard of swagger, than Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien would walk away with the award. But it goes to Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys for her rousing speech during the confidence debate and her sharp eye for handing out money when kinks in the system are shown up.

Missing in Action: The Greens.

Most Charmed Minister: Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, for getting away with brazenly ignoring Government policy while a senior Minister and opposing the closure of Navan Hospital’s emergency department. Perhaps she should get an award for neck.

Most Indistinguishable Parties: Labour/Soc Dems? Soc Dems/Labour? Hard to tell the difference.

Politician of the Season: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Riding high in the opinion polls, giving no quarter to the Government, touring the world like she is already in charge and making the Coalition sound fixated on Sinn Féin instead of showing what it is doing to fix the country.

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday