The Dáil diet: what politicians think of the food in Leinster House

Mattie McGrath, Averil Power, Ann Phelan and Billy Kelleher discuss eating on the hoof

Mattie McGrath: ‘Food at Leinster House has improved and there’s a lot more variety.’ Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Mattie McGrath: ‘Food at Leinster House has improved and there’s a lot more variety.’ Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times



What would be a typical day of food at Leinster House for you?

I’d start with a bowl of fruit in the morning with a spoon of natural yoghurt. Then I’d have a bowl of porridge with some honey. The porridge is always consistently good in the canteen. The only thing is the canteen doesn’t open until 9am, it should open from 7am. Very occasionally I’d have a fry, it’s hard to resist with the smell of it.

After the order of business at about about 1pm I’d have tea and a scone, or a bowl of soup with brown bread. Brown bread with real butter normally, I’m a country man.

I kind of abstain then until 6 or 6.30pm for dinner. It’s normally at the in the canteen or “drive-through” as they call it. I normally have fish, chicken kiev, or bacon and cabbage. Oh when those spare ribs are in front of you it’s hard to resist. But I’d have cod or haddock when I’m being good.

Pick-me up during long days at work

I’m a tea man so it’s tea for me through the day. Micheál Martin, he drinks green tea or some herbal tea like that, but not me, it’s plain tea and milk. I probably drink too much tea, about six or seven cups a day.


I’ve a sweet tooth but I have diabetes so I have to be careful. After 9pm you get nothing anywhere. You get tea or coffee with a bar of chocolate or Taytos. I’m not as good as I should be with fast-food. It’s very tempting when you’re hungry, the food is there, in front of you and it’s very appetising. There are days that are just manic when you don’t get a chance to eat. It’s not one of the healthiest lifestyles but I enjoy it, I love it.

Food on offer at Leinster House

It has improved and there’s a lot more variety in the last 15 months. It has definitely changed for the better and become more health conscious.

Most important meal of the day?

Breakfast is the most important meal to me. I wouldn’t miss that.

Favourite meal at Leinster House and food you don’t like

I’m not into vegetarian food. There was a time I wouldn’t eat pizza or pasta but now since I’ve teenagers, I’ve got used to it. Lamb cutlets and chutney, that would be my favourite meal when it’s on the menu.



What would be a typical day of food at Leinster House for you?

I would normally not have breakfast in Leinster House but if I do, it’s coffee and some juice and some bacon. I wouldn’t go for a heavy breakfast because you don’t want anything to be dulling your senses when you’re answering questions. We’re always tempted by full Irish breakfast but you have to keep away from that as much as possible. For lunch I would normally just have a salad sandwich and then dinner in the evening.

Favourite meals at Leinster House

Chilli con carne, which is one of my favourite. I just can’t pass up on anything to do with pepper sauce. People tell me I’m addicted to pepper sauce. If I’m not having steak I’ll ask for pepper sauce anyway. Turkey and ham is my favourite dinner of all time. They have that on offer quite often in Leinster House.

Pick me up

I would probably go for a cup of coffee more than anything as a pick me up. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I don’t go looking for chocolate. Although I have a savoury tooth and you put on weight with those as well. We do have long days on Leinster House and I would try have my dinner early in the day to keep me going.

Food temptations at Leinster House

The problem is I like my food too much. Sometimes you arrive into the restaurant and you say to yourself that you will go for the healthy option. Then as you’re moving up, up, up you’re getting closer to the chips, the smell of them. When you’re really hungry your mind plays tricks on you. You find yourself saying at the end, “I’ll have the chips”. It’s hard to have meals are a regular time. When you’re just so hungry it’s hard to say no to the chips.

Most important meal of the day

Dinner. You can relax a little bit more with it, especially if you’re having it in the evening.



What would be a typical day of food at Leinster House for you?

For breakfast I’d have cornflakes and two boiled eggs, a cup of coffee and a glass of milk. All my life I’d had a glass of milk with breakfast. It’s the one thing I miss when I’m away on holidays. I’d have a lunch around 2pm and that could be beef, cottage pie, stew or some fish. I’d eat then again around 6pm, normally a light salad with cold meat. That would be me done with food until the following day. I don’t like heavy meals in the evening.

Favourite meal at Leinster House and food you don’t like

I’ve no favourite meal as such. I’ll see what’s on offer and go from there. There are not many foods I don’t eat except pork. That’s only thing I don’t eat. It doesn’t agree with me. I can eat bacon all day long but not pork. I like milk at the lunch. I’m a bit of a milkaholic. It’s my comfort drink. I was born on a dairy farm and milk was always there.


I’m trying to cut snacks out. A banana is my main snack. The odd time I’d have tea and purple Snack bar after my dinner. I’ll only eat chocolate if it’s out of the fridge, always out of the fridge. I’m not a big eater if the truth be told. I don’t like huge meals.

Pick-me up during long days at work

Yoghurt and cheeses are my pick-me-up foods. I like coffee in the morning but mid-afternoon it’s only tea I drink. I wouldn’t drink tea in evening.

Main places people eat in Leinster House?

I mostly eat in the canteen or the Dail members’ bar. There would be a gathering of people around for lunch times- you bump into the same people. We’re creatures of habit up here. There’s groups that go to different spots, Fianna Fail kind of have one little corner, independents another.

Most important meal?

The evening meal most important for me. I don’t eat anymore after I have that.



What would be a typical day of food at Leinster House for you?

I have porridge every morning before I arrive at Leinster House. The first thing I’d eat at Leinster House would be lunch. I work such long hours I never get time to cook or time to eat either, so that used to mean having a sandwich or junk food at my desk. Or whatever I could get when I had two minutes. But there’s a local company that do low-cal meals delivered and now I get my work food from them, since the start of the year. They do healthy lunch and dinners. It gives me the energy I need to get through a long day. I get that and I bring it in. Just five minutes to heat in the microwave and five minutes to eat it. I pretty much never eat from the canteen or restaurant.


I get my snacks delivered too. For example today I had fruit salad, and a raw veg with hummus. I’m conscious now with an election coming up and I’m out canvassing every night I need energy, I need to stay in good health and I can’t afford to get sick. It’s very easy in here to eat the wrong food, you’re not eating regularly. I don’t like eating late. At the weekends I relax and eat take aways.

Favourite meals?

Today I had salmon with vegetables with couscous, which was really good. I love winter food. I’m looking forward to chilli con carne. I don’t like eating late. I normally have my last meal before 7pm.