Miriam Lord's Week


Champagne, chocs and Louise Morrissy CDs: candidates' Seanad sweeteners

THE RACE for the Seanad is hotting up, and it’s dog eat dog in Fianna Fáil. Councillors and TDs have been showered with free pens and customised calendars by candidates seeking their votes – and a visit from chocolate queen Mary White is always welcome. But when it comes to expressing deep regard one candidate has really pushed the boat out.

Kenneth O’Flynn, son of the former Cork North Central deputy Noel O’Flynn, has sent a bottle of champagne to all Fianna Fáil deputies. This is not to curry favour with them in advance of the Seanad election. Oh no. He wants to congratulate them on their recent election to the Dáil.

O’Flynn is on the List of Ten, party leader Micheál Martin’s controversial collection of favoured candidates. He wants Fianna Fáil councillors to vote for those on the list over the seething rebels who are also running under the party colours.

“I think sending champagne is very tacky,” sniffed a Fianna Fáil candidate who didn’t make the list of special ones. There are unconfirmed reports that some TDs have returned the champers. “I gave it to the secretary,” one of them told us, indicating he wouldn’t touch the stuff. Deputy Barry Cowen confirmed that he had received a gift-wrapped bottle, but said he hadn’t opened it.

“I threw it on a table somewhere. Kenneth O’Flynn hasn’t called to me yet, so I haven’t had the chance to give it back,” he said.

Donie Cassidy is reportedly love-bombing his voters with the usual assortment of Louise Morrissey, Foster Allen and Joe Dolan CDs. He is so confident of a return to Leinster House that he is talking about opening an office in Co Meath to cater for bereft soldiers of destiny who are currently without a representative in the county. Not if former deputy Thomas Byrne has anything to do with it.

The lightning rod for much of the resentment and anger felt by those Fianna Fáil stalwarts who didn’t get the nod from the leadership is the up-and-coming politician Averil Power, who came close to winning a seat in Dublin at the general election. Young, urban and female, Power ticks all the right boxes for Micheál Martin as he attempts to rebuild his party, particularly in the capital.

The passed-over candidates don’t see it this way. There was much sniggering in the corridors during the week when word returned from the hustings of one experienced campaigner who has been greeting councillors by sweetly inquiring: “Has Mrs Sheahan been here yet?”

This is a reference to Averil Power’s husband, Fionan Sheahan, the Indo’s political editor and a journalist who has no problem attacking Fianna Fáil when the occasion demands. Just in case any councillors didn’t know this . . .

Could Obama be bound for Croker?

The “What are we going to do about Michael?” question rolls on in Irish politics. After spending three emotional days in the Dáil defending himself, Michael Lowry returned home to Tipperary with precious little sympathy and a unanimous motion of censure in his back pocket.

But Lowry battles on and is currently putting the finishing touches to a project in his North Tipperary constituency.

“Michael will be opening his new office in Moneygall in about two or three weeks’ time,” a source close to the disgraced former minister tells us. “He has to establish roots in the area, as it is the catchment centre for the South Offaly part of the constituency.”

It’s all systems go around Moneygall at the moment as the village prepares for Barack Obama’s visit next month. Main Street looks particularly well, and local political bigwigs must be delighted to hear that a vacant commercial premises on the street is undergoing a revamp and should be open in time for the US president’s visit.

“The office is ready to go; the only issue is the design of the sign on the shopfront. It has to be in keeping with the old-style traditional look, and it is being specially made up at the moment. The rent is not a problem, as a lot of people have been anxious to facilitate Michael, but everything is above board, as he doesn’t want to be the subject of a Revenue inquiry,” says our source.

Meanwhile, there is disappointment around the country at the unconfirmed news that Obama won’t be spending a lot of time in Ireland, although he is expected to stay overnight in the country. One Government deputy, who had been hoping Obama might grace his picturesque county with his presence, “heard from the highest authority” that there is no chance of that happening. “My information is that he will do a gig in Moneygall and then go on to Dublin, where some sort of ceremony along the lines of what happened in College Green with Clinton is planned. But the word is that Croke Park may be the venue.”

It is not expected that Queen Elizabeth will go to Croker when she visits next month.

Sinn Féin's Montrose moan

Sinn Féin wrote a letter of complaint to RTÉ this week about the lack of coverage given to Gerry Adams in television news reports of the Dáil debate on the Moriarty tribunal report.

The party’s publicity director fired off a lengthy missive to the national broadcaster, saying Adams had been unacceptably excluded from the six o’clock and nine o’clock news bulletins, despite his contributions to the debate, while Deputy Martin Ferris featured only in a clip lasting a few seconds.

Party handlers have been piqued by what they see as insufficient coverage given to their representatives, particularly when compared with the airtime afforded to the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin. But the final straw came on Tuesday night, when they felt their party leader was shut out of the picture in news reports.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said it would not be prudent to comment on the specific points raised in the letter and that the party was involved in “ongoing correspondence” with RTÉ.

But its publicity director, Sean Mac Bradaigh, confirms “there has been some frustration” with the level of coverage. “The political landscape has changed, and we are now the second party of opposition, but that hasn’t been reflected. There are only six seats between us and Fianna Fáil.”

Just when they thought they could put their election-time slide rules away at RTÉ, it seems they’ll have to take them out again.

The Sinn Féin spokesman was unable to comment on our suggestion that Adams’s contribution wasn’t featured on the news bulletins because he delivered an awful, meandering speech. Martin Ferris, on the other hand, gave a great speech.

A quick flick through Wednesday’s parliamentary reports in this newspaper confirmed that Ferris got the lion’s share of the coverage and Adams got a minor mention because he is party leader.

And he’s a sensitive soul.

Prince Albert to go through the Ringer

Michael Ring is beside himself with anticipation. As Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, he will welcome Prince Albert of Monaco (right) to Co Mayo this Wednesday.

“It’s great altogether: we’ve the queen and we’ve Obama and we’ve the Dalai Lama coming to Ireland. It’s giving us a great boost for the tourism. People still talk about the time Princess Grace and Prince Rainier came to us here in 1961,” he says.

Prince Albert will visit the dilapidated cottage in Newport that was the home of his great-grandfather in the 19th century. His trip marks the 50th anniversary of his late parents’ visit. The Ringer says the prince has nearly 30 relatives in the area, and he will have a private meeting with them at Newport House. After that he is expected to do a walkabout in the village before flying from Knock airport.

“It’s only a short visit, but, still, it’ll be great. Newport is a lovely village, with the river running through it. I hope the prince has time to sample Kelly’s pudding: they’re after winning a massive award for it in France. It was a black pudding in the shape of a pint of stout. He’s famous for the rashers and the sausages too. The prince could do worse than head back to Monaco with some of them.”

Tributes full on as the Heff takes off

It was the end of an era around Leinster House yesterday with the retirement of Tony Heffernan, the popular Labour Party press and parliamentary director.

Heffernan has been with the Labour Party since the merger with Democratic Left, in 1999, and before that he was with the Workers’ Party, Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party, Official Sinn Féin and whatever you’re having yourself.

He served as deputy government press secretary in the rainbow government and has been a senior adviser and confidant to former leaders Ruairí Quinn and Rabbitte, a role that he maintains with Eamon Gilmore. He is known to possess one of the sharpest political noses of anybody in the business and has a prodigious memory.

Heffernan tells a story from his youthful militant days, when he was arrested by Special Branch after a demo and put into a cell in Pearse Street Garda station. A young comrade languished in another one.

It had been a long day, and they were starving. Finally, dinner arrived, a wrap-up of fish and chips, and Heffernan demolished it. He was asked would he like some more, and Heffernan, bowled over by the generosity of the security forces, happily scoffed a second helping.

He thanked the guard for his hospitality. “Your pal’s on hunger strike,” he was told.

Eamon Gilmore paid tribute to the Heff yesterday. “Above anything that Tony Heffernan has done for the party, he is a friend of very long standing, and that friendship will continue past his retirement.

“He is somebody who remembers the great events and the twists and turns of politics. He has extremely sound political judgment and is unrivalled in the work that he does. Tony has probably the largest and most comprehensive political memory in Ireland.

“In his role of presenting the best possible line for the Labour Party, the first advice he gives, no matter what the issue or what the controversy, is: always tell them the truth.

“Tony has a very humorous take on the world of politics and on the world of press and will really be missed in Leinster House.”

Who's in like Flynn with Quinn?

Ruairí Quinn was widely praised this week for his prompt action in establishing the grandly named Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector.

The forum will be convened by an advisory group chaired by Dr John Coolahan, an emeritus professor at NUI Maynooth. He was described by one Irish National Teachers’ Organisation activist this week as a “national treasure” while Quinn’s nomination of Fionnuala Kilfeather, the former chief executive of the National Parents Council, was also regarded as imaginative.

The other member of the group will be Dr Caroline Hussey, described as former registrar and deputy president, UCD. There can be no doubt about her qualifications (as long as your arm) or experience as an educationalist (vast), but the official biographical note issued by Quinn’s press office omits her political pedigree. Perhaps wise, given the title of the new body.

Caroline was Quinn’s director of elections when he first stood for public office as a council candidate in 1974 and again in the 1977 general election, and has been part of his famously efficient electoral machine throughout his career. She features prominently in Quinn’s autobiography Straight Left: A Journey in Politics, which gives a fantastic insight into life as a cabinet minister. The book provides a glimpse of the discussions at cabinet and it will be interesting to see if he updates it to include a section on living with Enda and Eamon.

He recalled Garret FitzGerald’s style at cabinet meetings, illustrated by a discussion on the possible appointment of a prisoner to a commission on penal reform.

“Does anyone know a prisoner?” asked FitzGerald. “In or out of jail?” responded the gruff John Boland. “Oh, well, out, of course,” replied FitzGerald, at which point Quinn suggested Mannix Flynn.

That prompted Paddy Cooney to ask, “Who is Mannix Flynn?”, to which Boland replied, “He is the bollox who burnt Dockrells.”

Quinn writes: “A startled Paddy Cooney replied, ‘We couldn’t possibly do that on poor Maurice and Percy Dockrell,’ two former Fine Gael deputies. At which point Peter Barry interjected to declare: ‘I don’t know about that. Didn’t they get great compensation?’”

Roll on the second edition, which should also include details of the 2011 campaign in which Quinn fought off a challenge in Dublin South East from the now Cllr Mannix Flynn.

All right in the left alliance?

Despite its electoral triumph and brave talk of creating a new party, the United Left Alliance is apparently not averse to the old factionalism of the left. There has already been mention of a split after Seamus Healy put down a motion condemning the coalition Government for not doing enough in Brussels to defend the 12.5 per cent corporation-tax regime. This suggestion didn’t go down well with those who would like to see the tax at 50 per cent or more.

We hear that before the election, at a meeting of the rank-and-file of the various groups who make up the alliance, there was also the taste of future rancour over what line should be adopted on abortion, with the feminists associated with the Socialist Workers’ Party determined to explicitly advocate a woman’s right to choose.

When it comes to forming a new party it will be interesting to see whether Richard Boyd Barrett’s People Before Profit party, the Socialist Party and possibly other small groups insist on their right to retain their own structures within the new umbrella party. The likelihood is that they will want to do so.

The alliance launched a membership drive this week, and moves to create a new party have continued following the election.

A national convention is planned for June. It could all be a most uncomradely exercise.