Miriam Lord's Week


More fun and games promised in the Fine Gael rooms next week at the parliamentary party’s annual general meeting. For the first time since anyone can remember, there is a contest for the position of party chairman, which has been held since 2002 by Tipperary South TD Tom Hayes.

A battle royale is predicted. Normally, the holder of this high office is elected by universal acclaim. Not this year, with five hats in the ring for the coveted figurehead role. The contest takes on extra significance because the party is tipped to be in government after the next general election and the chairman would expect to be given some sort ministerial office if that happens.

Nominations closed at 5pm last evening and the five are the incumbent, Hayes, along with Donegal North East’s Joe McHugh, Tipperary North’s Noel Coonan, Galway West’s Pádraic McCormack and Cork-based Senator Paul Bradford.

Elder statesman Hayes, who took over when the party was in tatters after the disastrous 2002 election, will be fighting on his record over the last eight years and we understand he has no intention of relinquishing the chair without a fight. He has been nominated by Deirdre Clune of Cork South Central. He will be hoping for support from the Munster politicians, particularly as party support in the south needs to shored up.

Meanwhile, Joe, who is married to Offaly deputy Olwyn Enright, is reportedly backed by the party’s Young Turks and will be nominated at Wednesday’s meeting by Meath’s Damien English.

“I think there is an agenda for change,” says first-time TD Joe. “The party is open to change and I’ll be putting a forward-thinking agenda together to make the parliamentary party more relevant, and to give backbenchers a bigger say.” McHugh says he decided to run when he “started to get vibes” from some of the party to throw his hat into the ring. “I intend to rise to the challenge.”

Pádraic McCormack, who has often been a critic of the leadership at meetings, is said to have support from a number of western-based deputies. Ever mindful of the threat from Galway Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames, McCormack may be looking towards consolidating his pre-eminent position in the area.

There had been some speculation before nominations closed that Cloonan and Bradford – who is close to outspoken deputy Lucinda Creighton – might withdraw their names. But they are still in the race, which should make for an interesting contest, particularly as it’s a secret ballot.

The election is expected to be a close-run thing, with Hayes and McHugh seen as the clear frontrunners. There is speculation in the party as to which candidate is favoured by leader Enda Kenny, although so many smokescreens have been thrown up it’s hard to say. Suffice to say, there’ll be a lot of whispering in ears and quick phone calls between now and Wednesday.

A Team, B Team or GAA team?

Still with Fine Gael, John Deasy was surprised to read in last week’s column that he was the owner of the mobile phone that went off during a recent parliamentary party meeting, playing the theme-tune from The A-Team.

He wasn’t at the meeting. Nor does his phone possess such a ring tone.

We can only surmise that our confidante, who couldn’t wait to relay the news, was so blinded by the need to take a cut at Deasy that the facts got in the way. The Waterford TD would be seen as critical of the leadership, and when Enda Kenny appeared to have silenced the so-called “mutterers” after their latest round of grumbling, associating Deasy with The A-Team must have seemed like a delicious irony.

Except the phone belonged to John O’Mahony, who is also manager of the Mayo senior football team.

“After two wins, he’s getting bit carried away,” chuckled a colleague.

As for the Enda faction, they really must try harder at this politics thing.

Jackie p***ed off as Grealish goes off piste

Where was former PD, now Independent TD Noel Grealish this week?

He was absent for a vote on the Finance Bill, a fact that didn’t go down well with Jackie Healy Rae who had to stay on to vote because Noel wasn’t around. Jackie missed the lunchtime train home to Kerry as a result – a catastrophe.

Where was Grealish? Now that he has no party, he’s wandering the place, stateless, rather like the chap who had to live in the airport when his country was now longer recognised by the USA after a coup.

Nobody could reach him. His mobile had been directed through to his constituency office in Galway.

We’re hearing reports that Noel may have been away on the piste, but our spies in the west couldn’t confirm this.

“Send out the huskies!” whispered one colleague. “A Saint Bernard!” sniggered another.

We know he likes to ski, but surely not this week, when the Winter Olympics were on the telly and he could have picked up some tips? Maybe he was just snowed under with work.

Crowd keen on Killeen, for a tip at least

Junior minister Tony Killeen was in Galway yesterday and joking about the fact that he was speaking at a cancer conference last weekend in Ennis. Loads of hands went up at the end of it and he thought it was because his talk had been so inspiring (he has recovered from cancer himself). In fact, most of them wanted to know which ministry he might get and how much they should put on a bet.

Get down to Paddy Power quick, we say.

Two-song amnesty sees night end on right note

The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly is a very important and serious body, and much work is accomplished during their twice-yearly meetings in Ireland and the UK. However, delegates, in the interest of cementing relations, never stint on the social aspect of these gatherings.

On the final night of this year’s meeting in Cavan, the parliamentarians and the media went off the the Cavan Crystal Hotel for their gala dinner.

Their hosts put on a great spread, beginning with a “brandy reception” before the meal at 7.30pm. It went on for an hour and a half. Then there was the wine, which flowed, during the nosh and through the interminable speeches. The Greens Dan Boyle, who attended, spent much of the time texting on his phone, proving that he can tweet, talk and eat at the same time.

After the meal, the happy group – they finished up with rounds of whiskey for the toast – repaired back to their quarters in the lovely Radisson Farnham Estate Hotel. There was just one problem: the traditional sing-song.

Although a very nice baby grand piano sits in the foyer, the manager said it was too late to play it as the hotel was full (with guests from the BIPA).

However, this didn’t stop the venerable Michael Mates MP, Tory member for East Hampshire and former northern secretary, from negotiating a two-song amnesty.

The former choral scholar at Cambridge wowed the crowd with two offerings, one of which was called Joyce the Librarian:

Joyce the librarian

Strict vegetarian

Forty and living with mum.

Wears sandals and glasses

Attends evening classes

And wonders if romance will come. . .

Fianna Fáil Senator Cecilia Keaveney then accompanied the parliamentarians, mad to sing, with a passionate performance of Danny Boy, before she was closed down.

Cecilia will have moved to the fiddle by tonight.

She’s taking part in a Traditional Music Festival in Moville, and will be belting out the tunes in both Rawdon’s and Rosato’s pub during the evening.

Grounds for a split there, Eamon

Just who did Minister Eamon Ryan have in mind yesterday morning, when he was interviewed by Today FM’s Ray D’Arcy? D’Arcy, the latest broadcaster visited by Eamon in a blizzard of interviews over the preceding 24 hours, asked if he ever looked across the floor at Opposition deputies, thinking some of them are just awful eejits.

To which Eamon replied: “Well, sometimes you don’t have to look across. You can just look around you.” That’s grounds for a split.

Fine Gael proud of its six-humped camel

During a Dáil debate on Wednesday night on unemployment, Fine Gael called on the Government to stimulate the economy by introducing their radical “NewEra” proposals.

Minister Martin Mansergh said he thought it was “an excellent policy discussion document” but he didn’t think it would see the light of day in any FG/Labour coalition.

The party is very proud of NewEra. Mansergh’s rather lofty dismissal upset their deputy for Meath West, Damien English. “I’m sick of this crap!” he huffed.

His frontbench spokesman on communications, energy and natural resources, Simon Coveney, gave the proposals another big plug. He told the House that NewEra “is a stimulus package which focuses on building new infrastructure, something which is not being delivered”. Minister Eamon Ryan, his opposite number, is aware of the plan. “I am thrilled to be able to speak about the NewEra proposal. It would be the quango to end all quangos – the HSE on steroids!”

Young Damien was distraught. “No! No!” he cried. But Eamon could not be convinced. “It would be a bizarre six-humped corporate camel,” he concluded, as English was conveyed, weeping, from the chamber.

He’d be in his element in a tank, that fella

Meanwhile, Mansergh has been long-listed for the vacant job in Defence. (Translation – his name has been mentioned in a few dispatches.) He is geographically well placed (Tipperary South) and gets on well with the Taoiseach. He’d be in his element in a tank and well able to hold his own in the Officers’ Mess.

Mansergh seems to be sailing past all the party intrigue at the moment, keeping out of the various spats in the ranks. He has also maintained a lower profile of late. This culminated in him turning down a request on Tuesday to appear on Vincent Browne’s show, where he regularly, and selflessly, presents for ritual sacrifice.

It was a wise move. Backbencher Timmy Dooley from Clare was savaged instead. Will his bravery be noted by acting Commander-in-Chief, Biffo? In the long-shot event of his elevation to the senior team, Mansergh’s wide-ranging and erudite contributions to Dáil debates would be unfortunately curtailed.

Here he is on Wednesday night, after Sinn Féin’s Arthur Morgan has just lambasted European Monetary Union: “I am somewhat curious about Sinn Féin’s policy in relation to this. In the South it has been against all EU treaties, including the one that established the euro zone, but, in the North, part of its policy is that Northern Ireland should join the euro zone. All human life and policy is about overcoming one’s internal contradictions, of course, as Marx once said, but I would be interested to know how that particular circle is to be squared.” Pink gins all round, chaps!

Some deer more dear than other deer

Senator Paul Coghlan raised the hackles of one of the Green’s new twin babies in the Seanad on Thursday when he declared that Fine Gael is “completely opposed” to John Gormley’s proposed ban on stag hunting. “It is a legitimate and worthwhile country pursuit and a sport that is highly beneficial for tourism. I cannot discern where cruelty is involved,” he said, much to the disgust of Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin.

However, some deer are more dear to Killarney-based Coghlan than others.

“I was startled to learn that he also is contemplating deer culling. I hope the Minister only proposes to cull Sika deer because I would not like to see the native Kerry red being disturbed in any way.” His countyman, Joe O’Toole, backed him up.

Ó Brolcháin bridled on behalf of his leader. “That’s a red herring not a red deer . . . nonsense.” Coghlan, loudly supported by O’Toole, was having none of it.

“It’s not too long since this native species was threatened with extinction. Before any of them are touched or before any move is made, there should be consultation with the Kerry Deer Society.” House Leader Donie Cassidy noted the concern expressed for the Kerry red. “The Bill will be debated in the House later today and this can be discussed when the Minister is present.” Coghlan: “But that’s the Dogs Bill.” Cassidy: “All of this can be discussed when the Minister is present.” Coghlan: “There is a slight difference between dogs and deer.” Cassidy: “The same Minister is responsible for both.”

Donie has a tough job. Red deer, red setters, red herrings, stray dogs and two Kerry blues. No wonder he was confused. So were we, we always thought Joe Higgins was Kerry’s native Red.

Cowen saves the quips for the home ground

Brian Cowen enjoys the cut and thrust of raw politics. Despite having just lost a senior and a junior minister, he’s been in excellent form for the last week or so. Unfortunately for him, his good performances in the Dáil have been overshadowed by the events surrounding his fallen ministers.

On Thursday, he was back home in Tullamore to open a conference exploring How Can Educators Inspire Students to Engage with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths? Before he got the proceedings under way, RTÉ’s midlands correspondent arrived on the scene. The Taoiseach remarked it was great to see the national broadcaster coming along to cover something so early in the morning.

“RTÉ is always interested in science” replied Ciarán Mullooly.

“Huh,” shot back Biffo. “Science fiction, more like.” Everyone cracked up. The Taoiseach fell around the place.

What have they done to annoy him now?

Passport office go-slow, bad news for Mossad

Apparently Mossad have lodged an official complaint with the Department of Foreign Affairs about the go-slow in the Passport office.

Meanwhile, Mark Weiss reported here this week that sales of Mossad-themed T-shirts, available by mail order, have risen tenfold since the Israeli spy agency was linked to last month’s assassination in Dubai of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

One of the team said to have carried out the killing travelled on a false Irish passport under the name of Gail Folliard. Gardaí say she doesn’t exist.

“Despite the fact that Israeli leaders are refusing to confirm or deny Mossad involvement, orders for the garments have flooded in over the past few weeks – from Israelis and particularly from diaspora Jews,” he wrote.

The article received big coverage in the Israeli press. A contributor to a forum on the story in one newspaper said he had just spotted a T-shirt with the slogan: “I slept with Gail Folliard from Ireland and now she doesn’t even return my calls”.

Future Tense? Depends on whose future . . .

Back to the multi-talented Martin Mansergh, we see he is the speaker at tomorrow’s Sunday morning Eucharist in Trinity College Chapel. Future Tenses is the theme of their Lenten Series this year. In the weeks before Easter, six speakers are giving their perspectives on the challenges facing the church in the future.

Mansergh – not to mention the congregation – must be relieved he wasn’t asked to give his perspective on the challenges facing his Government in the future. Lunch would be burned to a crisp.

Still on matters religious and Trinity, we were sorry we couldn’t get to a panel discussion there the other week on 20 Years of Change in Ireland. Unfortunately, it clashed with Willie O’Dea’s big exit.

Chaired by broadcaster Myles Dungan, the event was to reflect on changes in areas such as migration, the Troubles and Ireland’s place in Europe. The e-mail promised lively discussion from a panel which included former taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, George Lee and Ivana Bacik. However, one name on the list was quite intriguing: “Rev Vincent Browne”. Has Vincent, like Sinead O’Connor, taken holy orders? Could it be that our beloved TV3 broadcaster, Irish Times columnist and self-proclaimed atheist/agnostic has become a man of the cloth? (The Rev Browne was showing precious little Christian kindness and charity when he roasted Minister Eamon Ryan on Thursday night.) However, it seems that Vincent’s conversion is down to a production mix-up. The guest was the distinguished theologian, Rev Vincent Twomey.

Sadly, the Rev Vincenzo is a clerical error.