Miriam Lord's Week


Missing the Labour conference; (A)viva Messi; taking office; first for Google; birthday boys; Flanagan’s fashion; Fingers flung out; crude in Cork; TDs clocked

THE WORST thing about being stranded on a sunny Spanish costa last week was missing the Labour Party conference in Galway.

For the Irish marooned by the seaside with only a jug of sangria and a grilled sardine for company, there was just one question on their lips. “What will Eamon Gilmore tell the troops?” Not.

But we’re sorry we weren’t about to wish Michael D Higgins a happy birthday on Sunday. Sixty-nine, and they sang happy birthday to him from the conference platform before launching into the Red Flag.

According to sources, it was a rendition that, like Michael D, seemed to go on for 69 years but didn’t sound half as mellifluous. This column wasn’t the only soldier missing in action during the week. Labour’s Brendan Howlin was stranded in Brussels, so Pat Rabbitte had to respond on his behalf to the debate on the abolition of the Seanad. Pat’s known people to come up with all sorts of excuses to get out of replying to a debate, “but setting off a volcano in Iceland is a new one on me!”

Messi or Rooney? Let’s decide at Lansdowne

They love their football in Spain, as we discovered during our volcano days, where Lionel Messi is all over the media. Is the Argentinian the best footballer in the world? What about Wayne Rooney? What has this to do with politics? Taoiseach Brian Cowen is a sports lover and it will be his pleasant duty in a few weeks time to perform the official opening of the new Lansdowne Road Aviva Stadium.

Sadly, he probably won’t get an opportunity to have a kick-about on the field, as the new turf is still bedding in. The stadium, on the other hand, will be open for conference business and the like. The Taoiseach will also attend a black-tie reception in the stadium after the afternoon opening on May 14th.

Which is where Messi and Rooney come in. Which one is the best? The Irish public will be able to make up its own mind in August, when the two stars will play in Dublin within a week of each other.

It had been expected that the first match staged in the new stadium would be a friendly between Argentina and the Republic of Ireland. However, the FAI has pulled off a nice coup by securing Manchester United to play against an Airtricity League of Ireland selection the week before.

The deal has been signed, and Rooney et al will be in town for a midweek match in the first week of August as part of their series of pre-season friendlies.

The Taoiseach should be there, but we hear that Bertie Ahern will definitely be there. His seat is there for him, so he can gaze out over the wonderful virgin turf, across the city to Abbotstown, where his Bertie Bowl might have once have been, had Michael McDowell not made the government see sense.

Filling McDowell’s office, if not his shoes

Apropos McDowell, his old constituency office at the Ranelagh triangle is now under the command of up-and-coming FG councillor and candidate in Dublin South East, Eoghan Murphy.

The office has been repainted in Blueshirt colours, while the ambitious new incumbent noticed that McDowell left behind files that are confidentially bound, waxed and stored away for shredding/collection. Eoghan has promised not to peep.

Competition is tough in Dublin South East – not least among the FG young bloods, where Lucinda Creighton is currently queen bee. But with his acquisition of the old McDowell headquarters, the ambitious Murphy has signalled his intention of having a few rumbles in Ranelagh of his own.

Labour demand Clegg treatment for Gilmore

The Labour Party has been watching the success of Nick Clegg across the water in the TV debates. While both Gordon Brown and David Cameron are coming in for flak for agreeing to allow the Lib Dem leader out to play with them, Clegg’s presence on the platform has catapulted him into the big time.

In the wake of Clegg’s success, party mandarins fired off a letter to RTÉ, demanding that Eamon Gilmore be allowed take part in a three-way leaders’ debate in the next election.

Meanwhile, at party headquarters, they are being plagued with requests from journalists from all over the world to arrange interviews with Brown, Mandelson et al. “When you google Labour, the Irish Labour Party comes up first. Journalists have us driven demented at this stage, as the election hots up.

“Peter Mandelson seems to be the man everyone wants to talk to. If this goes on, we’ll put Willie Penrose on the phone the next time someone asks to speak to him.”

Energetic Enda in the saddle as he turns 59

It’s a bit happy birthday today to both Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, who are 59 and 55 respectively. Enda will mark entering into his 60th year by doing a 100km charity cycle around Mayo on May 1st. It’s in aid of breast cancer research. Eamon will mark the milestone probably by getting more angry in the Dáil. And let us not forget former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, who is hale and hearty and recently celebrated his 90th.

Fine Gael fashion victims still struttin’

A spate of deputies have taken to the catwalk recently in charity fashion shows. We had Fine Gael pups Leo and Lucinda modelling the latest ranges from Arnott’s at the Mansion House a few weeks ago, while their colleague Olwyn Enright looked stunning on Tuesday when modelling a little red dress at the launch of Buy My Dress 2010 in aid of the Down Syndrome Centre.

In fact, they’ve gone clothes mad in Fine Gael. None other that Charlie Flanagan is the latest fashion victim, who modelled the Shaws summer casual collection at a charity event on Wednesday.

It was held in the Heritage Golf and Country Hotel in Laois in aid of the Irish Wheelchair Association and Charlie told us afterwards “I’d go in before Miriam O’Callaghan on Prime Timea hundred times before doing that again.” He paraded about in “jackets, slacks, jumpers and suits and at one point I think I reminded the audience of Bertie Ahern during his canary yellow trouser period. I didn’t wait around for the swimsuit section.”

We believe he went down a storm with the mainly female crowd. One observer reports that their reaction was “of Tom Jones standard”. So were they flinging knickers at him? “I can neither confirm nor deny the underwear reports because the spotlights were too strong and I wasn’t able to identify what was flying about” says Charlie, who was nearly blinded by a Wonderbra.

Mary Hanafin hopes to repeat her triumph of last year when she is one of the celebrity models in Cuala GAA club’s fundraising fashion show tonight. Brendan Courtney of Off The Rails fame is compering the show, which starts in Killiney Castle Hotel at 8pm.

Clubbable Fingers not to everyone’s taste

Over the years, former Irish Nationwide boss Michael Fingleton has often been spotted in Leinster House. The clubbable Fingers was often seen in the company of Fianna Fáil deputies, particularly in the 1980s.

However, his presence wasn’t appreciated by everyone. We hear that in 1987, Fingers was dining with a number of political acquaintances in the members’ restaurant. In the course of the evening, he made a comment to two Fine Gael deputies at an adjoining table. It was something to do with the recent election.

They found it deeply offensive and immediately contacted the Leinster House authorities. Fingleton was then escorted from the restaurant and from the building by a number of ushers. We understand he was then blacklisted from the premises for three months. It seems that the incident may not be on record, going on our inquiries yesterday. However, there were a number of witnesses on the night who tell us that the deputies who were insulted were former minister for justice Paddy Cooney and Seán Barrett TD.

Given that both men are members of Fine Gael, it is probably safe to assume that Fingers must have been signed into Leinster House by a politician from Fianna Fáil.

Members can make a complaint against a visitor they deem to be behaving badly and, once it is considered by the authorities, that person can be removed from the premises. Depending on the nature of the infringement, a ban might be imposed on that individual for an unspecified amount of time.

Did he not know there were ladies present?

Reports have reached us of the annual Fianna Fáil president’s dinner in Cork last weekend, and a rather bizarre night it seemed to be.

The dinner is a big fundraiser for the party and one of the highlights of the FF social calendar. Tickets for this year’s event, held at Moran’s Silver Springs Hotel, cost €150 each. Guest of honour was Taoiseach Brian Cowen, with the saintly Micheál Martin leading the charge of Cork’s finest.

The Taoiseach gave a 20-minute address designed to rally the troops and the reply was delivered by Cork businessman Dermot Walsh, one of the organisers. Dermot does the honours every year with an eagerly anticipated speech which is usually on the knockabout side of light-hearted.

However, one guest was so disgusted by what she heard that she dashed off an e-mail to Cork 96FM’s Neil Prendeville show on Monday morning. Prendeville read it out on air. The woman, who asked not to be identified, said she was one of a handful of females at the dinner. “It was a very male-dominated event – it always is,” she wrote. To start with, she wasn’t overly enthused by Biffo’s efforts. “He was dull, uninspiring and very weak.” But it was the reply from Walsh which particularly annoyed her. “The speech was crude and full of sexual innuendo,” she claimed. “It was far from funny, and most of his guests, who were mainly men, felt that it was well over the top.”

She recalled the speaker saying “that people should try and find out whether the Taoiseach would fit at the table” and “was there any chance that Dermot could measure him down below so to see if he was comfortable”. It certainly made for arresting radio.

The e-mail continued: “He went on with more old s***e about the size of the Taoiseach.”

We contacted two guests, both male, who attended the function, but didn’t wish to be identified. One explained that the “down below” reference came about because the organisers had earlier been joking about the size of the table, which was quite low, and how the Taoiseach would manage to sit at it.

“There was a lot of sexual innuendo in Der Walsh’s reply” he said. When asked if he saw Cowen’s reaction, he said “There was no laughter from him.” He said some people were “a bit stunned” by some of the speech, but felt that in trying to be entertaining, the speaker misjudged the tone. “It was like a men-only gig.” The Taoiseach’s wife didn’t attend the dinner.

Another Cork businessman who attended said “there was nothing malicious in it. It was intended to be funny. I thought it was funny, although I didn’t hear all of it because he went on a bit and we were talking among ourselves a lot of the time.” He preferred to see the funny side and found the whole thing hilarious, but he knew “certain people were offended”. Ned O’Keeffe, the deputy for Cork East, was among the local politicians at the event. “I didn’t notice anything unusual. Sure it’s like that every year,” he told us.

No fobbing off the FoI requests on this one

The new clocking-in regime for TDs and Senators has been causing great angst for many in Leinster House, but a new twist in the saga has left critics of the system absolutely seething.

On Thursday, they got a letter informing them that request number 403 under the Freedom of Information Act has been granted to an unnamed petitioner. The information sought is to be released on April 30th.

The request is for the attendance records of TDs and Senators during the first two weeks of the new system, overall figures relating to the attendance and non-attendance for TDs and Senators in that period and a breakdown of who was, and was not, in attendance.

“This fobbing thing is causing blue murder,” a rural deputy tells us, referring to the small device they must use to register attendance. “Phone calls and meetings are already going on since this letter arrived. Next week’s parliamentary party meetings will be hot and heavy.” Notification that the request had been granted arrived with each politician’s individual record attached.

“Nobody envisaged this happening, but now that our attendance is computerised it’s going to provide a whole new area for journalists to examine. It’s pure daft – how will anyone get re-elected if they have to spend so much time above in Leinster House? They won’t be able to get away for as much as a dog-fight or a funeral.” As for the members of the Oireachtas Commission – who agreed to the introduction of the new system – their popularity has plummeted even further.

Ears will be burning over the weekend.