Miriam Lord's week


Bertie in the kitchen; Bill's turn; heralding change?; out of the chip pan; Leo liofa

WE’RE STILL in shock. A friend rang to try to explain it, but he was talking such nonsense we thought he was drunk.

“Bertie Ahern in a kitchen press with vegetables, drinking a cup of tea and sounding funny, doing an ad for the News of the World with a packet of gingernuts.” Then we saw it.

It’s true. We watched the former taoiseach in the Dáil on Wednesday night, in for the votes on the first day back. He had a neatly folded copy of the Financial Times under his arm. Saw him again, in the sunshine on the plinth the following day, Black Thursday. Not a bother on him. From a safe distance, people were pointing him out and saying very unkind things. Couldn’t blame them, what with the jaw-dropping news about the cost of the bank bailouts. Bertie was in charge when his good friend Seanie and his compadres beggared a generation.

And there he was last night on the telly, gurning for the camera in an advert for the News of the World, looking and sounding like Drumcondra’s answer to Rodney Dangerfield.

A punter opens various doors in his kitchen to find NOTW stars looking back at him. One of them is the former taoiseach, who is now working two jobs to make ends meet in this awful recession. He’s in a cupboard, a confined space, about as small as a safe in

St Luke’s. “Never tawd I’d end up here. But I’ve dah laydest on today’s big match,” he rattles out when the door opens, looking up from between the comestibles.

“Love, will you finish the breakfast . . .” is the punchline from the clearly unnerved punter. They left out the rest. “Because I’m goin’ to be sick.”

A little hoarse

Bill Clinton looked a million dollars yesterday in his dark brown suit, natty tan shoes, pale blue shirt and Kelly green tie. Brian Cowen positively glowed beside him. Or perhaps it was just the glare from Bill’s tie. They looked a picture on the steps of Government Buildings. Even the sun came out.

The Taoiseach seemed a little starstruck by his celebrity guest, which was rather touching.

“It was a great pleasure to have him on a one-on-one for an hour. It was a wonderful occasion, a very memorable occasion,” gurgled the Biff, who hasn’t had many memorable occasions of late.

We were glad for him.

Then it was Bill’s turn to speak.

He cleared his throat, then apologised for his tone of voice. “I said many words yesterday, and, uh, I’m a little hoarse,” he drawled, to a chorus of suffocated snorts and sniggers from the press corps.

Over to one side, the Government press secretary slowly closed his eyes and heaved a deep sigh. Not a flinch from Biffo.

Of course, the former president wasn’t to know the significance of morning-after hoarseness and our Taoiseach. He will have assumed that his legendary charm, not a fit of the giggles, was making the ladies of the press swoon.

Congratulations, by the way, to broadcaster Chris Donoghue of Newstalk, who managed to bag an exclusive interview with the charismatic Clinton on Thursday night for his breakfast show.

The dogged Donoghue disregarded the icy glares of Clinton’s minders, who instructed him to stick to a couple of non-controversial topics, and managed to get him talking about our economic crisis. It sounds like a surreal encounter. “He was really intense, leaning in very close. We were standing up, facing each other, and he kept tapping me on the chest as he spoke. Then, every time he made a point, he took a step to his right, so I had to hop around to follow with the microphone. It looked like we were dancing.”

Dogs’ dinner

Animal rights activists are partial to a bit of protesting. But only, it seems, when they are the ones doing the shouting.

The Green Party is holding its Animal Welfare Dinner and fundraiser at a “Dublin City Centre location” on Monday night, but a party spokesman says they are not willing to disclose the venue as it is a private function.

It was to have been held in the secure environs of the Members Restaurant in Leinster House, but that plan fell through.

The €55-a-head dinner is “to mark the recent achievements in the area of animal welfare, particularly the ban on stag hunting and the regulation of dog breeding establishments. These changes will be followed later in the year by a new Animal Welfare Bill.”

The event is booked out. Guests will enjoy a four-course meal “as close as possible” to what was on the original Leinster House menu. It includes lentil and bean soup or Cashel Blue gateaux with pickled pears; galette of wild mushroom or baked salmon with cucumber and mint and dark chocolate mousse with Irish Mist. Followed by a speech from John Gormley. Such a pity we won’t be around for the celebrations in the lovely Eden Restaurant in Temple Bar’s Meeting House Square.


Bold assertion

Raised eyebrows around Leinster House yesterday when politicians saw Conor Lenihan’s column in the Evening Herald.

Two passages caught people’s attention. “In the public eye, the politicians have still not got down to brass tacks on reforming public services. If progress is not made soon, it will probably signal the end of the Croke Park agreement and the partnership process as we know it,” writes Lenihan.

Such comments about the agreement from a Government figure were being described by some observers of the industrial relations scene as “unprecedented”. And Conor’s bold assertion that “the certainty of an election is drawing closer” also caused a few ripples. Was Conor channelling a higher authority or was he, as most assumed, off on a frolic of his own?

Living the dream

It’s non-stop glamour in Government – all those fancy receptions and exotic locations and exciting opportunities. Michael Finneran, Minister of State for Housing and Local Services, is certainly living the dream.

Take this Monday, when Michael is at the Dublin Fire Brigade Centre to launch National Fire Safety Week. Ministers love the fire brigade because they can sit up front in the big red engine and have their photograph taken wearing a yellow helmet. But Monday’s event sounds particularly thrilling – so much so that the organisers have asterisked it. The official invitation trumpets: Included in the launch will be a *Chip Pan Fire Demonstration*. It doesn’t get much better than that, Michael.

Back-bending backbenchers

The Greens have always been mad for the yoga. Given their ability to perform complicated handstands while turning a blind eye to the actions of their senior Government partners, we have always suspected that yoga is practised during parliamentary party meetings.

Obviously, Paul Gogarty’s celebrated floor routine during a constituency protest meeting a couple of years ago added to our suspicion. He merely forgot where he was when it happened, believing he was back in the party rooms at one of their regular conscience-stretching sessions. Favourites are sure to include the Plank Pose, the Cobbler’s Pose and, when the pressure is really on, the Supine Spinal Twist. But attempts to encourage their flabby Fianna Fáil partners to incorporate yoga into their parliamentary meetings have not been successful, apart, that is, from the Standing Split.

On Monday, the Green Party leader was asked by the media what should be done to keep the Government together. Introducing the Gormley Pose: deputies need to “have steel in their spines, hold their heads and knuckle down” while “stepping up to the plate that is the set menu of the programme for government.” Physically challenging, you will agree. The backbenchers will never go for it.

Bringing little to the table

It’s a case of all shoulders to the wheel in this time of crisis, with Government Ministers selflessly jetting off to far-flung destinations to sell Brand Ireland to the world. But while the Taoiseach is busy preaching positivity on the international jobs and trade front, distressing news reaches us from Brussels. On Tuesday, Brian Cowen launched an ambitious five-year integrated plan for trade, tourism and investment. The occasion was heaving with Ministers and big noises from the semi-States. But while he was talking up a storm in Dublin, a perfect opportunity to showcase Brand Ireland was under way in Brussels, where an international food fair involving all 27 EU states was in full swing in the bustling forecourt of the EU Parliament building.

“It was a really lovely event, with a carnival atmosphere and lots of stands packed with traditional food and drink,” Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins tells us. “I had some gorgeous bread and cheese at the French stand, followed by a nice glass of wine.” Grazing happily, Jim, his staff and some French colleagues then sampled the delights on offer at the Italian stall.

The Irish effort was sandwiched between these two giants of the culinary world. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a big sign up saying ‘Ireland’ but no food. Two Chinese students appeared to be on duty at the stall. I asked them, in French, what was happening. They said ‘the Irish didn’t bring the food’. The table was covered in very poor quality oilcloth and on it was a little plastic tricolour, a few business cards for Kitty Ó Sé’s pub and an empty bottle of Murphy’s stout. I was so embarrassed.”

The MEP for Ireland North West says his office contacted the event’s organiser, Delphine Bourgeois, who informed them she had been told that because of “the cutbacks in Ireland” it would not be possible to staff or stock an Irish stall.

Higgins rushed out a press release. “This was an ideal opportunity to showcase Irish food which was wasted (sic). I would like to think we can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in Europe and the world. Even Greece, the economic basket-case of Europe, had an exotic stand.”

Bord Bia contacted his office yesterday to say they were unaware that the food fair was taking place. But what we want to know is: who drank the bottle of Murphy’s? But when you come to think of it, maybe no food and an empty beer bottle just about sums up the state we’re in at the moment.

He’s a tá sé

When Leo Varadkar sets his mind to something, he likes to finish the job. Deputy Doc Varadkar was among a large group of politicians who signed up for Irish-language classes in Leinster House a year ago. Few bothered to keep up with their lessons – Leo and Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan are the two who stayed the pace, with FG TD Ulick Burke an occasional pupil.

Practice pays off, as we discovered when we recognised Leo’s tones on radio recently and realised he was doing an interview, as Gaeilge, on public service pay rates. “Did you hear it?” he asks, chuffed. “I did my first one during the heave. I was talking in my baby pidgin Irish on Nuacht last week. I believe anyone who is a member of the national parliament should be able to speak Irish.” He says Enda Kenny has started texting him in Irish. Maybe his leader is just trying to be encouraging, or maybe he’s getting paranoid . . .

Move that camera!

Li Chang Chun, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, was in Dublin for an official visit at the beginning of the week.

Upon arrival, Mr Li and his large entourage made straight for Johnnie Fox’s pub in the Dublin mountains, where they dined in the Main Hooley Room on lamb shank and Irish whiskey cake. Security was tight for the visit of China’s powerful head of propaganda, who was accompanied by a 40-strong Chinese security team and nearly as many Garda members. The 120 guests were entertained by a ballad group and a full Irish dance show.

The next day, Li had a meeting with Brian Cowen. The Chinese delegation went next door to the museum. After their visit, they emerged back into the Leinster House car park via a side gate. This meant they didn’t have to pass protesters outside on the footpath. Meanwhile, TV3’s Ursula Halligan and camerawoman Naomi Seale were sitting on the plinth, minding their own business, waiting for Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd to arrive for interview. One of the member of the Chinese delegation walked across to them, speaking into his sleeve.

He glared at the two women. They smiled back. Then he jabbed a finger at the camera and tripod. “Move your camera!” he barked.

“Beg your pardon?”


Ursula was having none of it. “Who are you? I certainly will not. Who are you?” Another member of the propaganda chief’s entourage raced over. “Misunderstanding! Misunderstanding!” he cried, smiling fixedly at the nonplussed reporter and camerawoman as he propelled away his scowling colleague.

We may complain here about having to put up with uppity media handlers and politicians who have lost the run of themselves, but thing could be a lot more worse.

Pole to poll

Never mind all those comparisons with female politicians and Sarah Palin. Enda Kenny is Ireland’s political equivalent of TV globetrotter Michael Palin, famous for his travel series Pole to Pole. As for Enda, he is now seen as living from poll to poll.

Rough ride

Eamon Gilmore may be flavour of the month at the moment, but he can be a bit frosty at times. Gilmore got a rough enough ride at the National Ploughing Championships the other week, when he had to defend the loss of women from his party with the forthcoming exit of Mary Upton, Liz McManus and, as some wags suggested, Michael D, who is determined to become the new Mother of the Nation by breaking the presidential stranglehold of the Marys. (Labour’s deputy for Dublin South Central is now being referred to by some as Mary Upton Gone.)

Given that the party intends to run at least 65 candidates in the general election and aims to win a seat in every constituency, it didn’t go unnoticed that the party had no stand at the rural festival. Irish Times agricultural correspondent Seán Mac Connell, decided to hop the ball. “So Labour is here at the Ploughing Championships, and you’re homeless and have no women,” said he to Eamon. Whereupon Gilmore, wearing his very serious Leaders’ Questions face, thundered “That is a very cynical statement!” Poor Seán had to explain he was only joking, while a Fine Gael handler on the fringes skulked back to the mothership muttering: “I was going to offer him a corner in our marquee, but I’m afraid now.”