Miriam Lord's Week


‘Mammy’ O’Rourke has a swipe at Kenny; Taoiseach’s iPhone is missing; O’Dea criticises ‘Irish Times’; jarvey issue not dung and dusted

Biffo poaches Martin’s right-hand woman

The Taoiseach has cheekily poached Micheál Martin’s right-hand woman in the Department of Foreign affairs and installed her as a special adviser in Government Buildings.

A former nurse at Cork University Hospital, the straight-talking Deirdre Gillane was a union official with the Irish Nurses Organisation before becoming Martin’s policy adviser at the Department of Health in 2000. She is recognised as a shrewd political strategist and was very involved in the second Lisbon Treaty campaign.

“When the rest of us hope to be two or three steps ahead of the situation, Deirdre’s usually six or seven steps down the road,” said one colleague. “She is very hands on and very calm. There’s no ego either – I can see why Brian Cowen would want her on his team.”

An FF staffer describes how she was clear-headed and focused during the last general election when panic was breaking out on all fronts in Fianna Fáil campaign headquarters. Ironically, the other cool head in that crisis was Brian Cowen, who is credited with turning the election around for the party.

The Taoiseach’s newest adviser starts on Monday. Meanwhile, there are some whispers that Micheál, who is due to return this weekend from a visit to China, is feeling a little Shanghaied by the boss. Gillane’s departure will be a big loss to him.

The appointment is being interpreted as further evidence of a shift in direction by the Taoiseach, who is apparently in the middle of mounting yet another “fightback”. Although at this stage, he’s had more reported makeovers than Madonna and enough attempted image changes to weary even his most ardent supporters.

Seven-thousand-word speeches to Chambers of Commerce do not a new man make. But there are indications that some vital signs still remain in Cowen’s leadership.

Maybe the heavyweight addition of Deirdre Gillane to Biffo’s team will make a difference.

When we see him in the Dáil canteen clutching an apple (a la Micheál) and bewailing the absence of bananas, we’ll know she’s making a difference.

O’Rourke draws first blood as FF attack Inda

Another indication of a shift in tactics in Government Buildings is an increase in attacks on Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. (At least that’s what some disgruntled FG people are telling us.) The Taoiseach has been more combative of late during their exchanges, but what are we to make of Mary O’Rourke’s exquisite handling of the stiletto during her recent appearance on the Late Late Show? Tubridy: “What about Enda Kenny – future taoiseach by all accounts?” “What do you want me to say about him?” asks the incorrigible Mammy, adopting a rather shocked demeanour before venturing an opinion.

“I think he’s dull,” she declared, as the audience cheered. “But nice.” So Tubridy says it’s “really mean” to call somebody “dull”. As everyone laughs, Mammy murmurs “Ah no, no. But it is the truth.” And so on, with Tubridy playing the straight guy to a knockabout O’Rourke as she praises the Taoiseach to high heaven and everyone giggles over poor Inda.

To say they are livid in Fine Gael would be an understatement. And as nice Mammy O’Rourke hooted with laughter and talked of not getting any sparks from the man who said he would electrify his party, FG grandees the length of the country choked on their post-prandial ports.

While accepting Kenny is “good for organising” and “cheerful”, she said “he wouldn’t be the kind of guy I’d like to go out for a night with – for dinner or a drink”. And the audience, in stitches, applauded again.

“Oh, thanks for the clap,” said Mammy. (You can just imagine what irate FG supporters were saying to their tellies at that point.) “I really thought I had done wrong.” Oh, no she hadn’t.

Absolutely livid, they are, in Fine Gael. Not least because Enda, like the Taoiseach, is great company over a pint.

O’Dea defensive about coverage in ‘Irish Times’

TDs are still fuming over their flippin’ fobs.

A backbencher tells us there was “an almighty row” at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting during the week when some TDs demanded that the members of the Oireachtas Commission be sacked for their part in introducing the reviled clocking-in device.

The opposition came from the long-distance TDs who are angry at having to attend Leinster House on non-sitting days to accumulate enough days to claim their full expenses. Tipperary’s Mattie McGrath led the chorus of complaints, along with Beverley Flynn, Noel Treacy and Timmy Dooley.

Former ceann comhairle John O’Donoghue was particularly vocal on the issue, making a very strong speech. He also commented that if he retired from the Dáil now, he’d make more money than if he waited until after the next election.

Meanwhile, former minister for defence Willie O’Dea is still nursing ill-feelings towards The Irish Times. He’s under the impression that a squad of Tara Street troops deliberately took him out because he’s a culchie.

In a video interview this week with Colm Coomey of the Limerick Post (you can see it on the internet) he says the last few months since he lost his Cabinet position have been “difficult and tough,” but he’s “basically recovering”. His anger at this newspaper – “supposedly a respectable middle of the road newspaper, allegedly not aligned to any particular political persuasion” – hasn’t mellowed in the interim.

“I’m very very disappointed in The Irish Times,” he says. Apparently we presented “a false image of the whole thing from start to finish”. As he sees it, “ The Irish Timestakes a view that if you’re not sort of liberal, sort of slightly left – or maybe even more of a slightly left Dublin 4 type, intellectual, eh, pseudo intellectual, speaking with the right type of accent, that you’re some sort of a troglodyte up from the country whose views don’t deserve to be given any serious consideration. That’s a very false image, it’s very, very wrong.” As for FF backbenchers, “their views are ridiculed and rubbished by The Irish Timessimply because they don’t like where they’re coming from.” However, if “mainstream media” persist in this sort of carry on they’ll get their comeuppance from the new media, predicted Willie, noting the popularity of bloggers and the like. “It’s the sort of journalism that will hasten the decline of the print media.” Personally, I blame Madam (Tipperary), not to mention Stephen Collins (lifelong supporter of Limerick hurling), Harry McGee (Galway) Deaglán de Bréadún (Wexford) Mary Minihan (Derry) and that Muriel Lard (De Nortside).

As for Seán O’Rourke, who tore Willie “I don’t think I deserved to be sacked” O’Dea to shreds on the News at One, he comes from the west of Ireland and eats pseudo-intellectuals for breakfast. Troglodytes, the lot of ’em.

Never mind. At least the Sunday Indo, when Willie does his weekly best to halt the decline of the print medium, remains faithful.

Greens badger FF into motorway concessions

Some people have been asking what concessions the Greens actually got from Fianna Fáil when they renegotiated the programme for government.

The answer was revealed yesterday in the glossy brochure distributed to media at the opening of the new Portlaoise to Cullahill stretch of the M7. “Otter ledges were installed beneath the motorway to allow small mammals such as badgers and foxes to cross it safely.” Another coup for Gormley.

Cowen was in great form when he cut the ribbon on the last stretch of the Dublin to Cork motorway. He always cheers up when he’s on home turf.

By the way, has he lost his trendy iPhone? When he was in America for St Patrick’s Day, Biffo was boasting about how great it was to be able to watch rugby matches on his new iPhone, but when his phone rang on Wednesday while he was speaking in the Dáil, the gadget he fished out of his pocket was the battered old Nokia he’s had for years.

Enda Kenny didn’t notice as he was busy tapping away on his iPhone. He wasn’t tweeting – since he joined Twitter, his output has been rather sparse, but is to be welcomed. Maybe Dan Boyle should follow his example.

Trevor from a family of fighting Sargents

Trevor Sargent is not the first member of his family to endure the heat of battle and bail out under fire. The Green Party TD’s uncle on his mother’s side, Gerald Flower, also falls into this category although his experiences were even more scarifying than his nephew’s.

As a young fella living on Donore Avenue in Dublin in 1942, Gerald joined Britain’s Royal Air Force and became a tailgunner on a Lancaster bomber. The plane was shot down over the Netherlands in 1944, but Gerald parachuted to safety.

He was taken prisoner by the Germans and brought to POW camp Stalag Luft 3A in Breslau, on the Polish border. As the Russians advanced from the east, Gerald was one of 1,600 prisoners who marched some 200 miles to another camp near Berlin: only 1,400 survived the trek. Demobbed in 1946, he returned home but emigrated 10 years later to Canada where he still lives, a hale and hearty 86 years of age. Gerald visited the Dáil during the week with Trevor.

Speaking during the visit, he said of the modestly smiling Trevor: “He’s one of the best nephews I’ve ever had. I’m proud of him: I love his garden and I like his honesty.”

Green issue confuses north Dublin residents

They’re a bit confused out Portmarnock way at the moment. Averil Power, who is a local Fianna Fáil representative in Dublin North East, has taken up the cudgels on behalf of residents who are angry at Fingal County Council’s decision not to cut the grass in a number of local green areas.

“Fingal has decided on this policy of turning a lot of green spaces into wildflower meadows. In some, the grass is already at knee height. The big problem is in estates – the children can’t play on their green anymore.”

To this end, she has launched a petition and was out knocking on the doors with it during the week. However, as she handed out leaflets headed “Save our Green!” a number of householders thought she was running a campaign on behalf of Trevor Sargent. People wanted to know what was wrong with him.

“One woman closed the door on us, saying she was never going to vote for the Greens. We kept saying ‘but we’re not from the Greens’. She wouldn’t listen.” Others couldn’t understand why Fianna Fáilers – Averil missed out on a council seat in the last election – were being so good to their Coalition partners.

The petition, confusion notwithstanding, now stands at over 200 signatures and Power says she will be out with it again tomorrow. This time it will be headed “Save our parks!”

Seanad clerk has golfing skills down to a tee

Congratulations to Deirdre Lane, clerk of the Seanad and a very useful golfer indeed.

This year, the annual captain’s prize of the Oireachtas Golf Society passed without incident. There were ructions inside and outside Leinster House after the 2009 event, when Seanad leader and Oireachtas society secretary Donie Cassidy was accused of abandoning a sitting of the Seanad so he could play golf with the President’s husband.

To avoid any such unpleasantness the competition was held on Monday in the Castle Golf Club, Rathfarnham, golfing home of Tom Kitt TD, this year’s captain. And Deirdre got first prize, the first woman to do so.

FG Senator kicks up a stink about horse dung

Senator Paul Coghlan fought the good fight on behalf of the jarveys of Killarney until the High Court put paid to their nappy-dodging days. But now that the pony and trap merchants in the Kingdom have to fit “equine sanitation devices” to their horses, Paul feels it’s time for their counterparts working the Dublin tourist trail to do the same.

“The smell of dung around St Stephen’s Green during the hot weather would knock out an elephant,” says Senator Coghlan. If it’s good enough for Kerry, it’s good enough for Dublin. “Killarney has led the way in relation to this issue. It is now up to the Minister to ensure that all operators are on an equal footing by ensuring that dung catchers are worn across the board.” Worn across the board, Paul? We thought they were worn across the ar . . eh, bottom.