MIRIAM LORD'S WEEK
The travels of El Bert; won’t someone think of the ducklings?; Sound off to the Greens; Gogarty not on the up; Fine Gael’s Munster alpha males; Hobnobbing in Nobber; garrison games at Sinn Féin
GOVERNMENTS IN developing countries have been warned that a smooth-talking Irish charmer who tours the globe peddling the secrets of Ireland’s great economic success is a wanted man at home for running the country into the ground.
He is described as a ruddy-faced Dubliner with pale yellow trousers and a limp, who has a particular fondness for money. Using a technique he developed known as “smokes and dagger”, this man impresses unwitting audiences with a Celtic Tiger-taming routine.
But what they don’t know, as they sign up in their droves for Bertie Ahern’s exciting performance, is that the wretched tiger is actually dead, completely stuffed and giving off a very nasty smell.
Former taoiseach Ahern and his mangy tiger were in Central America this week, delivering a keynote lecture to the Honduran National Business Council. It was entitled The Celtic Tiger: The Irish Model of Development.
We are not making this up.
Back in Ireland, as politicians bickered while the economy spiralled further out of control; as the banking system went into meltdown and citizens took to the streets in protest, there was no sign of the man who took the nation from boom to bust, leaving others to deal with the resultant mess.
Lucky Bertie was being feted in Tegucigalpa, capital city of Honduras. He was star turn on Thursday night in the 700-seater La Concordia ballroom of the Marriot Hotel, telling the great and good of Honduras how to replicate the great economic magic he worked back home.
Tickets were $150, dress code was “formal suits” and cocktails were served after Senor Bertie’s speech.
An advert in the Spanish-language La Tribunanewspaper alerted business movers and shakers to the Ahern visit. “From Confrontation to Dialogue; From Dialogue to Development” was the heading, with a photo of El Bert smiling out at them.
It said: “Nothing about the dramatic situation in the Republic of Ireland at the start of the 20th century – with their recently acquired independence, hurt by tragic levels of inflation, massive emigration and alarming levels of unemployment – could have foretold their sudden transformation from ‘the Cinderella of Europe’ to what we now know as ‘the Celtic Tiger’.
“The current situation in our country, with more similarities than differences to Ireland’s starting point, has motivated the Honduran National Business Council to initiate a profound process of reflection, aiming to build, through social dialogue . . . an encouraging future for Honduras.
“We have the honour and pleasure to invite you to listen to a lecture by former prime minister Bertie Ahern – driver of the Irish Economic Model.” (Into the ground, they neglected to add.)
This public-speaking lark is turning into a nice little earner for the small to medium enterprise that is now Senor Bertie, TD SME, who must view his substantial Dáil salary and pension as little more than a sideline.
Mind you, if he’s so good, why isn’t he helping out back home? For while Bertie drags the mouldering carcass of “El Tigre Celta” around to heavily indebted poor countries such as Honduras (for a fee), the people of Ireland are trying to deal with “El Burro Celta” he left in its place.
We can only hope he didn’t “volcar la tarta de manzana” by telling his Central American audience that “los tiempos de boom se hacen mas boomier”. Qué caradura! (Or what a neck, as they say in Honduras.)
Shoulda declared nothing at departures
Life is certainly sweet for Bertie Ahern at the moment. This week, Tegucigalpa. Last week, New York. Apparently, while in the Big Apple (La Gran Manzana), he addressed international real estate investors who are interested in investing in construction projects in Ireland.
While embattled Brian Cowen struggles to impose some sense of order to our crumbling financial system, Bertie was reportedly mobbed by supporters in a jammed immigration area at Dublin airport. In the middle of the delirium, Senor Bertie barrelled over to a group of Dubs in departures.
“Howaya lads. Off to New York to do the shoppin’, wha?” To which came the reply: “Shoppin’?” Indignant pause. “Shoppin’, Bertie? We’re effin’ leavin’!”
On the march again with Bertie
Still with El Bert, who is cover boy on the first issue of Life & Times,Eircom’s latest green bin fodder. The little pamphlet, tucked up with phone bills, includes a short feature called “Catching up with Bertie”. And no, it’s not an interview with Des O’Neill of the Mahon tribunal.
Bertie is asked “What is your favourite means of communication to stay in touch?” Carrier pigeon, smoke signals, semaphore, perhaps? “Mobile phone is really the way I communicate when I am on the move,” says El Bert, adding “I will be branching into e-mails soon.”
He is asked what he likes to watch on television: “I like wildlife programmes, so the March of the Penguinswill always be a great favourite of mine. I also received a gift of the BBC documentary series, The Planetand, although it’s not a film as such, it is something I enjoyed very much.” David Attenborough on Planet Bertie. Now there’s a Bafta award in the making.
Sitting ducks at Leinster House
That time of year is coming around again, when little baby ducks appear on the two Leinster House ponds and are promptly eaten by seagulls.
A harrowing time for Oireachtas staff, who watch the body count rise until the duckling are no more.
Last spring, following a magnificent and courageous campaign by this column, a handful of survivors were rescued by the Parks and Wildlife Service and repatriated to Tallaght.
Now, following a number of sightings of drakes around Leinster House, Minister for the Environment John Gormley has ordered that a crisis strategy be put in place immediately for Duck ’09.
At the moment, the ducks are getting jiggy with each other above in St Stephen’s Green. Couples are looking out for some real estate in the vicinity where they can settle down. (Rents in the area are horrendous, which explains why so many ducks want to live in the subsided plots around Leinster House.)
“Nest boxes are being actively examined for the families on the pond in Leinster Lawn. They are particularly open and vulnerable to attack,” a department spokesperson tells us.
But will the ducks be able to avail of Eamon Ryan’s new insulation package? “Eh, no. They have their own insulation, which is why, when you cook a duck, you have enough fat left over to roast the spuds.”
Meanwhile, over at the water feature outside the coffee dock in the Leinster House 2000 annex, workers anxiously await the new arrivals. The babies can’t be removed too soon, it seems, so timing is critical.
“The National Parks and Wildlife Service is monitoring the situation and will move in when necessary. The Minister is hopeful that Duck ’09 will have a happy ending.”
Green manifesto for song-writing success
Moving from ducks to turkeys, there is no truth in the rumour that Dustin has been approached by the Green Party to front an Irish entry for the European Greenvision 2009 song contest.
Here’s the brief: “The theme of the song should be about the environmental, social and economic challenges of today’s world and the need for the real green solutions to be urgently applied.
“The party’s manifesto summary should, as much as possible, be reflected in the lyrics.
“The song should also be imbued with the spirit and positivity of our solution-based policies. The main language of the song has to be English so that it can be used throughout the EU.”
Entrants are encouraged to be inventive and original, and the style of the music can be anything from hip-hop to folk to rock and everything in between.
John Waters should submit his entry in MP3 format to szilvia. firstname.lastname@example.org Here’s a suggested title. How about Water(saving)loo?
Greens refuse to get down to (Order of) Business
It’s been a tough week for the Greens. Enda Kenny mocked their two Ministers during the week for being absent so often from Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil. He said John Gormley and Eamon Ryan were “superglued” to their seats in Cabinet, steering clear of their senior coalition partner for fear of what they might see or hear.
However, we’re informed that Eamon Ryan couldn’t be in the chamber to support his Taoiseach on Wednesday because he was at a meeting in Brussels. A query about where he might have been on Tuesday, or where party leader Gormley was on both days, went unanswered.
The lack of a senior Green presence during the week’s set pieces – including Thursday’s Order of Business, when Fianna Fáil Ministers piled on to the front bench beside Biffo, was much remarked upon.
And then outspoken deputy Paul Gogarty didn’t turn up for Wednesday’s vote on the Nursing Homes Bill. What was going on? As it happened, Gogarty was trapped in a lift for nearly 20 minutes on Wednesday evening, forcing him to miss the vote.
The last time a lift stalled in Leinster House, half of the cabinet got stuck and had to be rescued by the Army.
That happened in the old building. Paul’s ordeal happened in the new Leinster House 2000 wing. When the fault was rectified and he finally managed to stagger out, the deputy for Dublin West was shaken but none the worse for his ordeal.
Yeah, yeah – but what does he know about hurling?
Last Sunday, former GAA president Seán Kelly togged out for Fine Gael at their Ireland South European election convention in Cork. Kerryman Kelly was chosen as running-mate to outgoing MEP, Corkonian Colm Burke. Seán’s director of elections is Kerry deputy Jimmy Deenihan, while Colm’s campaign is being overseen by Cork Senator Jerry Buttimer.
MEP Burke hasn’t exactly set the world on fire during his term in Brussels, but the ebullient Buttimer is talking up his chances. Dubbed Jerry “Butt-in-more” by David Norris for his constant interruption of Seanad speakers, he was urging people during the week to put their money on Burke.
“I think we’ll be able to do a repeat of the Mairéad McGuinness/Avril Doyle double in Leinster, but this time around, we’ll have two alpha males instead of two feisty women,” insisted the wildly optimistic Butt-in-more.
Battle has commenced. It is rumoured that MEP Burke has engaged a PR company to assist him, amid mutterings that Seán Kelly is the favoured one at FG headquarters.
Anyway, this dispatch arrived from the Burke front, pointing out that Kelly isn’t the only man who can trade GAA credentials.
“As the convention was under way, the junior hurlers of Dripsey in Cork were making history in Croke Park by winning the All-Ireland Junior Hurling Championship.
“And where is Colm Burke from? Yes, Dripsey. And his brother John looks after the clubs’ pitches and two of his nephews play with Dripsey’s under-age teams.” Sure what do they know about hurling in Kerry anyway? They probably can’t even muster a decent team to go on strike.
Both parties show they can join the party
There was a big bash in Keoghan’s pub in Nobber recently to mark the retirement of Michael Smith, long serving chairman of the local Fianna Fáil Cumann. Local Meath deputies Thomas Byrne and Johnny Brady attended, and there were speeches to beat the band.
There are two pubs in Nobber – the other called “Dee Local Bar”. It’s owned by Shane McEntee, who happens to be the Fine Gael deputy for Meath East. There was a big cheer when Shane arrived at Keoghan’s on the night to join in the celebrations. It reminded the Soldiers of Destiny of the night their long-serving deputy, the late Colm Hilliard, turned up by mistake at a Fine Gael meeting in South Meath in the 1980s. They still talk about it.
Shane, who is a stalwart GAA man from a distinguished Meath footballing family, was welcomed by his political opponents and ended up making the longest speech of the night.
“Despite being political rivals, myself and Shane often work together on local issues. We doubled up recently on the Laytown Community school crisis, for example. It is possible for both parties to work together,” explained Thomas Byrne.
So there you have it: the Nobber Strategy.
McGuinness’s dirty little secret revealed
It wasn’t quite the Chuckle Brothers, but there was some good-humoured banter between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness at yesterday’s summit meeting of the British-Irish Council, the mini-United Nations of governments and devolved administrations in these islands.
The event took place at the Swalec cricket stadium in Cardiff, and Robinson revealed at the press conference afterwards that his republican colleague was “secretly a great admirer of cricket”.
Amid the laughter, a smiling Brian Cowen leaned over and whispered something in McGuinness’s ear. The Deputy First Minister then told the assembled media that he wanted to: “Thank Peter for ‘outing’ me and remind him that the founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, Michael Cusack, was an excellent cricketer – I’ve just been advised of that by the Taoiseach!”
Indeed, McGuinness later disclosed that, at the BIC dinner on Thursday night in Cardiff Castle, he wore a tie that had been presented to him by the Irish cricket team “in the aftermath of their brilliant performance at the World Cup”.
It’s all hands across the Irish Sea and dinner invitations across the Border in these changed times.
On Wednesday, the members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee had a private meeting in Leinster House with their counterparts from the Northern Ireland Assembly. During the meeting, the TDs and MLAs agreed on a work programme concerning inquiries into cross-Border bodies.
Afterwards, PAC chairman, Fine Gael’s Bernard Allen, hosted dinner for the visitors in the Dáil restaurant. It’s wasn’t an extravagant affair – beef or salmon was on offer. Among the MLAs were Paul Maskey of Sinn Féin, who chairs the Northern Ireland PAC; Mitchell McLaughlin of Sinn Féin; John Dallat of the SDLP and Dawn Purvis of the Progressive Unionist Party.
However, two MLAs from the Democratic Unionist also attended – Jim Wells and Jim Shannon.
Thus, this low-key event marked a historic first in cross-Border parliamentary relations, with Wells and Shannon the first members of the DUP to visit Dáil Éireann in an official capacity.
“It was incredible, really. Five years ago, we would never have thought of seeing such a thing happen,” said Allen.