Miriam Lord's week


Dana gives her backing to Libertas; Senators seek an end to airbrushed posters; Taoiseach’s sweet home in Virginia; Rabbitte celebrates his 60th birthday; Maurice Ahern gets green fingers; and politicians step out of their comfort zone

Seeking Dana’s support

Former MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon failed by the narrowest of margins to retain her seat at the last European elections.

She pulled in almost 57,000 first preferences in what is now Ireland North West, did extremely well on transfers, but lost out to Independent Marian Harkin.

Now supporters of the singer turned-politician say candidates from almost all the main parties “have been going around the constituency claiming her”. Any candidate who could manage to attract even part of Dana’s substantial support base would have his or her chances of election considerably enhanced.

“It’s been an interesting few weeks,” says our mole in Camp Dana. “I’ve heard Pat The Cope Gallagher and Paschal Mooney hinting they have her backing. That’s not the case. She would not be supporting Sinn Féin, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil recently joined the liberal group, which rules them out.”

Dana has given her backing to Libertas leader, Declan Ganley, who is a personal friend, and who, she says, “shares her strong convictions on the family and life issues”. Our source says her own team of workers and close supporters are now canvassing for Ganley. He added: “There’s an ethical vote out there which transcends party loyalty. Dana got that vote. Now everyone wants a piece of it.”

The former Eurovision Song Contest winner has always maintained that she will not support political parties, and has resisted attempts from FF and FG over the years to sign her up.

However, she has shifted her stance slightly, saying she “is not supporting any party currently in the European Parliament”. Libertas fits that description. “He said on radio this morning: ‘I’m absolutely pro life from the moment of conception to natural death’. He is on the same wavelength as Dana.”

Meanwhile, away from politics, Dana is recording an album and preparing for a new series of RTÉ’s Ireland’s Got Talent show. Her days in Europe might be over, but we strongly suspect the Derry woman may not be finished with the ballot box just yet. The smart money says she will mount a second tilt at the presidency when the job falls vacant in two years.

Postering over cracks

Senator Joe O’Toole is sick and tired of seeing the embalmed and the enhanced smiling down at him from election posters. He told the Seanad on Thursday that there is often little resemblance between the photographs on posters and the person standing for election.

“I am serious about this, as people are being misled.” He suggested to House leader Donie Cassidy that the problem could be solved using “DNA”. Pictures could display a “D”, stating the date that the photograph was taken. There could be an “N”, indicating if it is natural, “that is, whether the person’s hair is dyed, is a hairpiece, or whatever”. Senators, for some reason, found this suggestion absolutely hilarious. An “A” could indicate whether the image had been airbrushed. A simple stroke through the letters would indicate an absence of such enhancements.

“Who is Senator O’Toole accusing of airbrushing?” bridled Ivana Bacik, who has lost over a stone since her campaign in Dublin Central began.

Senator Eoghan Harris, who has an eye for the ladies, rallied to her defence by contacting this column to say how smashing Senator Bacik is looking these days. “I follow Liz Hurley with great interest. It took six weeks of slogging for her to get her figure back. She had to get a personal trainer. I like Liz Hurley, but Ivana did it quicker and didn’t need a trainer. Oh, she looks terrific. Marvellous!”

But back to Ivana. “I would say that I am being told on doorsteps that I am better looking in real life than I am in my election posters.” Eoghan sighed happily.

Labour’s Michael McCarthy, under provocation from Senator David Norris, insisted he has no need to assist his good looks. “It is a bit like Dove – a natural beauty.” Furthermore, said Michael cruelly, he is a good 40 years younger than David.

Fianna Fáil’s John Hanafin agreed that many photographs are digitally enhanced, and in others “the candidates are irradiated in that, instead of the light coming down on people, it seems to emanate from some candidates”. A rather worrying contribution there from John.

House leader Donie did not ignore O’Toole’s suggestion, but he offered some sage advice on posters. “In the world of entertainment and in the words of Cash, it is early to bed and early to rise because you will have your tea if you do not advertise.” To which Senator Paudie Coffey declared that politics was “a ring of fire”.

O’Rourke’s holy war

On a serious note, Joe O’Toole, who is a former president of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, said on Wednesday that “every single proposal” he ever advanced on child protection was opposed “right, left and centre.” He cited a number of examples, including the Stay Safe programme, which is now in primary schools.

Joe told how the programme almost didn’t get off the ground because the then Eastern Health Board stopped its funding. The INTO gave £10,000 – a substantial sum in the 1980s – to help with its completion.

O’Toole then went to the minister, Mary O’Rourke. She agreed the programme was important and progressive, but predicted there would be objections in her department. She was right. A meeting was set up with top officials.

“We looked at this man, who was a senior Knight of St Columbanus and the most senior person in primary education, who had various reservations about the programme,” he recalled. However, despite their reservations, Mary O’Rourke insisted she wanted to see the Stay Safe course implemented.

“Around that time I attended the funeral of one of her parents – I believe it was her mother – and I remember noticing afterwards that there was no bishop at the funeral of the mother of a minister. I found that interesting, but the Lenihans were never afraid of taking on the crozier . . . and they deserve credit for that.” It would be a brave bishop who would attempt to give Mammy O’Rourke a belt of the crozier. She’d hit him right back with it.

Cowen’s Virginia home

Fancy going somewhere different on your holidays? We have the perfect place: Cowen, West Virginia, USA (population 513) There used to be a First National Bank of Cowen, but it doesn’t appear to be in business anymore. However, the Smoot Lumber Company still has its headquarters in the town. Cowen is in Webster County, and every year, the townspeople celebrate the Historical Railways Festival. The Mayor is Junior Cobb. Neighbouring towns include Boggs, Halo, Cottle, Big Run and Hacker Valley. There are two libraries and 14 cemeteries in the area. You could stay in The Brass Teapot in Boggs while there.

Cowen – it really should be twinned with Clara.

Leaflet the voters alone

Pat O’Sullivan, an Independent candidate in the Limerick South local elections, has found a novel way to have his cake and eat it.

His election leaflet takes the form of a handle hanger – modelled on those “Do not disturb” signs you stick outside hotel room doors. It’s a very slick production. On one side is a photo of Pat pitching for votes. On the other, writ large, is: “No canvassers please. Please respect my privacy.” The leaflets are going down a bomb. “Householders are asking for them. They’re flying out of the office in their thousands,” he tells us.

The handle hanger is irritating his rivals, who are unsure of what to do when confronted by it. They are also aware that O’Sullivan only hands over the “No canvassers” sign after he has canvassed the house himself.

Pat passes the test

There was a big bash in Templeogue United Football Club last Saturday night to mark Pat Rabbitte’s 60th birthday and his 20 years in the Dáil.

It was a surprise party – Pat is a great man for surprises. He feigns it on a regular basis in the Dáil when listening to speeches from the Government. There were speeches and speeches and more speeches. Pat was in his element.

Fine Gael’s director of elections and number cruncher, Frank Flannery, was a welcome blueshirt among the red roses. Frank and Pat are friends since their university days in Galway. Pat was best man at Frank’s wedding.

There were lots of anecdotes. The one which brought the house down and had Pat blushing, was about his first day at work. He was a young student radical, wet behind the ears and starting out in Siptu. He was told that it was procedure in the union for all new employees to provide a urine sample. Pat duly obliged and he was told to bring it to a woman called Derry McDermott.

Rabbitte arrived at Ms McDermott’s office clutching his sample, unaware no such requirement existed. Pat and Derry were married soon afterwards.

Ahern hedges his bets

Happy days for the lucky citizens of Dublin Central. A four page brochure has arrived in homes from De Udder Brudder, aka, Maurice Ahern.

Mossy’s Glossy extols the virtues of the constituency he hopes to represent for Fianna Fáil after the byelection, thus joining his brudders Bertie and Noel in the Dáil. Failing that, he is contesting the council elections.

This is called hedging your bets. It’s a gardening thing.

There are lots of photographs of Bertie in Mossy’s Glossy, along with a personal message from the former taoiseach on the front page. De Brudder and Udder Brudder are photographed in a variety of lovely locations around Dublin Central. We were most taken by the snap of the two of them outside Grangegorman.

“‘I love the Bots!’ writes Maurice. “It’s amazing to think that not two miles from the city centre and you can lose yourself in an oasis of green calm.”

Maurice and his brothers have long been associated with the Botanic Gardens. As far back as 1992, Bertie secured massive investment, which saved the beautiful facility from decline.

“And now,” said Maurice proudly, “well, the place is just divine. It is the jewel in the crown, as far as I’m concerned. In more recent years, this Fianna Fail-led Government has delivered funding which has refurbished the glasshouses, and a new reception area, cafe and herbarium have been built. Plant specimens have been collected from all over the world and the gardens have been greatly developed.” Maurice tells readers: “Only recently, it was announced that the 2010 Botanic Gardens Congress would be . . . hosted by the Botanic Gardens.

“On a more serious level, a resource like the Botanic Gardens – like any beautiful flower – needs ongoing care and attention. If the people of Dublin want to ensure that the Bots stay in their current state of grandeur, they need to vote for Fianna Fáil because it is the only party with a track record here.” So there you have it. Vote Ahern and save the Bots.

TDs’ doorstep challenge

Our attention was drawn during the week to a website detailing the exploits of “guerilla gardeners”. These enterprising culivars of the militant tendril faction like to make lovage, not war. They specialise in militant makeovers of untended public spaces. Their latest wheeze has been to take election posters and make them into window boxes. And very nice they look too. The image we saw showed a canvasser in Dublin Central looking askance at the guerilla gardeners as they went about their work.

Upon closer inspection, the canvasser is revealed to be Fine Gael deputy, Denis Naughten, TD for Roscommon/South Leitrim.

It seems the main parties have marshalled all their parliamentary troops to work on the ground in the two Dublin byelections. Hence the rather startled looking Denis in Ballybough. Meanwhile, James “Bonkers” Bannon, everyone’s favourite TD and the most assiduous funeral goer Longford-Westmeath has ever seen, found himself knocking on doors on the North Strand in Dublin Central.

You’d pay good money to hear some of those doorstep exchanges. Having done his bit on Wednesday night, Bonkers returned to find an urchin had prised the badge from the bonnet of his new Toyota Avensis. He was quite traumatised by the experience.

The thoughts of all those rural deputies on the loose around Dublin Central are just too delicious to dismiss.

Minister Willie O’Dea found himself far from his comfort zone in North County Dublin, when he pitched up in Baldoyle to lend support to local election candidate Averil Power. Averil (tall, blonde) and a team of workers (tall, blondes and brunettes) worked the doors. Willie trailed along behind them. At one house, a man opened the door to be met by four “babes.” He smiled and chatted, and then the ladies stepped back to reveal O’Dea. The air turned blue. That said, Willie got a fairly good reaction, with most householders greeting him on first name terms.

Fine Gael’s Senator Paul Coghlan was told to canvass in South Dublin. The affable Killarney businessman did as he was told, making his way around with the aid of a map and a local Sherpa.

He wandered into the Castle Golf Club, whereupon he was recognised as the president of Killarney Golf Club and plied with hospitality and promises of votes. There’s always a lucky one.