An envelope and the letter of the law

Harry McGee’s week: there seems to be a deeper well of sympathy for political scoundrels than for the sanctimonious

“Few TDs are perceived to be more holier-than-thou than Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Labour Party TD for Dublin Bay North.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“Few TDs are perceived to be more holier-than-thou than Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Labour Party TD for Dublin Bay North.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Irish psyche can be a hard thing to fathom at the best of times. A politician might be up to all kind of things but will only be utterly condemned by some colleagues on narrow grounds: he or she is too much of a goody-goody, or too mean to put the hand in the pocket and stand a round of drinks.

As much as these things can be gauged, there seems to be a deeper well of sympathy for the scoundrel that for the one who is seen as sanctimonious.

Few are perceived to be more holier-than-thou than Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the Labour Party TD for Dublin Bay North. Most of it stems from his decision to lodge a formal complaint with the Garda after a Fine Gael councillor in Naas, Darren Scully, made derogatory comments about Africans on local radio two years ago. His intervention was resented by some Fine Gael TDs, who saw it as do-goodery and political-correctness gone mad.
Ó Ríordáin may have revised the wisdom of the intervention since but the “rep” has stuck.

That said, imagine our surprise when we discovered a new report lodged in the Oireachtas library this week. It was an investigation carried out by the Committee on Members’ Interests in Dáil Éireann, which is the one that upholds standards and ensures compliance with ethics legislation. And who was the subject of the investigation? None other than Aodhán Ó Ríordáin,

The investigation was done on foot of a complaint by a member of the public.
Ó Ríordáin had written a letter to O’Connells GAA club in Dublin informing it of the Dublin Bus Community Spirit Initiative. He had helpfully included an application form. The letter had been sent in an Oireachtas pre-paid envelope.

So far, so uncontroversial. TDs and Senators get a monthly allowance of envelopes and this was an acceptable use by any yardstick (unlike Senator Terry Leyden, for example, who used Oireachtas envelopes to invite people to the opening of his pub).

Ó Ríordáin’s sin was this. The logo on the envelope read: “Seanad Éireann”. Ó Ríordáin is a TD and had used the wrong envelope. The committee decided the complaint was neither frivolous nor vexatious and began an investigation under the Ethics Act.

This one might have been swimming along with the shoal of other complaints but it was definitely a minnow. It was inadvertent. The stationery suppliers had mistakenly sent Seanad envelopes. Not realising it was a wrong envelope, Ó Ríordáin admitted, was “an oversight on behalf of my office”.

The committee’s report viewed the use of a Seanad envelope by a TD as “inconsistent with the proper performance of a Deputy’s duties”.

However, it concluded that, having regard to Ó Ríordáin’s explanation, the matter was not of “significant public importance”, that no specified act had been done and no action would be taken. Cleared, in other words.

But not without a little bit of schadenfreude from some colleagues.

Tendon is the night as ballroom blitz takes its toll
What’s are the world’s most dangerous professions? In no particular order: aviation, logging, construction, mining, roofing, fishing – and Irish parliamentary politics.

The injury list of TDs and Senators keeps on growing, with five having sustained painful injuries in the line of duty. And the main occupational hazard? The dreaded charity event.

The latest casualty is Finian McGrath, the Independent TD for Dublin Bay North. He has been hobbling around Leinster House this week having badly torn the muscles in his leg.

McGrath and Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire, are locked in a perennial battle with each other – as they are respectively Manchester United and Chelsea when it comes to Premier League self-publicity in Leinster House.

MMOC seems to have stolen a march last Saturday night when she tripped (almost literally) the light fantastic with Brendan O’Connor on live TV as they did a passable impression of two people shifting a wardrobe around a room.

She will be one of the “stars” in the Strictly Against Breast Cancer dance extravaganza in the Convention Centre in Dublin next Saturday, along with other “celebs” such as Bobby Kerr, Nick Murnier and breast surgeon Prof Arnie Hill.

McGrath was playing a long game. Unbeknownst to everybody, he was in secret training for the same event and was going to wow them all on the night with his Travolta-like fleetness of foot on the dancefloor.

But tragedy struck earlier this week when he suffered a freak accident while doing a practice routine on the Charleston, no less.

McGrath says he was doing a “flick” (kicking your heel up behind you and outwards with your hands on your knees) when he felt an excruciating pain in his leg.

Others have suffered misfortune: Cavan Fine Gaeler Joe O’Reilly injured his knee in a charity dunking incident in the summer; Fianna Fáil Senator Averill Power injured her back in a charity boxing tournament; Kildare Fine Gaeler Anthony Lawlor TD broke a leg in a charity rugby game; and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett suffered broken ribs and a gashed mouth during a charity soccer game.

Brussels bash turns into FF reunion
Ireland was honoured in Brussels at the annual Women in Parliament awards for promoting women, even though you wouldn’t think it, given women’s low representation in the Oireachtas.

Ireland’s award was for having had two female heads of State. There was a slight difficulty in finding a worthy person to accept the prize. Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke stepped into the breach. It was an unusual sight to see a solitary man among all the women parliamentarians but Paddy said it was an honour to accept the award on behalf of mná na hÉireann.

What raised eyebrows wasn’t Burke’s presence there, but rather the contingent of female parliamentarians. They were former Fianna Fáil TDs and senators Beverly Flynn, Mary Coughlan, Áine Brady and Geraldine Feeney. Not quite gone. Not quite forgotten. Not quite forgiven.


Kerry TD eventually sees the Christmas-tree light
A long time ago a Liverpool player named David Fairclough was called supersub because he had a knack of being brought on and scoring crucial goals. Two parliamentarians scaled Fairclough heights this week when substituting for senior colleagues.

The first was the young Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, who is sporting a John Aldridge tribute moustache for Movember. He got a call from OPW Minister Brian Hayes last week asking him for a tiny favour. Hayes would be stuck in the Oireachtas with the Finance Act. It’s nothing, he reassured Griffin. All you have to do is switch on the Christmas lights at Dublin Castle as it launched its Christmas programme.

And so the Castlemaine man duly appeared for what he thought would be a few short words and the flick of a switch.

Imagine his surprise to be placed in a horse-drawn carriage along with Santa Claus and drawn up Dame Street, where he waved regally to legions of onlookers.

And on to Dublin Castle, where he had a bit of Michael Collins déjà vu as he was whisked in through the gates. Hordes of schoolkids crowded the square. Santa retired, leaving Griffin to switch on the lights. But after the countdown nothing happened. No lights. No action. They tried again but no luck. Luckily Santa reappeared to sprinkle some magic dust and hey presto, it worked.

Griffin is a good sport but he has more talent than meets the eye. He has also just published his debut novel but has sensibly steered away from the target audience and raciness of his fellow scribe Alan Shatter. Before he got into politics, Griffin ran a pub for three years and would spend the hours after closing time writing the novel on the counter.

It’s called the Secrets of Moonlit River and is aimed at a young teenage audience. It tells the tale of a young boy Cathal coming to terms with a family tragedy and a new life in Kerry, and his discovery of a smuggling plot. Griffin has departed from long-standing Fine Gael policy of bodice-ripping novels but it’s a fantastic read with a great plot.


FF women not quite gone and not quite forgiven
The second super-substitution came in Brussels at the annual Women in Parliament awards. Ireland was one of three countries honoured for promoting women, even though you wouldn’t think it, given women’s low representation in the Oireachtas.

Jamaica won an award for having the most women mayors and Rwanda also won an award for having the most women in parliament. Ireland’s award was for having had two female heads of State, who between them served 21 years.

There was a slight difficulty in finding a worthy person to accept the prize. The President’s and Taoiseach’s office passed it on to the Oireachtas. Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett could not do it so the laid-back Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Paddy Burke, stepped into the breach. It was an unusual sight to see a solitary man among all the women parliamentarians but Paddy said it was honour and a moment of great pride to accept it on behalf of mná na hÉireann.

The spectacle that might raise Irish eyebrows wasn’t Burke’s presence there, but rather the contingent of female parliamentarians. They were former Fianna Fáil TDs and senators – Beverly Flynn, Mary Coughlan, Áine Brady and Geraldine Feeney. Not quite gone. Not quite forgotten. Not quite forgiven.


Quip of the week
It’s second only to the Late Late Toy Show, the annual lighting up of the Christmas tree on the lawn of Leinster House. In the Dáil , Mattie McGrath noted with pride that last year’s tree came from Tipperary and soft-soaped Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett by admiring his taste when “he came down to Tipperary for his wife some years ago”.

Barrett harrumphed: “I did not go down there, she came to Dublin.”

Speech of the week
Without a doubt it goes to Derek Nolan, the Labour TD for Galway West, for his brilliant and impassioned condemnation of the long-fingering of €10,000 funding that is needed for a special hoist at the Rosedale School for children with severe disabilities in Galway.

Here’s a sample: “It is morally wrong, as the people to whom I refer cannot talk, walk or feed themselves and they need to be changed. At present, they are sitting in their wheelchairs, having soiled themselves, and are waiting for an opportunity to change themselves . However, I am stuck with a letter telling me that an application was made in July 2013 that still has not been sorted out by the end of November but that if the school holds on, it still will be considered at some time in the future.”

Well said.

Oireachtas supersub called into action

A long time ago a Liverpool player called David Fairclough was called supersub because he had a knack of being brought on and scoring crucial goals. The young Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, who is sporting a John Aldridge tribute moustache for ‘Movember’, scaled Faircloughian heights this week when substituting for a senior colleague.

He got a call from OPW’s Brian Hayes asking him for a tiny favour. Hayes would be stuck in the Oireachtas with the Finance Act.

It’s nothing, he reassured Griffin. All you have to do is switch on the Christmas lights at Dublin Castle as it launched its Christmas programme.

And so the Castlemaine man duly appeared for what he though would be a few short words and the flick of a switch.

Imagine his surprise to be placed in a horse-drawn carriage along with Santa Clause and drawn up Dame Street where he waved regally to legions of onlookers.

And on to Dublin Castle, where he had a bit of Michael Collins deja vu as he was whisked in through the gates. Hordes of schoolkids crowded the square. Santa retired leaving Griffin to switch on the lights. But after the count-down nothing happened. No lights. No action. They tried again but no luck. Luckily Santa reappeared to sprinkle some magic dust and hey-presto! it worked.

Griffin is a good sport but he has more talent than meets the eye. He has also just published his debut novel but has sensibly steered away from the target audience and wince-inducing raciness of his fellow scribe Alan Shatter. Before he got into politics, Griffin ran a pub for three years and would spend the hours after closing the bar, writing the novel on the counter.

It’s called the ‘Secrets of Moonlit River’ and is aimed at a young teenage audience. It tells the tale of a young boy Cathal coming to terms with a family tragedy and a new life in Kerry, and his discovery of a smuggling plot. Griffin has departed from long-standing Fine Gael policy of bodice-ripping novels but it’s a fantastic read with a great plot.

Miriam Lord is away

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