Are ye right there, Enda, are ye right? Do you think you have the Áras in your sights?
Miriam Lord: the former taoiseach is networking away on abandoned old railway lines
Former taoiseach Enda Kenny staying on track
You may talk of Columbus’s sailing
Across the Atlantical Sea
But he never tried to go railing
From Ennis as far as Kilkee . . .
The same can’t be said of Enda Kenny, who’ll be taking a steam train for part of that route along the old West Clare railway in the third episode of Iarnród Enda, the former Taoiseach’s beautifully shot meanderings around the abandoned branch lines and sidings of Ireland’s old rail network.
Trains don’t feature that much in his six-part travelogue on RTÉ because Enda mainly cycles along the tracks, most of which have been successfully repurposed into popular tourist-friendly greenways. It’s a pleasant half-hour as he spins around the picturesque middle-of-nowhere, stopping along the way to lapse into wooden set-piece interviews with local historians and musicians while he explores the storied past of these abandoned rural lines.
The series has been described by some green-eyed politicians as one long pat on the back to Enda from Enda, who constantly prompts his interviewees to agree how the vibrant heyday of steam trains bringing business and opportunity to far-flung and overlooked regions is now being repeated in the 21st century with the success of the new greenway cycling and walking networks.
And guess who was a leading light in getting them off, or on, the ground? That would be Enda Kenny, who misses no opportunity to talk about what a wonderful asset they are to local communities and to the world.
“A lovely day on the first greenway in the country,” a windswept and shaggy-haired Enda told his viewers before setting off from Westport to Achill, a trail he launched soon after becoming taoiseach in 2011.
In 2013, then Labour leader Brendan Howlin told the Dáil everyone was aware of the success of the great western greenway because the Taoiseach talked about it so much.
But the Great Western Greenway was actually launched in 2010 by Fianna Fáil’s then transport minister Noel Dempsey, who opened the first phase from Newport to Mulranney. The completed route was launched the following year, to great fanfare, by then-taoiseach Kenny, with the enthusiastic help of his glamorous assistant Michael Ring.
Unlike the old railway lines, the Fianna Fáil connection will never be abandoned if Eamon Ó Cuív has anything to do with it. He informed the Dáil in 2012 he was delighted to see Enda Kenny so in favour of the Mayo greenway “because I was the one who, as minister for community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs, first promoted the idea of using abandoned and disused railway lines, both those in State ownership and those where the land had been sold back to the people, as cycle-walk ways”.
Five years later in 2017, he returned to the subject. “I proposed the development of the greenway along the line from Westport to Achill – I have the newspaper cutting in that regard from the year in question.”
Success has many masters.
Despite repeatedly emphasising he has no interest in running for the presidency, Enda’s return to the limelight has fuelled speculation.
Are ye right there, Enda, are ye right?
Do you think you have the Áras in your sights?
Ye’ve been so long in denying
That ye might be shrewdly tryin
Still ye might go, Enda, so ye might . . .
The Irish Parliamentary Women’s Caucus has written to the Dáil Business Committee ahead of its meeting on Tuesday urging members to adopt a new plan for the sitting week.
It’s been a higgledy-piggledy pandemic for the Oireachtas, with Dáil and Seanad sittings taking place on different days in separate buildings.
The current arrangement has the Seanad meeting in the Dáil Chamber on Monday and Friday, and the Dáil convening across the Liffey in the Dublin Convention Centre on Wednesday and Thursday. This solves the double staffing conundrum presented by the two Houses requiring the same level of support services but in separate locations.
Committees are held on Tuesday, with members participating online from their offices in Leinster House.
Back in the olden days before Deviris came on the scene and changed everything, the committees went about their work while the two Houses were in session.
In an effort to streamline proceedings the Leinster House authorities have recommended changing the timetable to allow the Seanad sit on Monday and Tuesday, followed by the Dáil on the next two days. Committees would be accommodated in the new plan, and the Senators, particularly those who have to travel long distances to get to Dublin, wouldn’t have such a disjointed working week.
The proposal has been outlined to the Business Committee, which oversees the Dáil schedule. The 10-man cross-party group (there are no women on it) has yet to formally decide whether to adopt it, but early rumblings indicate resistance to the move from some members who are worried that moving the Seanad sitting back to Tuesday would free up Friday, thus holding out the possibility of a third day of Dáil business should the need arise.
Friday is a sacrosanct constituency day for most TDs, and it seems the mere thought of putting it in jeopardy has induced a mild case of the collywobbles among some on the committee.
But in its letter the Women’s Caucus points to the newly-established Forum on Family Friendly and Inclusive Parliament, and says it makes sense for mams and dads to attend the Seanad on consecutive days rather than having to make travel arrangements at either end of the working week.
Continuity is all well and good, but frontloading the parliamentary week with two servings of Senators discussing the major political issues – often with Ministers in attendance – while the Dáil remains silent may not go down well with TDs used to getting all the attention.
Meanwhile, the caucus has had a busy few days of it. On Thursday night it hosted an event with its Northern Irish counterpart to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
“Our Shared Island: Women’s Voices in Peacebuilding” brought together the chairperson of the Oireachtas Women’s Parliamentary caucus Senator Fiona O’Loughlin and the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s caucus chairperson Clare Bailey alongside women’s coalition founders Monica McWilliams and Avila Kilmurray and Ireland’s UN youth delegate Tara Grace Connolly.
Former Progressive Democrats minister Liz O’Donnell, who was part of the Irish government’s negotiating team in 1998, also took part in the discussion on women’s participation in politics and peacebuilding then and now, North-South co-operation and the barriers facing women who want to get involved.
Over 200 people took part in the online event, facilitated by the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and afterwards the two caucuses pledged to work together on the development of a shared manifesto for women in politics in Ireland.
It’s not all one-way traffic even if the heavy flow from media outlets in the direction of Government Buildings might suggest otherwise.
Deputy Government Press officer Ian Carey, a former journalist turned Green Party communications head honcho, is stepping back from national politics “to mind the two kids and go back to being a councillor”.
Carey, who is a member of Fingal County Council representing Swords, worked for the Daily Mail before establishing his green credentials with stints in the Brussels-based European Environmental Bureau, one of the largest environmental NGOs in Europe, and the Irish Environmental Network in Dublin.
He went on to manage communications for the Greens in the two years before the party entered coalition.
He described the move from the party head office in Nassau Street, where there was water leaking through the ceiling which they held back with Ciarán Cuffe posters, to the grandeur of Government Buildings as “a bit of a change”, but it heralded the start of “one hell of a whirlwind of a year”.
Carey says working at the highest level in politics has been an honour. “I’m very lucky to have had a chance to be in here. It’s been a mad year but it’s been fantastic.”
However, with his wife’s job gearing up again after a long pandemic lull he wants to step back and spend more time with his young family and give more attention to his council work.
He won’t be leaving the Greens in the lurch though, and will stay on until a replacement is found. Deputy Government Press Secretary? Dear God, somebody could get killed in the avalanche of hacks stampeding to lob in expressions of interest.
It’s been all of two weeks since Indo columnist Colette Browne departed for a job with the Social Democrats.
So we are long overdue another defection.
Speaking of county councillors and career moves, congratulations to Cllr Jackie Healy-Rae jnr who has just opened his first shop, following in the fine family tradition of multi-tasking on the business and political front.
Jackie’s new venture in Killarney’s Scott’s Street is an American-style ice-cream parlour called Shake Waffle and Roll, and he threw open the doors on Friday.
The 26-year-old son of TD Michael Healy-Rae and nephew of TD Danny Healy-Rae represents the Castleisland local authority area on Kerry County Council, and is employed by his father as his parliamentary assistant in Leinster House.
“It’s been a long road but delighted to finally have it finished, just in time for the first weekend of full county travel. It also feels great to be creating 5 new jobs in a time of such doom and gloom, the shop will be one full of positivity and fun,” Jackie told his Facebook followers.
The music themed menu offers a selection of shakes, waffles, smoothies, ice-rolls and sundaes.
Doubtless more ice-cream shops are to follow, but Cllr Healy-Rae has some way to go before he reaches the millionaire bracket of Michael and Danny.
It comes as no surprise to see this young politician branching out into business - he didn’t lick it off the cones, as the saying goes.