Miriam Lord: A daring U-turn on occupied territories

FF veteran goes from opposing to supporting Frances Black’s Bill, but Coveney’s not happy

Veteran Fianna Fáil politician Terry Leyden executed a very sharp U-turn in the Seanad on Wednesday after he spoke against the Occupied Territories Bill, which proposes a ban on importing Israeli goods from Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.

During statements on Palestine, Leyden agreed with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney's decision not to support the legislation, sponsored by Independent Senator Frances Black.

Coveney, on behalf of the Government, cited legal, political and practical reasons. But in particular, having done a lot of groundwork, the Tánaiste is worried his role in the Middle East peace process will be greatly undermined if the boycott is endorsed.

“I have spent hours trying to build relationships with people who will be involved in decision-making that can bring about peace – Palestinians, Americans, Israelis . . . and many other neighbouring countries,” Simon told Senators. “I fear the consequence of Ireland taking a significantly different position from everybody else in the European Union and the world would be to suddenly undermine my capacity to be seen as someone to whom both sides can at least talk, even though I clearly advocate strongly for Palestinians all the time.”


Terry Leyden, “speaking as a former minister for trade and marketing”, held a similar view.

“Is this the right way to exert influence in the settlements in the region? If you bring a boycott in you lose your influence whatsoever to go to Israel and make the point to the Israeli government [about] what you feel.” He told Frances Black that Private Members’ Bills seldom make it into law.

“I wouldn’t bet your dollars that this Bill will ever see the light of day or will ever become actual legislation, let’s be quite clear about that.”

The former junior minister for trade in Charlie Haughey’s 1989 administration warned that a boycott would have serious repercussions and lead to job losses here. Brexit was also presenting a “terrible dilemma” and “we can ill afford, at this point, another trade war with another country that is legitimately elected.”

Terry stressed that he was speaking as a founder member of the Oireachtas Friends of Palestine group and was simply urging caution. Like Simon Coveney, "my heart is behind this". But less than an hour later, as the second stage debate was wrapping up, Terry rose once more.

“Eh, just to say again, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil party, we are supporting the Bill. We have decided at our parliamentary party that the Bill has merit and the situation [is] to send a message to Israel that we are not satisfied with developments in Palestine, we’re not impressed by the oppression of the Palestinians . . . No other party has worked harder than Fianna Fáil in relation to a resolution of the Palestinian issue.”

He then rhapsodised at great length about Michael D Higgins, who chaired that Friends of Palestine group; indeed, Terry “was privileged to be lectured by him as an extramural student for two years in Politics and Sociology”.

“I want to say, finally, our record is second to none and Fianna Fáil, in a unanimous decision last Tuesday week, made that decision, we stand by the decision and we’re supporting this Bill here in this House today.”

It seems Terry finally got the memo. While Simon’s efforts to get Fianna Fáil to back off supporting Frances’s Bill came to nothing. We hear that last week he told Foreign Affairs spokesman Niall Collins that if the Bill passes it will jeopardise his excellent relationship with Binyamin Netanyahu and undermine all his work on the Middle East situation. They’re still laughing, apparently, in Fianna Fáil.

The Bill’s second stage passed in the Seanad to applause from Palestinian farmers and their supporters in the public gallery, and a standing ovation from Senators.

More panda power to Claire Daly’s elbow

While many TDs and senators nipped off on a balmy Wednesday night to watch England play Croatia, business was grinding along in the Dáil. At around 10 o'clock, Independents4Change TD Clare Daly was called to speak on the Employment Bill. She was wearing a lovely sleeveless black-and-white dress. But what really captured the attention was what appeared to be a large but very cute Panda tattoo on her upper arm. It's swinging on a bamboo branch. You don't get many pandas in Dublin Fingal. Tattoos being displayed by fuddy-duddy Oireachtas members would have once seemed unthinkable. Not anymore. But Clare's cuddly panda is not a patch on the extensive artwork adorning the arms of the two most-inked politicians in Leinster House – Sinn Féin's Jonathan O'Brien and Independent Senator Lynn Ruane.

Meanwhile, there was quite a gallop up to Glencairn – the British Ambassador’s residence – on Tuesday night for the Harry and Meghan garden party. Politicians were mad keen to rub shoulders with the celebrity royals. Judging by some of the photographs, Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien appeared to land himself a job as a bouncer. Images of Meghan walking out the door of the residence show the TD for Fingal with his back pressed against the wall and peering into the crowd as if he is part of the security detail. He tweeted a picture with the message, “Happy to play my part in making sure yesterday’s event at the British Embassy went smoothly.” His colleague Barry Cowen quickly replied: “I’d heard Johnny Vegas was there OK.” Darragh is not best pleased.

Sean’s spicy tales of green ties and rainbow unicorns

Former Trump spokesman Sean Spicer will be hitting the promotional circuit at the end of the month when his keenly awaited memoir The Briefing: Politics, the Press and the President hits the shelves. He has lots to say, in a most complimentary way, about the Donald. This would explain why his former boss has praised the book, tweeting "Really good, go get it!"

Spicy describes Trump as "a unicorn, riding a unicorn over a rainbow". His breathless account of his time in the White House will be published on July 24th, but the Guardian newspaper got its hands on a copy. He covers his six months as spokesman in great detail, giving his behind-the-scenes take on the most controversial and memorable episodes from the chaotic early days of Trump's presidency.

There is, of course, an Irish angle from Spicer, who is a devout Catholic and proud Irish-American. He writes of his disappointment at being left off a list of senior White House officials allowed into the Vatican for the president’s audience with the pope. Of his “countless” exchanges with Trump, their conversation on the eve of St Patrick’s Day in 2017 is the one which “stands out”. He writes about calling the president at his residence.

“Sir, just a reminder about the St Patrick’s Day event tomorrow – do you have a green tie?”

“Yeah! Of course I have a green tie,” president Trump said.

“For tomorrow?”

A long pause. “Well I have one in New York, but I don’t have one here.”

“I’ve got an extra green tie. Would you like me to bring it in?”

So Trump told him he should bring it in as backup in case he can’t get his tie delivered in time from New York. And first thing the next morning, Spicer “delivered the green tie to the Oval Office and set it on the Resolute desk”. Could things get any better for Spicy? Well, yes. Because he was going to see Enda Kenny a few hours later riding into the Oval Office on a green unicorn.

“The eighth-grade boy in me had to pause for a moment and marvel at the fact that a kid from Rhode Island, who as a student had never seen the inside of the White House, was now making sure that the leader of the free world had the right tie to wear. The billionaire president wore my green tie that entire day, including to the events with the taoiseach. He must have liked it because I never saw it again.” Leo Varadkar probably saw it in March. Oh, the drama.

Shane Ross gets shirty over turncoat Patrick O’Donovan

Winston Churchtown was in foul humour on Thursday. He must have read Sarah Bardon’s report that his beloved Stepaside Garda station is going to be opened in a “modular” building.

The Minister for Transport was just finishing lunch in the Members’ Bar with fellow members of the Independent Alliance (they have their own little spot just inside the door) when Fine Gael Minister for State in the Department of Finance Patrick O’Donovan came in.

Finian McGrath, always up to mischief, looked at him and immediately hopped the ball. “Here’s yer man who wouldn’t defend you on Tuesday,” he cried. “You let him down. You let him down on Sunday,” he said to Limerick TD O’Donovan, who used to be the junior minister in Shane Ross’s department before he moved. It was widely known that the two men didn’t exactly get on.

Winston was fit to be tied. The other two were in fits. O'Donovan, still laughing, edged quickly out the door

McGrath was referring to his appearance on Sunday's The Week in Politics when he was asked about the controversial Judicial Appointments Bill, which was delayed in the Seanad this week and now won't be passed until after the summer recess. Ross aka Winston Churchtown has championed the Bill in the face of fierce opposition from the legal profession. He was reportedly not pleased with what he saw as O'Donovan's failure to defend him on the programme.

The bar was packed and TDs and Senators looked on as Winston became more and more irate and Finian and Patrick couldn’t stop laughing.

“Is it true you’re getting a caravan for Stepaside?” Patrick said to his former boss.

According to one onlooker, “Ross went into orbit”.

“He was roaring at O’Donovan, calling him a bollix and everything. ‘You’re a bollox. You are a bollox,’ he said to him. It was hilarious.”

Winston was fit to be tied. The other two were in fits. O’Donovan, still laughing, edged quickly out the door.

The last time the Minister used such unparliamentary language was when he was shouting at Mattie McGrath a few months ago in the canteen. At least Winston didn’t have to listen to Senators bashing his beloved Judicial Appointments legislation.

Pity poor Charlie Flanagan, the Justice Minister who was confined to the Seanad for much of the week listening to its resident legal eagles prolonging the process . At least he can escape to the Forty Foot or thereabouts for a swim, which is what he has been doing when he gets a chance on these hot days.

On Sunday, after the National Commemoration Day ceremonies, he nipped off to Sandycove for a dip. As he was swimming around, he looked up to see Senator Ivana Bacik paddling beside him. She proceeded to grill him on judges and the legislation. Then she introduced him to her mother.

Back in the Seanad chamber this week, both of them missed a great opportunity to address the other with the following greeting: “Minister/Senator, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on!”