Miriam Lord: A scare in Sligo as FF ghosts come out for ‘Mac the Knife’

Blasts from the party’s past gather to pay homage to former tánaiste Ray MacSharry

Ray McSharry: the Fianna Fáil grandee was treated to a surprise This Is Your Life party featuring familiar faces of the party down the years.    Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Ray McSharry: the Fianna Fáil grandee was treated to a surprise This Is Your Life party featuring familiar faces of the party down the years. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The great, the good and the ghosts of Fianna Fáil past gathered in Sligo at the weekend to pay homage to party grandee Ray MacSharry.

The former tánaiste and EU commissioner was “flabbergasted” when what he thought was going to be a quiet night out turned into an elaborate This Is Your Life tribute in front of a 400-strong crowd in the Southern Hotel.

The event was organised by the local party organisation to mark the 50th anniversary of MacSharry’s first election to Dáil Éireann, in June 1969.

RTÉ’s northern editor Tommie Gorman, resplendent in black tie, was MC for the occasion which featured a disconcertingly long line of blasts from the Fianna Fáil past falling over each other to get to the stage and sing the praises of the politician known as “Mac the Knife” when he was finance minister back in the recession years of the 1980s.

Pádraig “Pee” Flynn, who succeeded MacSharry as Ireland’s EU commissioner, crossed the border from Mayo to join former colleagues reliving the good old days when Fianna Fáil ruled the world and people knew their place.

Seán Haughey, the low-key TD for Dublin Bay North, told the crowd: “I’m here representing my late father.”

Those of a certain age and/or a delicate disposition might want to look away now

Ray and Charles J were great buddies. After he left active politics, the shrewd MacSharry (81 and looking very well) continued to play a strategic backroom role in the Fianna Fáil organisation where he is very much admired within the ranks as an elder statesman. His more boisterous son Marc is one of the party’s two TDs from Sligo; the other is Eamon Scanlon from Ballymote.

A clatter of Cabinet names from the Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen era came to pay their dues. All the ballroom needed was a length of tarpaulin stretched across the ceiling and they could have been back in the glory days of the Galway tent. Those of a certain age and/or a delicate disposition might want to look away now.

Guests included Michael Smith, Rory O’Hanlon, Mary O’Rourke, Mary Coughlan, Noel Dempsey, Éamon Ó Cuív and Pat the Cope Gallagher. Video tributes from the unavoidably detained were screened. There was one from party leader Micheál Martin and another from former taoiseach Bertie “I’m sorry I can’t be with you all tonight because I’m in Papua New Guinea” Ahern.

In an emotional speech, the man of the moment spoke of the importance of family – personal family “and the family of Fianna Fáil”.

He added: “Sometimes I think that we’re beginning to lose the great value of that in elections. I would hope some day that we get back to that. We are too far away from the people.”

You don’t have to be mad to work here, but you soon will be

Speakers at the annual Health Management Institute of Ireland conference on Wednesday included the new chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid.

The trade union shop steward turned senior civil servant spent 3½ years as assistant secretary in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform –“at a very difficult time for the country” when the Government had to make “very difficult choices”– before moving on to the top job in the HSE.

Reid outlined his career trajectory for the conference and said he would be using all the experience he gained in the public sector at local and government level in his new job.

The most consistent thing people said was, ‘Congratulations, Paul, are you f**king mad?’

About six weeks before he joined the HSE he did “what many people would do – which is a stakeholder analysis”. He described this as largely an engagement or re-engagement with a wide range of stakeholders in the health sector from the Taoiseach, Ministers and politicians to trade union representatives, patients, HSE staff and managers and, as a result, “was able to get my sense of what was the mood, what were the issues”.

Boss of the Health Service Executive wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a plum appointment, as the new chief executive quickly discovered.

“The most consistent thing people said, came up to me and said when my appointment was announced was, ‘Congratulations, Paul, are you f**king mad?’”

There was a ripple of slightly nervous laughter from his audience of health professionals.

“No, no, I’m not,” he hastily added. “Having done that stakeholder engagement I was actually convinced this was the right thing for me.” It seems the exercise gave him “a sense of the really strong passion the staff have for the organisation”.

God help him.

TDs in a ruck over glut of Rugby World Cup leaflets

During Wednesday’s Health Committee meeting, Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly took the opportunity to take a sneaky sideswipe at Minister for Health Simon Harris, who also happens to be his constituency colleague.

On the subject of waiting lists, Donnelly said he had spoken the night before to “a mum in Wicklow” who had just received a letter from the HSE saying that her child, who has been waiting 3½ years for therapy, has had her appointment put back yet again.

At the same time, “she gets a leaflet from you giving the Rugby World Cup dates.”

The woman was very annoyed and said to him, “How is there taxpayers’ money for me to get a leaflet through my door giving World Cup dates but there isn’t public money available for my son to have therapy in 3½ years?” What had the Minister to say about that?

“Well, I say that I understand the lady may make that point but you’d know better that the taxpayers’ money wasn’t used in the production of such literature,” Harris said. “So while you might be protected by privilege, I’m sure you wouldn’t accidentally slur me in that regard.”

In other words, come outside and say that to me and see how you get on.

It seems the political rugby flyers are only flying, and annoying the hell out of some people. The day before Donnelly took issue with Harris’s fixture list leaflets, a thoroughly cheesed-off voter was in touch to complain about a similar flyer from Fine Gael councillor Barry Ward, who will be a candidate for Dún Laoghaire in the next election. “Barry Ward gaining ground”, according to his literature.

I can only assume this councillor’s sole purpose was to get his face into households early for the election

Our correspondent, who wishes to remain anonymous, got his flyer through the letterbox on Saturday and sent it on to us. It helpfully lists all the Rugby World Cup fixtures on one side and all Ireland’s fixtures on the other. There are also two large photographs of Barry Ward gaining ground.

“At a time when our country is gripped by the panic of Brexit amongst other things, I think this is wholly, wholly inappropriate. To think of the time and expense that went into these is really an injustice,” our correspondent writes, wondering if the flyer cost the taxpayer money.

It didn’t, which is some consolation.

“It has no helpful local information or tips on how to get Brexit-prepared. I can only assume this councillor’s sole purpose was to get his face into households early for the election with something he “thought” might be useful to the people.”

He assumes correctly.

It seems a lot of Fine Gael candidates, particularly those located in South Dublin and its environs, have embraced these shameless, information-free, rugby-themed leaflets. However, before Donnelly gets any more high and mighty with Harris, he might like to know that Fianna Fáil hopefuls are doing exactly the same thing. Cllr Deirdre Heaney, among many others, has been flooding the doormats of Dublin Bay North with her helpful rugby fixture list too.

President Michael D Higgins with family members of victims of the Birmingham pub bombings, including Margaret Hambleton and her daughter Julie Hambleton. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
President Michael D Higgins with family members of victims of the Birmingham pub bombings, including Margaret Hambleton and her daughter Julie Hambleton. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Relatives of Birmingham bomb victims find solace at the Áras

President Michael D Higgins hosted a special dinner in Áras an Uachtaráin on Wednesday night for relatives of the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. It was an emotional evening for people from the Justice 4 the 21 group, formed earlier this year to push for a public inquiry into the deaths. The relatives say the scope of an inquest in April was too narrow and it prevented information coming out and left the issue of the perpetrators unaddressed.

Ten members of the group visited Ireland this week and met a number of politicians, including the Tánaiste Simon Coveney and the Lord Mayor of Dublin Paul McAuliffe, but their visit to the Áras was the standout highlight.

Julie Hambleton, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine died in the atrocity, met the President when he visited Birmingham last year, but it wasn’t the first time their paths crossed.

You are so lucky to have not just a man of the people, but a gentlemen of the people, as your President

She recalled protesting outside the gates of Windsor Castle in 2014 against the presence of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness at the royal banquet in Michael D’s honour during his official visit to the UK.

“Last night was the most monumental moment in the life of our family and our campaign,” she said after their night at the Áras, where there was music and poetry and a very warm welcome.

“You are so lucky to have not just a man of the people, but a gentlemen of the people, as your President. He allowed us to ring the peace bell 21 times in memory of the dead,” said Hambleton. “He held my mother’s hand and walked along the grass with her, it meant so much to her.”

She said everyone in the group was “touched to the core” by the “hospitality, humility and humanity” shown by the President, his wife and staff.

“We were sobbing because we were sitting among the top authority of another country while our own country does not hear our dead in a way that not even our royal family has done.

“You are at the home of the President of Ireland because my heart went out to you when I visited you in Birmingham,” Michael D told his visitors, who were joined by representatives of the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.

He said he had the greatest of sympathy for them because they are living with neither conclusion nor closure “because of advances that you still think should be made”.

He wholeheartedly supported their campaign, adding that “getting the institutions to realise that to effect closure, the information and the knowledge and the full knowledge would be of powerful assistance to that”.

There were tears from the guests when he read out the names of the 21 people who died. In commending their tireless fight to prosecute those who killed their loved ones, he hoped they would achieve “a successful resolution” and in some way mitigate the pain endured down through the years.

In giving them his support, the President pointedly said the institutions must also come to accept “that they must enable and provide a setting in which all of this can happen”.