Miriam Lord: Action-packed day as parties unveil their local champions

Amid Bloomsday celebrations, Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll sounds a sobering note

An action-packed day on the political front.

It was all go around Leinster House. TDs belting onto the plinth for all manner of media opportunities, the usual clatter of photocalls at the gates, committees in full swing and the car park full.

There was one candidate launch for the Dublin Bay South byelection. And down at Grand Canal Dock, another candidate was produced for publicity purposes in the presence of an MEP and the Minister for Finance, who would be available for comment.

Bloomsday was in full swing down the road from Kildare Street, where pints of stout were indiscriminately slaughtered in the middle of the day outside Davy Byrne's pub while Tony Holohan was otherwise engaged at a very lively meeting of the Oireachtas transport committee.


Had the CMO realised what was happening off Grafton Street we might have witnessed gardaí in riot gear going in hard on unmasked and dangerous street-drinking Joyceans packing gorgonzola while pointing offensive straw hats at frightened passersby.

And animals. Animals everywhere on Wednesday: big cows, Nphet sardines, little red pandas, sea lions, seagulls, sprats.

Not to mention Fine Gael’s 80th ardfheis – a four-night-and-one-day online Blueshirt extravaganza, specially designed for nobody except disgruntled political correspondents being fed a daily news story to grab headlines in the opening week of the byelection, and clashing horribly with the opening week of the European Football Championship.

So the party finished up on Wednesday night doing what their leader did on Wednesday morning: throwing out a few sprats for immediate consumption. But the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll won't have improved the mood on night two of the ardfheis-athon.

Leo Varadkar was out early with a trip to Dublin Zoo. He brought along junior minister Patrick O'Donovan, who is in charge of the OPW, to show him that there is more to the natural world than the Kerry slug. The TD for Limerick County is very fond of throwing this rare gastropod into local radio interviews when complaining about people using all sorts of excuses to delay infrastructure projects such as the Kerry Greenway or the flood relief scheme in Inchigeelagh.

Pictorial value

This was a return visit by the two following their announcement there last December of a very welcome €3 million funding injection for Dublin Zoo and Fota Wildlife Park in Cork to help them though the Covid-19 disastrous drop in revenue. They wanted to see how things are getting on and get full pictorial value for their investment.

Print journalists were not allowed join the Tánaiste and slug aficionado O’Donovan on their short tour. Only photographers and television crews could follow them because sometimes the hacks notice things and write stuff which doesn’t go well with the nice pictures.

Because the short media opportunity permitted afterwards was happening in the wide open air in front of the seal enclosure, the number of print hacks allowed to attend it was capped at seven people. Also, just to be on the safe side, the VIPoliticians avoided going near the orangutans because when Micheál Martin visited last month (all journalists following) one of them threw dollops of poo at him, narrowly missing the target.

Instead, Leo threw a few sprats at the sea lions, an action which some, had they been allowed in, might have seen as a metaphor for his attitude to people who don’t get up early in the morning. Then he looked disconsolately at a red panda, probably because he was trying to think of a quip about the “panda-emic”. The feisty little panda glared back.

There was also talk of elephants, although we might have got that mixed up with the Bloomsday revellers, where we thought we spotted at least one Government advisor.

And, speaking of poo, Thomas Gould, Sinn Féin's deputy for Cork North Central, launched his party's Community Addiction and Recovery Strategy during a vacant slot on the busy plinth. A seagull passing overhead launched a direct hit on his lapel. Which is a sign of good luck.

Nphet sardines

But back to Leo's sprats, which are not to be confused with the Nphet sardines mentioned above. Six all-powerful members of the National Public Health Emergency Team appeared together at the transport committee to talk about antigen testing and international travel. It was a fairly fractious encounter, but the content of the exchanges was eclipsed for many by the image onscreen of the Nphet Six, beaming in remotely from an office on the seventh floor of the Department of Health headquarters.

Household names, these three doctors and three professors: chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and his deputy CMO Dr Ronan Glynn along with Dr Cillian de Gascun, Prof Mary Keogan, Prof Martin Cormican and Prof Philip Nolan.

And there they were, gathered around one end of a large table in a room with a low ceiling, all in the same frame, like they had learned about this thing called a “selfie” but were slightly baffled by the concept. Had they been on an airplane, Dr Tony and Dr Ronan would have been the lucky two with nobody sitting in the seats on either side of them while the other two pairs would have been sharing armrests on opposite sides of the aisle.

There certainly wasn’t a two metres distance between them, with no masks worn (perhaps all are fully vaccinated). The meeting lasted just over 2½ hours. The Oireachtas authorities, advised by these experts, would have conniptions if that had happened in the wide open space of the Dáil.

But back to the byelection. The Social Democrats took to the plinth to launch their candidate Sarah Durcan. People Before Profit/Solidarity has booked the plinth for Thursday to launch its candidate, Brigid Purcell.

Down at Grand Canal Square, outside the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Paschal Donohoe and MEP Frances Fitzgerald were drumming up publicity for Fine Gael candidate James Geoghegan. After the Minister for Finance fired a broadside at Sinn Féin's economic policies during a media briefing, there was talk of him heading to the Grand Canal Basin for a spot of paddleboarding with the candidate.

Oh dear.

No talk of Frances taking part, which is disappointing.

L’Oréal Dáil

While the action was elsewhere, proceedings were as dull as ever in the L’Oréal Dáil where the obligatory tiny sample of carefully strung out TDs, cosseted in their dockside glass case, was taking the rarefied air as decreed by the Nphet sardines.

So what about the big cows?

At least two handsome and hefty milking shorthorns turning up outside the Convention Centre as star turns in the IFA’s day of protest against the Climate Bill broke the monotony. These brown beauties stood quietly on the grass next to the building housing the temporary Dáil, much more exciting to watch than the two-legged creatures rattling around inside.

But the results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll later in the evening shook everything up. Sinn Féin at its highest ever, top of the pile with a four-point increase since February, and nearest rivals Fine Gael dropping three points.

The distant third Fianna Fáilers were overjoyed with a six-point jump in support, with Taoiseach Micheál Martin enjoying massive public support for the Government’s handling of the pandemic and his personal rating at its highest ever following a seven-point jump.

It will make for a very interesting byelection campaign.