Miriam Lord: Another dog’s dinner as D’Arcy jumps on the gravy train

Mary Lou McDonald serves up the latest farce du jour under Taoiseach’s wrinkled nose

Former minister of State at the Department of Finance Michael D’Arcy. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Former minister of State at the Department of Finance Michael D’Arcy. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

Mary Lou must love Tuesdays.

Leaders’ Questions is like shooting fish in a barrel. When the Sinn Féin president took over the mantle of main Opposition leader, did she ever expect her job to be so easy?

All she has to do is toddle into the chamber and serve up the latest farce du jour to the Taoiseach, who, nose wrinkled, is invariably expecting it.

Doesn’t even have to roll up her sleeves.

It’s your basic swill of stick-in-the-craw gormlessness, soured by too many cooks and fully prepared in all its steaming glory by a Government which ends up gagging and recoiling at the sight of it.

Mary Lou McDonald just has to walk in, hold it sniffily at arm’s length and – in a voice more clangorous than the loudest dinner gong – roar “grub’s up!” and lob the whole shambles across the floor.

What rancid offering was on the menu last week? It was the engagement of nearly a dozen new special advisers to cover the extra-special needs of Junior Ministers. Mary Lou had no difficulty rubbing Micheál Martin’s face in it.

And the week before? That would have been the awful launch of the Government’s Covid-ready roadmap and associated mishaps. Too much for too many people to stomach.

It must be very exciting for her, wondering each week what prepackaged Coalition mess is going to land in her lap in time for the set-piece Leaders’ Questions. Very thoughtful of Micheál, Leo and Eamon to be of such assistance.

On Tuesday, she opened the delivery box from Government to find a brazen cheek of D’Arcy accompanied by an embarrassment of senior politicians. Perfect for dishing up to a picky Taoiseach. He didn’t like it but he had to swallow it.

Michael D’Arcy was a minister of State in the last government, based in the Department of Finance, with special responsibility for financial services and insurance. He lost his seat in February’s general election but was washed to safety on the shores of the Seanad (Agriculture panel), where he continued to contribute on issues related to his former government portfolio.

Network

Any old port in a storm, and all that, but there are more rewarding pickings out there for ambitious former junior ministers with all the right network and mobile phone numbers.

Michael is known by his whispering voice – the legacy of an accidental blow to the throat during a hurling match.

And it’s true: it’s the quiet ones you have to watch. The Wexford farmer-turned-politician surprised his Leinster House colleagues on Monday by announcing he was resigning from the Upper House to head up a lobbying group for investment managers.

Leo said Mr D’Arcy will always be welcome should he decide to run again for the party

All perfectly above board. He wouldn’t be the first inmate to dream of and then successfully escape the Seanad. It won’t be a huge imposition to go from Senator D’Arcy to Mr D’Arcy.

Despite this unexpected change of direction, Michael says he will “continue to be a proud supporter of Fine Gael and our party leader” (sensibly quelling the understandable rumours he could be joining People Before Profit). Thank heavens he clarified it – they were sick with worry in Mount Street.

But what does this all mean?

It means he was inside the Seanad last week giving it socks to fellow politicians on legislation long considered desirable by the investment sector and outside the Seanad this week promising he won’t be giving it socks to former fellow politicians on legislation desired by the investment sector.

This is because the investors have hired him as chief executive of their lobby group and they absolutely insist he definitely won’t be doing any lobbying for at least a year.

On the face of it, that doesn’t look like a great investment. D’Arcy seemed like better value when he was still in the Seanad, but what do we know?

There seems to be more than a touch of the Mrs Mertons about the enterprise, reminiscent of the spoof chat-show host’s famous question to glamorous Debbie McGee about her magician husband: “So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”

Innocently

We can just imagine Mrs Merton looking innocently at the seated and suited financiers as she smilingly inquires: “So what first attracted you to the former junior minister at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for financial services and insurance?”

Mr D’Arcy’s erstwhile boss Leo Varadkar didn’t know of his departure until Sunday, when his friend and one of his strongest supporters during the Fine Gael leadership election broke the news.

The Tánaiste was delighted for him. In a statement he wished his colleague the “very best in his new job and career. I am sorry to lose him from the Fine Gael parliamentary party but can understand why he has made his decision.”

Not a mention of the unsettling “revolving door” aspect to the appointment, whereby a politician leaves an important office one day and sets up in the private sector, dealing with similar issues, the next. Not a mention of Sipo, the Standards in Public Office people, and the outgoing politician’s obligation to consult the standards body in advance of his move.

This didn’t go unnoticed by Mary Lou McDonald, as her latest delivery box of coalition woes filled up for Tuesday’s ritual.

Leo said Mr D’Arcy will always be welcome should he decide to run again for the party. “He will be sorely missed in the Oireachtas, and also in the party, where he has made many friends and which he has served so faithfully. His new employers are fortunate to recruit someone of his calibre.”

That was Monday. By Tuesday evening, the Tánaiste’s language changed from friendly and effusive to cold and concise.

“I believe he should have contacted Sipo prior to taking up his position. I am, however, glad that this contact has now taken place. I had no knowledge of this matter prior to Sunday afternoon when Mr D’Arcy called me to say he had resigned from the Seanad and has accepted a role in the private sector.”

He also apologised to the Cabinet for the controversy caused by the former senator’s decision to move on.

Disgusted

The Green Party leader was disgusted by the carry-on and insisted that the Government look for a review of the powers available to Sipo.

And the Taoiseach had to take it in the neck from Mary Lou in the chamber. Another hash produced by the three-cornered coalition, with the Sinn Féin leader happy to sling it his way.

She didn’t have to tell Micheál Martin how bad it looked – even if Mr D’Arcy acted with total propriety, as one would expect

All he could do was suck it up and take a contrite and dim view of the circumstances surrounding Mr D’Arcy’s transfer to the private sector.

“I am not happy, or in any way comfortable, with people who have been in office taking up positions, particularly in the area they had jurisdiction over or responsibility for, immediately after or within months of having left office,” he said, adding that the legislation underpinning Sipo will be reviewed.

No relief for mortgage holders, but a “big job” for the former minister of State, said Mary Lou with relish, and added dollops of “cosy connections” and “revolving doors”.

She didn’t have to tell Micheál Martin how bad it looked – even if Mr D’Arcy acted with total propriety, as one would expect. He knows it.

Mary Lou must be rubbing her hands together in anticipation. What dog’s dinner will they dish us next?

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