Miriam Lord: Chastened celebs mortified in Montrose

RTÉ social distance, McEntee in Dáil, Woulfe pack, pints in public and moving statues

RTE news journalists David McCullagh and Eileen Dunne apologised live on air from the 6 and 9pm new bulletins on the channel for breaching public health guidelines at a recent gathering on the RTE campus in Donnybrook. Video: RTE News

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Scarleh for everyone in RTÉ. Thoughts and prayers and all that.

But the photographs of a number of the national station’s leading news broadcasters and managers posing unmasked, up close and personal, with a much -loved colleague on the occasion of her retirement was a monumental gaffe.

One or two hastily snatched shots with a pal is one thing, but unfortunately, the Irish Sun got hold of a windfall of pictures involving a procession of TV and radio heavyweights smiling for the camera. These are people who make their living interrogating people or directing others to interrogate them over reported transgressions of the type they just committed.

Did nobody stop to think? Did nobody see the big Social Distance signs painted on the floor where they were standing?

No. They didn’t because they made a mistake which will be mortifyingly thrown back at them when they go about their job in the future.

In a stroke of good fortune for Sinn Féin, they have also bolstered the case for the full canonisation of IRA hardman Bobby Storey, who didn’t die for Ireland and receive a pretend funeral with hundreds of activist mourners drafted into West Belfast for a choreographed send-off only to be martyred at the hands of Shinner-hating RTÉ Tan sympathisers.

We hear they are utterly, utterly mortified in Montrose. And so they should be.

Not least because RTÉ has been so meticulous in observing the Covid regulations. A recent casualty of this determination to rigidly observe social distance protocols is Katie Hannon’s Late Debate political talk show on Radio One. Her nighttime panel discussions based on the day’s Oireachtas proceedings have been sorely missed during these recent weeks of twists, turns and rows.

The show was paused because of the difficulties maintaining social distancing between guests.

The chastened celebs should weather the storm.

But here’s the thing: if a much loved, long-serving member parliamentary assistant was leaving a political party after years of cherished service and TD colleagues momentarily let down their Covid guard to grab a quick photo with the darling of the hour, what would happen if those pictures made it into the public domain?

We all know what would happen. And it wouldn’t pretty.

When all sense of perspective flies out the window, there but for the grace of God etc . . .

Up to the job

We wouldn’t blame Seán Ó Feargháil if he was feeling a bit annoyed this week. Because it seems the Government didn’t think much of the Ceann Comhairle’s ability to do his job.

If it did, why would they object to the Minister for Justice coming into the House to answer questions about the selection process used to appoint Séamus Woulfe to the Supreme Court? The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and a large number of Ministers have been at pains to point out publicly they would have no problem with Helen McEntee going before her peers in Dáil Éireann and explaining the mechanics behind the appointment and how the process was perfectly in order and had nothing to do with government formation, if they could be sure the Opposition wouldn’t turn it into a personalised witch-hunt of named individuals.

But they say they can’t be sure. And everything they hear on the issue of judicial appointments from people like Mary Lou McDonald and Alan Kelly and Catherine Murphy and Paul Murphy bears this out.

You simply couldn’t be letting Opposition TDs loose on McAbsEntee in the Dáil chamber because they don’t know how to conduct themselves.

That may well be the case. And should the Minister suddenly decide to accede to their request, it might be a good idea to frisk Alan Kelly for bladed weapons on his way in. Twice, on Tuesday and Wednesday, he declared he was going to get to the bottom of the Supreme Court appointment puzzle – “slice, by slice, by slice, by slice”. Yikes.

Although the chances of McAbsEntee suddenly changing to McPresentee seem slim. Word that she was going to appear on the Six-One news on Friday was greeted with surprise in political circles. While she didn’t crash and burn, the Minister sounded somewhat defensive and evasive in her interview with David McCullagh. Perhaps Helen and her advisers took a calculated decision to brave the studio with Dave as the acerbic broadcaster was still in the dog house as one of The Undistanced. Indeed, McCullagh had to do a big mea culpa on air before sitting down to interview her.

But back to the Ceann Comhairle who made it quite clear in the Dáil on Tuesday that he had no issue with McAbsEntee coming before the Houses to make a statement and answer questions.

“It is in order as far as I am concerned to discuss here the process of selection within the House provided we do not stray into the area of personal suitability that would reflect on any individual that has been selected, ” he said.

In not allowing the Minister appear to answer legitimate questions, the Cabinet’s big hitters are essentially telling Ó Fearghaíl that they have no confidence in his ability to keep the discussion on track.

We think he’s more than up to the job.

Silent silk insight

Those members of the Oireachtas who are members of the bar have remained touchingly quiet on the Supreme Court debacle, even though we would all love to hear their valued insights.

Former attorney general and leading senior counsel Micheal McDowell has been busying himself with observations on all manner of issues, from the American election to the bronze statues outside the Shelbourne Hotel. But he has yet to find a minute in his busy schedule to enlighten us with his views on the Séamus Woulfe/Frank Clarke situation.

Fianna Fáil’s resident senior counsel, Jim O’Callaghan, is also being disappointingly reticent and people are wondering why he hasn’t been stirring up any trouble in the parliamentary party about his leader’s handling of the Woulfe question. The chat around Fianna Fáil is that Jim is an old Law Library mate of Woulfe, but they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Those members who are Micheál Martin loyalists saying O’Callaghan is now conducting visible leadership maneuvers among backbenchers. Anytime somebody has a media appearance he’s on to them like a flash telling them how wonderful they were.

The silks have been having a great time watching the unfolding fiasco. One eminent lawyer, echoing the prevailing political understanding in Leinster House that not every judicial appointment is pure as the driven snow, advanced this searing observation to us during the week: “The judges complaining about Séamus Woulfe’s advancement are like people celebrating their birthdays but not wanting to think about the act between their parents which made them possible.”

He also though it hilarious that some judges might actually resign. “Over the years some members of the Supreme Court have barely been on speaking terms for long stretches of time.”

Take away that memo

Stephen Donnelly had a bit of a setback with his hastily drawn-up Sculling Pints in Public memo to Cabinet on Tuesday.

Following the usual outrage after a picture was posted on social media showing people lashing into the drink in and around Dublin’s South William Street at the weekend, the Minister for Health moved to crack down on the selling of takeaway booze from hatches in locked-down public houses. He proposed a ban on takeaway pints for the duration of Level 5.

But Government politicians, fearing a backlash, shot it down. Why the kneejerk response to one episode posted on Twitter?

Stephen arrived at Cabinet with his memo prepared. There have been unkind suggestions that the copies of it were more or less flung back in his face by his colleagues when he presented them. It included the observation: “Given the tight timeframe involved it was not possible to consult with Ministers prior to the circulation of the Memorandum.”

No arguing with that.

The official Government line after the meeting is that it was decided at a pre-Cabinet meeting with the three Coalition leaders and Donnelly that his memo wouldn’t be taken in. This contradicts the line that he handed it around, was told “No” and had to take back all the copies.

However, a senior snitch tells us it was circulated at Cabinet but “we didn’t give them back so he didn’t have to collect them”.

Plague of plaques

It’s a plague of plaques on all your houses this week with a row brewing over whether or not to erect a commemorative plaque at the tenement museum on Dublin’s Henrietta Street and Senator Michael McDowell taking the Shelbourne Hotel to task for its decision to place explanatory plaques under each of the four statues – controversially removed from outside the historic building in July – when they return to their rightful plinths following refurbishment.

Our Dublin Editor, Olivia Kelly, reported on Thursday that council heritage and conservation officials are unhappy with the plan for a plaque honouring Thomas Bryan, one of the “Forgotten 10” executed during the War of Independence. She also tells us that Bryan, who was hanged in Mountjoy Prison in 1921 for his part in an attempted ambush in Drumcondra, is a great-uncle by marriage of singer Boy George.

In a letter to members of the commemoration committee, deputy city librarian Brendan Teeling said he had been advised by architectural conservation officer Mary McDonald and heritage officer Charles Duggan that the plaque could create “an undesirable precedent”.

Independent councillor Mannix Flynn says their objections are “ridiculous”.

Meanwhile, the saga of the Shelbourne’s statues looks set to rumble on. They vanished from the front of the building, a protected structure, at the height of the Black Lives Matter global protests when the hotel’s management mistakenly believed two of the statues were representations of Nubian slave girls. Senator McDowell dubbed the 153-year-old bronze statues “The Shelbourne Four” and called for them to be “freed from woke activism”.

He was one of many people who lodged complaints with the council’s planning enforcement section calling for the life-size pieces to be reinstated.

The hotel announced in September that the statues would be reinstated. “I hope they were not damaged during their unlawful removal,” said the former tánaiste in a statement this week, adding he has been informed that the council decided on November 4th to grant an exemption for reinstatement works including the addition of new explanatory plaques under the statues.

“This is a bit ridiculous. There is surely no need for plaques to explain what everyone now knows – the statues are not and never were statues of slaves. They are not and never were offensive or controversial. Their removal was unlawful and unjustified,” he said.

“We can’t go down the road of having to explain our architectural and artistic heritage as a condition of keeping it on public display in the open or in galleries and museums.

“I wouldn’t mind a temporary notice being exhibited for a few weeks in case some people still have have the wrong end of the stick about the statues. That might keep them safer while the story dies down. But permanent plaques explaining and excusing them is a bit OTT, I think.”

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