Miriam Lord: Dáil debate goes from bog to verse

Meanwhile, there was a crucial Grand Slam decider that didn’t go to plan in London

Fiona O’Loughlin declared: “I am a bog woman and I’m very proud of it. I come from the heart of the Bog of Allen.”

Fiona O’Loughlin declared: “I am a bog woman and I’m very proud of it. I come from the heart of the Bog of Allen.”

 

Being on home turf means different things to different people.

On Thursday afternoon, Fianna Fáil’s Fiona O’Loughlin, a TD for Kildare South, asked the Minister for the Environment about job security in Bord na Móna.

“I am a bog woman and I’m very proud of it. I come from the heart of the Bog of Allen,” she declared.

“Well that makes two of us,” replied Denis Naughten . . .

“I was about to say that I know you are very proud of your own roots as well too, Minister and there’s plenty of bog in Roscommon,” said Fiona, sweetly.

So much in common. It was lovely.

She said she couldn’t underestimate the importance of Bord na Móna to Kildare and, in some detail, she didn’t. Fiona bolstered her case with a little bit of verse.

“Our own Rathangan poet, William A. Byrne has written many poems about the bog, and I’ll just give you four lines,” she announced.

“I was the broom and crooked heather,

I was the moss that grew,

But time has moulded us together,

Beneath the years of dew.”

But it seems no amount of time will mould together the views of Deputy O’Loughlin and Minister Naughten when it comes to their native bog.

Thanking her for raising such an important issue, Naughten said he wouldn’t be reciting any poetry and then he made an admission which had poor Fiona nearly reaching for the smelling salts.

“I have to declare an interest. I’ve been eaten out of the bog by midges on many, many occasions. My own village where I was born is surrounded by bog. I hated every day I spent on the bog as well, by the way . . .”

Midges. That must be a Roscommon term for fellas like Ming Flanagan and Michael Fitzmaurice.

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LEINSTER HOUSE POPS UP

What’s wrong with a nice cup of tea? They’re gone coffee mad in Leinster House.

I blame the Dublin 4 meeja (stuffed to the gunnels with Kerry people, incidentally).

Anyway, if proof were needed that they are definitely losing the run of themselves, a “Barista Pop Up Cafe” materialised in the Leinster House 2000 building on Friday.

To celebrate, all latte, cappuccino, flat white and mocha were priced at a promotional €1. The occasion also gave the catering division a chance to update everybody on how the Houses of the Oireachtas “Environmental Initiative” is getting on.

Very well, it seems.

All disposable cups and lids are now 100 per cent compostable. All salad bowls and soup containers are compostable pulp products. There is improved segregation of waste and the paper napkins are unbleached.

A lot of places are doing away with straws, but that is not possible in Leinster House where politicians have to clutch at them on a regular basis. The new ones are made from recycled paper.

And then there’s the cutlery. Knives must be robust enough to slide between political shoulder blades. Wood is now the material of choice.

Bespoke Keep Cups are all the rage. The Minister for the Environment enthusiastically handed some out to cabinet colleagues and his staff recently. Some were more grateful than others. We managed to snaffle one. It’s in the Roscommon colours – blue and yellow – and bears the message “Rossies Use Your Mug”.

For people who feel a Rossies beaker is a betrayal of county loyalty, the good news is that they will soon be able to buy their own Oireachtas-branded reusable Keep Cup. A consignment is due in shortly.

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HARRIS SKIPS BRUSSELS

It was very noble of the Minister for Health to forego his St Patrick’s Day excursion abroad so he could concentrate on tackling the hospital trolley crisis.

In doing so, he missed out on a plum trip to exotic Belgium and the Netherlands.

Lovely Belgium. Beautiful Brussels. Beautiful boring Brussels; which is what it is if you happen to be a government minister, blue in the face from traipsing over and back for dreary EU meetings.

The gig usually falls to the European Affairs Minister but this year Helen McEntee managed to nab a more glamorous outing to Vienna and Bratislava.

For some reason, Simon Harris was asked to go to Brussels and go about his nation’s business beside the statue of the Manneken Pis, peeing green for Ireland.

The little statue, that is, not the minister.

Although depending on what way his instructions were worded, it’s no wonder Simon cried off. There is only so much asparagus a person can eat.

The Manneken Pis has nearly 1,000 costumes and is dressed in an Aran jumper, tweed cap and green rosette every St Patrick’s Day, when visiting ministers are photographed smiling delightedly beside it.

Sadly for Harris, he never got to see the special outfit on Belgium’s famous bronze of a little boy urinating into a fountain.

He must be devastated.

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FAREWELL, URSULA

Ursula Halligan’s Leinster House colleagues held a farewell bash for her in the Dáil bar on Wednesday night. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called in to wish her all the best.

The former TV3 political editor, who has just been appointed Journalist in Residence at DCU, toiled for 19 years in Leinster House before deciding it was time to move on to pursue other interests. Her fellow pol corrs presented her with a watercolour of her favourite nook in Marlay Park, painted by artist Kate Bedell.

Press Gallery chairman Fiach Kelly recalled how Ursula played a central role in “Flowerpotgate”, when Enda Kenny tripped over a pot of petunias in his haste to escape from her persistent questions. He also remembered the Fianna Fáil think-in of 2010 and the immediate aftermath of Brian Cowen’s famous “Garglegate” interview on Morning Ireland, when she bluntly put the question everyone wanted to ask: “Taoiseach, were you drunk or hungover?”

“For her colleagues, she always set the perfect example in bravery and decency. We often like to think of ourselves as fearless, but Ursula truly is,” he said. “Most of the time we were content to follow her lead and her microphone in asking that tough question which needed to asked.”

A steady stream of TDs and Senators from all parties called into the back area of the bar to convey their good wishes to Ursula. They included a number of Sinn Féin politicians who dropped in for a drink over the course of the evening.

Shinners in the Dáil bar, drinking alcohol?

“Gerry isn’t leader anymore,” winked one of them.

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FOUR DECADES IN LEINSTER HOUSE

Meanwhile, also biding adieu to Kildare Street is Maire Garvey, the longest-serving member of Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary staff who put in an amazing 43 years in Leinster House.

Maire, originally from Aughermore in Mayo, first worked with former government minister and MEP Gerry Collins (of “Albert, you’ll burst up the party” fame) and in her last role she worked with his nephew, Limerick County TD, Niall Collins.

“She’ll be sorely missed by everyone here and in Limerick,” said Collins. “I think Maire was better known than me in Limerick.”

Over the years straight-talking Maire became a role model to younger parliamentary assistants who looked to her for advice. “She deserves a medal for putting up with us for so long,” remarked one Fianna Fáiler.

Meanwhile, still going strong is Fine Gael stalwart, Deirdre Chambers, whose 40 years of unbroken service was marked at a surprise party attended by the Taoiseach, Ministers, TDs, Senators and staff. Deirdre, from Newport in Mayo, served with six party leaders, four of them taoisigh.

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IRISH LOSS

While the Taoiseach was marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York, an important rugby match was taking place in London.

It was a Grand Slam decider – a crunch game.

The Irish lost.

The fixture was followed by another important decider. Happily, Ireland triumphed in that one and took the Grand Slam home in some style.

But it wasn’t to be for the Dáil & Seanad XV. The Oireachtas team, led by Senator Neale Richmond, came up short in their quest for clean sweep in the political championship.

Early wins were secured against the XV Parliamentaire in Paris (20-12) and the Scottish Parliament in Dublin (19-12). Regular players included TDs Jim O’Callaghan, Michael D’Arcy, Alan Farrell, John Paul Phelan and Senators Mark Daly and Fintan Warfield. Motivational speeches were supplied by senators Maria Byrne and Catherine Noone.

Last Saturday the team travelled to London in quest of the Grand Slam with a team comprising Oireachtas members, staff and, as the supplied match report informs us, “a number of guests”.

If this was racing there’d be a steward’s inquiry.

The annual battle against the might of the Commons and Lords goes back to 1992, when Michael Creed, now the Minister for Agriculture, togged out. He provided coaching assistance on this occasion.

The visitors made a strong start when retired committee clerk, Eoin Faherty, was put over by Louth councillor John McGahon. Second row David Alwright from the Parliamentary Questions Office scored the second try at the back of a maul before the hosts claimed one score back through former minister Steve Crabbe MP.

The second half saw the physicality raised by the Commons and Lords with Lord Dominick of Addington barging over to level the game. But sustained pressure saw Vinnie O’Dowd, son of TD Fergus, over the line and the Irish seemed on course for victory despite two apparent scores from Senator Frank Feighan and John Carroll of the Taoiseach’s office being disallowed.

But in injury time, in the last play of the game, Mark Pawsey MP levelled the score.

Honours even at 15-15, the two teams retired to a charity lunch in aid of the Wooden Spoon society before embarking for Twickenham and the Grand Slam that mattered.