Miriam Lord: Date for Dublin Bay South byelection revealed

Prospect of having to listen to people banging about constituency until October proved frightening

Danny Healy-Rae is accusing Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin of ‘showboating’ over filling in the Kerry potholes.

Danny Healy-Rae is accusing Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin of ‘showboating’ over filling in the Kerry potholes.

 

The joy of outdoor dining again will be somewhat diminished for the people of Dublin Bay South over the coming weeks as they contend with byelection candidates cooing at them over the coffee cups, gormlessly pointing at food items on their plates and waving inanely to imaginary friends at nearby tables.

The good news is that this form of harassment won’t last much longer than a month as polling day will be on Thursday, July 8th.

Former minister Eoghan Murphy’s resignation at the beginning of May created the vacancy. His party, Fine Gael, has six months to name the date. With most candidates already declared, the prospect of having to listen to people banging about Dublin Bay South until October is frightening. However, it seems a decision has been reached and will be announced when the Dáil returns after next week’s recess.

Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar will move the writ to trigger the byelection and Minister for the Environment Darragh O’Brien will then formally sign the order setting the date for polling day.

Leo has already said he wants a summer contest. “It’s a much more pleasant experience.”

Campaigning will begin in earnest over the Bank Holiday weekend. A month from Monday is not a long time.

“Nobody wants it to go until the middle of July because the vaccine bonus will have kicked in and people will be going off on foreign holidays again,” explained a Government source, confirming the July 8th date.

“Also, the writ has to be moved when the Dáil is in session and we break for the summer in mid-July. After that, dragging things out until the autumn is just not an option.”

Leaving Paschal

Poor Paschal Donohoe. All alone in Government Buildings.

Or maybe not, because the Minister for Finance is an affable type and as reigning head honcho of the Eurogroup club of financial ministers, he has plenty of new chums.

But Paschal is losing two key members of his personal team who have decided to move on after years of having his back in Merrion Street. And to compound his woes, his two ministerial drivers have also decided to call it a day.

Ed Brophy is Paschal’s chief political and policy adviser and has been with him for 3½ years in the Department of Finance. He was Joan Burton’s chief of staff when she was minister for social protection in 2011 and continued in that role when she became tánaiste in 2014.

Four years later, with Labour out of government, there were a few noses out of joint in the party when he joined Fine Gael’s Minister of Finance and Public Expenditure as his top adviser.

Also bowing out is special adviser Deborah Sweeney, a former press officer with Fine Gael who has been a member of Paschal’s inner circle since his early days in the Department of Transport. Deborah is press and media adviser and keeps a wary eye whenever her boss is out and about.

Neither of them have concrete plans for the future, but there are “a few things in the offing”. However, with their years of experience at the highest government level (a very valuable commodity), they won’t be too worried about their job prospects. *

Internal battle

“The Darling Boys from Clare” are providing wonderful entertainment for members of Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party these days at a time when the Dáil bar is closed and they have little entertainment outside of the endless round of Zoom meetings.

The tension between constituency rivals deputy Cathal Crowe and senator Timmy Dooley – the former a first-time TD, the latter a seasoned politician who lost his Dáil seat in the last election – has not gone unnoticed. “Everyone is aware of it, it’s hilarious. Not that they’d be fighting at the PP meeting or anything, but they’d be very competitive,” explained a colleague.

“If one of them is on RTÉ, you can be sure the other one will pop up on Newstalk or somewhere else. With the jobs situation at Shannon Airport, they’re tripping over themselves trying to outdo each other on the aviation.

“One might schedule a Zoom meeting on hospitality and next minute you’d get a message in at short notice from the other fella that he has a Zoom meeting set up with the pilots right after it. Sometimes the first one has to be cut short because the second meeting has to start. It’s hard to keep up.

“They don’t get personal over it, it’s all very civilised, but everyone knows they’re going for one another, hammer and tongs. It’s just so funny to watch.”

Has anybody mentioned this fierce internal battle for Fianna Fáil dominance in Clare? “Nobody is saying anything. In actual fact, we enjoy it. There isn’t anyone saying ‘Listen guys, will you calm down and keep it easy, you won’t be able to keep going at this pace.’”

Our informant reckons Micheál Martin enjoys the two politicians tousling for constituency supremacy. “The boss just lets them at it. You can’t beat a good constituency row where people spark off each other, you might even get the two seats out of it, on a good day, if they work hard enough.”

Mission pothole

A boreen connecting the townlands of Cahirfilane and Gortaneden in Kerry got a facelift last Saturday when local Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin and his long-suffering PA Tommy spent the morning filling in the potholes.

No good turn goes unmentioned where TDs are concerned and he duly informed the Dáil on Thursday about his labours. The little road is a part of the Keel Loop walk near Castlemaine and is very popular with walkers and cyclists, providing a safer alternative to the busy Killarney to Dingle Road.

Griffin told the Dáil that the road is one of 800 local improvement scheme (LIS) roads in the county awaiting Government funding.

He said that while Kerry got more than €4 million in funding in 2017, thousands of rural roads in his constituency and nationwide still needed funds released for work to start. He asked the Tánaiste to help clear the list sooner by upping the money available to local authorities to carry out improvements.

Leo Varadkar said he would look at diverting capital funding not spent this year because of the construction shutdown. “We know that some construction projects will be delayed, so we should perhaps repurpose and reallocate some of that money towards the LIS, which could be done quickly.”

And he couldn’t resist a swipe at Griffin’s political rivals in the Kingdom. “I’m pleased to hear that you’re not the only deputy in Kerry who fills potholes and I imagine you don’t charge as much as the other ones do,” he remarked, in an obvious cut at the Healy-Rae brothers who are involved in the plant hire business. Danny Healy-Rae has lucrative county council contracts, all awarded through open tender.

Sensibly, Leo quickly pulled back. “But I’m sure whatever they charge is a fair price.”

Kerry Radio’s Jerry O’Sullivan now reports that Danny Healy-Rae is accusing Griffin of “showboating” over the potholes while Mayor of Killarney Brendan Cronin (Independent) has dismissed the episode as a “PR stunt” and says it was Leo Varadkar who cut the LIS scheme when he was minister for transport.

Brendan Griffin tells us that he mostly operated the wacker plate during the pothole mission.

Proud Tipp man of Baggot Street fame

Tom Nesbitt, of Doheny and Nesbitt fame, died last weekend at St Gabriel’s nursing home in Dublin’s Clontarf.

His death was reported in the Tipperary newspapers, for while he may have spent most of his adult life in the capital, he was first and foremost a proud Tipp man from the village of Loughmore.

He ran the famous Baggot Street bar with fellow county man, the late Ned Doheny. They returned from working in New York in the 1960s and bought the Victorian pub for about €5,000, but they never revealed what they sold it for when they retired in 1987.

Just around the corner from Government Buildings and Leinster House, the hostelry is a favoured haunt of politicians, senior civil servants, political hacks, media hacks and economic, legal and academic windbaggers who like to think they run the country.

Former TD now Templemore councillor TD Noel Coonan told Tipperary Live: “If you couldn’t contact a minister, then Doheny and Nesbitt’s was always a great place to catch them off guard.”

* This article was amended on June 5th, 2021