Fewer politicians than usual turned out for this year's Independence Day celebrations at the US ambassador's residence in the Phoenix Park on Thursday night.
Regulars at this annual bash remarked that the crowd was much smaller than in previous years, when the place would be heaving. The atrocious weather didn't help, but some revellers reckoned "the Trump factor" persuaded many invitees to say at home. Chargé d'Affaires Reece Smyth hosted the event in an impressive marquee on the lawn of the Deerfield Residence.
The White House has yet to appoint a successor to ambassador Kevin O'Malley, whose stint in Dublin finished in January on the day of Donald Trump's inauguration.
Irish-American businessman Brian P Burns had been tipped for the job, but he withdrew his name a few weeks ago citing ill-health. Since then, Trump's colourful spokesman Sean Spicer has been mentioned in connection with the prestigious post but the word at the Fourth of July celebrations was that they don't expect to hear about a replacement any time soon.
Dublin-based male voice quartet Four in a Bar performed on the night and sang the Irish and the US national anthems at a flag ceremony. Sponsors United Airlines held a draw for two return tickets to the US. The crowd waited expectantly as the MC drew the winning name from the drum.
“Frank Fah-han” he announced. “Frank Fah-han.”
There was silence.
“Draw again, draw again!” shouted the crowd.
The MC tried once more. “Frank Fah-han. Senator Frank Fah-han?”
Then the penny dropped – much to the disappointment of everyone else – , and Fine Gael Senator Frank Feighan rushed to the platform to claim his prize.
Frankie was delighted. His birthday is on the fourth of July.
It’s not the only thing the Roscommon-based Senator won this week. Tuesday’s announcement of constituency boundary changes saw a large chunk of his support base moved into Sligo-Leitrim, where he failed to get a seat at the last election.
“They were saying in the bar that if you’d given him a pen and paper and sat him down for a year to work out the best option, he wouldn’t have come up with anything better,” said a TD after the report was released.
Brady’s on fire
At their Captain’s Prize outing to Killarney last weekend, TDs and Senators, having completed their day’s golfing at the Killeen championship course, were most gratified by the night-time scenes they witnessed from the clubhouse balcony.
As they gazed out over the stunning scenery, members of the Oireachtas Golf Society were delighted to see that the locals had lit many bonfires to honour their presence in the Kingdom.
“A lot of them were feeling very important about themselves altogether” a rural-based TD told us. “They didn’t realise it was Bonfire Night and fires were being lit all over the country to mark midsummer’s eve.” It may not be a tradition in the capital, but the ancient tradition of setting St John’s Eve bonfires continues in many areas around the country.
As for the competition, the winning golfer was former Kildare TD Gerry Brady, who was a Fianna Fáil TD for nine months in 1982. His wife Áine, a former TD and junior minister between 2007 and 2011 also took part, along with her brother Tom Kitt, who was a TD for Dublin South and Bertie Ahern's chief whip.
Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen was one of the early leaders, but he fell down the rankings as the day wore on. The Clare TD Michael Harty, who is the society's newest member, also became their first member to register a hole in one. The GP won a litre of brandy for his achievement.
Outgoing Captain, Senator Paul Coghlan, didn't play on the day. When he wasn't zipping around the course in a buggy like a Ryder Cup boss he was dispensing tea and sandwiches from a little hut on the 14th tee.
Meanwhile, Donie Cassidy, former Fianna Fáil TD and senator, was master of ceremonies at the prize-giving ceremony in the clubhouse. The country music impresario from Castlepollard is a big noise in the society and he will be hosting his President's Prize day in Powerscourt in a couple of months time. Donie, who has a fondness for titles, now styles himself as the society's "International Secretary".
It is not known if he will hold a "rededication" ceremony at the Wicklow course when his big day arrives.
"He pulled off a masterstroke the last time we played at Powerscourt and got great publicity without it costing us a penny," recalls a golfing aficionado. "He came up with this wheeze to rededicate a couple of trees and held a ceremony and everything. There was one tree dedicated to the taoiseach and another to commissioner Hogan. Big Phil and Enda were delighted, they both turned up for the occasion, and Donie didn't even have to buy any trees. I think the hotel might have forked out for the plaques."
Simon’s stag do
The Minister for Health looked remarkably fresh and well this week, considering he spent last weekend naked and tied to a lamp-post in Munich.
Actually, not all of the above is true.
Simon Harris confirmed he travelled to the German beer capital with his mates last Friday but refused to tell us the gory details of his stag do. It was all very civilised, he swears.
They did a sort of assault course session which involved flying down zip-wires and the like. But that was as exciting as it got.
Harris (30) is getting married to paediatric nurse Caoimhe Wade in three weeks' time. He has the suit bought and is ready to go. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Simon's cabinet colleagues are on the guest list, along with former taoiseach Enda Kenny and former minister for finance, Michael Noonan.
Coincidentally, Harris was back in Munich again yesterday. He had a meeting in Berlin on the European Medicines Agency with his German counterpart and flew back to Dublin from the Bavarian capital. It was a far more sober affair.
Meanwhile, the big social event of the week took place on Wednesday night in Varadkar’s lovely new office when he invited all Fine Gael’s first-term TDs along to rub their noses in it.
The Taoiseach gave himself some breathing room when it came to handing out ministerial jobs last month by announcing he would not be considering any of the new Dáil intake for promotion. Some of them were crushingly disappointed.
We hear Noel Rock was particularly down in the dumps, but he cheered up after a glass or two of red wine. Noel wasn't upset at not getting a job, having been a staunch supporter of the Leo for Leader campaign; rather it was the news that he stands to lose 20 per cent of his first preference vote in Dublin North-West with the redrawing of his constituency boundary.
Leo laid on a buffet dinner and brought the newbies on a tour of his swanky crib and they were absolutely delighted for him. Oh, yes.
But not half as delighted as he was for himself, or so we hear.
Jostling to stay in Martin’s good books
TDs come in for a lot of criticism for not spending enough time in the chamber. They, like the journalists enduring, er, covering the proceedings, explain they get far more work done by following it all on the monitors in their office.
So we’ve been rather puzzled in the recent weeks by the regular sight of Fianna Fáil TDs sitting in the chamber for what might be 30 or 40 minutes before the Dáil opens for business. A small group of lads, sitting next to and around their party leader’s seat, chatting to each other while this happens.
Have they nothing better to be doing?
Having thoroughly investigated the matter, it seems the answer to that is “no”.
Apparently the TDs are locked in a battle of wills with their Cork South-West colleague, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, over who gets to sit beside Micheál Martin during Leaders’ Questions. Murphy O’Mahony, realising that sitting in the seat next to the leader gets your face on the television news, began arriving very early into the chamber so she could bag that precious berth before anyone else.
This put a few noses out of joint and prompted some of her colleagues to beat her at her own game, hence the strange sight of the lads (because they are) sitting on their own for ages in the silent chamber before anyone else arrives for business.
Margaret has now started to limit her appearances, but her colleagues are taking no chances. She still managed to beat them during the week, surfacing once more at the leader’s side, an unmissable vision in neon pink.
And another little seating peculiarity among the ranks of the Soldiers of Destiny has also been noted by Leinster House observers. Stephen Donnelly, the party's recent high-profile new recruit who left the Social Democrats last year to continue on as an Independent before throwing in his lot with Fianna Fáil, seems a bit marginalised these days. He doesn't appear too often for the Leaders' Questions session and when he does, he is usually parked at the outer edge of his party.
We hear that while Donnelly is not being frozen out by colleagues, some of them don’t really see him as one of their own. Certainly, as the party’s Brexit spokesman, he doesn’t seem to enjoy the sort of profile that this important portfolio should bring with it.
Is he in danger of becoming Fianna Fáil’s version of George Lee?
Keeping the Russians in check
Form an orderly queue!
The Dáil’s Inter-Parliamentary Unit (apparently it’s there to help our politicians nurture good relations with colleagues from parliaments around the world) put out a call this week for chess players to take on the Russians.
An email sent to TDs and Senators informed them that "The Ambassador of the Russian Federation H.E. Mr Maxim Peshkov has received a letter from Mr Anatoly Karpov, former Chess World Champion and Deputy Chairman of the Committee of International Affairs of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, with a request to contact Irish parliamentarians on the issue of the possible organising of an Interparliamentary Russian-Irish Chess tournament. Similar competitions are planned to be held across EU countries."
The details of all those interested in taking part will be passed on to the Russian embassy.
We hope nobody gets injured in the rush.
At least it makes a change from pilates.
Paschal the part-timer
What has Paschal Donohoe been saying these days?
Here's the Minister for Finance finishing up his closing statement at the National Economic Dialogue (the Ned talks) which was on in Dublin Castle during the week. He thanked the ESRI's Alan Barrett, who chaired the plenary sessions over the two-day event and noted he was well qualified to do the job.
“Well. Thank you very much Alan. And thank you all very much for participating in the session to date.”
So far, so Paschal. Then he picked up on something the economist said about what he did after the opening day of the conference.
“He said he got home and went to look at an OECD website.
"After my day here, I had a lengthy parliamentary party meeting of my Fine Gael colleagues and went home and watched an episode of Homeland. So I think that would indicate the degree to why Alan is so well suited to leading a session like this, and providing an environment in which we can listen carefully and deliberate on the different views that are been articulated around the table."