Miriam Lord: Dublin Bay South gears up for the battle of the barristers

Senior counsel Jim O’Callaghan has his work cut out to get an FF candidate over the line

Senior counsel and TD Jim O’Callaghan will have to abandon his listening tour of the shires and return to the capital now he has been appointed Fianna Fáil’s director of elections for the barristers’ bumper byelection in Dublin Bay South. Local councillors Claire O’Connor and Deirdre Conroy, both lawyers, are seeking the party nomination.

Last June, O’Callaghan selflessly turned down the offer of a junior counsel, sorry, junior ministerial position in Micheál Martin’s Government to concentrate on “strengthening our great party” and attracting new members by putting himself about all over the country as one of Fianna Fáil’s “strong voices” outside government.

He tweeted his “delight” at getting the director of elections gig and said he believed the party would put up a strong performance.

“My first priority now is to organise a convention for the selection of the candidate.”


Jim dutifully tried to sound like he was dripping with enthusiasm when asked about his party’s campaign in a constituency not noted as a Fianna Fáil stronghold. Luckily for him, he didn’t have to spend too much time talking about the byelection because interviewers wanted to ask him about the housing crisis and the growing glut of global investment funds hoovering up starter homes.

Which should help the campaign no end.

Party colleague Barry Cowen replied to O’Callaghan’s tweet. “Good luck Jim. I directed our last two wins in Carlow/Kilkenny and Wexford … no pressure!”

On the other side of the Coalition, Fine Gael’s byelection got off to an entertaining start with former TD Kate O’Connell taking to the airwaves on Friday morning to rule herself out of the race.

She said it would be “impossible” to win at the selection convention because the odds were stacked against her by elements within the party who viewed her as an “undesirable” candidate from the country.

She felt their message was “We don’t like the cut of your jib”. And that the leadership, aka Leo Varadkar, didn’t want her either.

The Rathgar-based pharmacist spoke out the morning after her rival for the nomination, Cllr James Geoghegan, announced he had secured support from all 12 branches in the local organisation.

Barrister James boasts impeccable legal lineage. Clearly Fine Gael’s Dublin 4 bluebloods are unperturbed by his “Reboot Ireland” episode, when he threw in his lot with Lucinda Creighton’s short-lived Renua party. Lucinda is a lawyer too, and was a very able TD for Fine Gael before she left the fold. But then of course, she does come from Crossmolina.

Ivana Bacik kicked off her byelection campaign by putting the boot in, but not in the Kate O'Connell sense

Which brings us to the highlight of Kate’s dramatic bowing-out on the Claire Byrne Show.

The sod of turf.

In the handbag.

A special Lady Bracknell moment, when listeners found themselves shouting those famous words from The Importance of Being Earnest at the radio: “A haaandbag!”

It was brought to a constituency meeting by one of those who didn’t like the cut of Kate’s jib. It seems a member of Kate’s team rumbled that this woman intended to whip the turf out of her investment Birkin and present it to the TD in front of everyone in the room.

What larks!

And to think some people believe Ross O’Carroll-Kelly’s mother doesn’t exist.

Senators sad at being sidelined

Some weeks ago we told you that the Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus had written to the Dáil Business Committee asking that for the Seanad’s twice-weekly sitting days to be changed from Monday and Friday to a more family-friendly Monday and Tuesday. Their wish has been granted. And not everyone is happy.

Doing away with the split week would, it is argued, make life that bit easier for parents who have to travel long distances to get to Kildare Street. Since Covid-19 restrictions forced the Dáil to up stumps and hold its sessions in the Dublin Convention Centre, the Seanad has been meeting in the Dáil chamber.

On Thursday the Seanad’s Privileges and Oversight Committee accepted a recommendation from Leinster House authorities and voted for sittings on successive days at the start of the week.

However, the sting in the tail is that the Upper House has to move to the detested Convention Centre for the Tuesday sittings.

The Dáil, meanwhile, is moving to a three-day operation next week, starting at 2pm on Tuesday, with the Seanad kicking off at 9am before being booted out at lunchtime to make way for the TDs.

Micheal McDowell, a member of the Privileges and Oversight Committee, vehemently objected to the move at their meeting and asked that his disagreement be noted in its report.

“There are two perfectly good existing chambers in Leinster House – the Dáil and Seanad. If you put 60 of us in the Covention Centre they’ll have to have a prize for ‘Spot the Senator’. It’s crazy,” he told us.

A number of Senators have privately expressed their annoyance at having to shift to the 2,000-seater auditorium in the docklands. They say they were told Senators could not be accommodated in the Dáil chamber on Tuesdays on the grounds of health and safety. Their presence – while committees are taking place around the complex – would constitute “excessive footfall”.

“It’s completely neurotic and over the top. These civil servants think we’re all going to be wiped out by the Covid,” said one.

“The committee members are all in their offices participating online. And the TDs are here most of the time anyway because they can’t stand the Convention Centre and only go down there when they have to speak or vote. Sure they all come back to Leinster House for their lunch and their tea.”

Covid babies and the tunnel ahead

Great news from Pádraig O’Sullivan, Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North Central, who explained to the Dáil on Thursday why he has a particular interest in the management of maternity services during the pandemic. In the process, he found a kindred spirit in Stephen Donnelly.

The Minister for Health was in the House for statements on the vaccine programme. O’Sullivan told him: “Last April we were lucky enough to have a baby girl, so I suppose we had a child during Covid ourselves, and we think back on the difficulties that we had at that time.”

He was “lucky enough at that stage to be able to come in for the birth of my child” so could empathise with other TDs who spoke of others who were not so fortunate.

“We are expecting a third child in September so it would be great to get some clarification on a more streamlined approach in terms of our maternity services,” Pádraig said. He wondered if a digital green cert might allow people attend births in the future.

Stephen Donnelly was delighted for him. “Can I start by offering you my congratulations on the birth of your daughter some time ago and again, on the future birth this year,” he began.

“I had … eh … my wife and I had our first two children very close together, and while I congratulate you, Deputy, we might have a conversation later about coping mechanisms for the very long tunnel that you are about to enter.”

What a lovely story. Pity it didn’t get more widespread coverage. It would have lifted the spirits of the nation.

Labour ladies in the wars

What are the Labour Senators up to?

Three walking wounded women in the ranks. Ivana Bacik kicked off her Dublin Bay South byelection campaign by putting the boot in, but not in the Kate O’Connell sense. Bacik broke her ankle when walking the dog recently and she began the week in surgical footwear.

There may have to be an emergency intervention for Michael D at the Áras

Then her Seanad colleague, Drogheda’s Annie Hoey, also tripped while out walking her dog, sustaining torn ligaments. She was picking up after her pooch when it pulled on the lead and she lost her balance. Now she’s hobbling around in a surgical boot.

Annie shares an office in Leinster House with Senator Rebecca Moynihan of Dublin South Central. Rebecca loves plants, and the room is like something out of the tropics. Unfortunately, while tending a potted yucca, Moynihan bent down and got poked in the eye by one of the sharply pointed leaves. She ended up wearing a white bandage around her head and an eye patch.

Ivana was able to abandon the boot a couple of days ago.

“It’s best foot forward all the way now,” said the candidate.

“And we’re only preparing to go into the trenches,” joked Annie. “If we look like this now wait until after the byelection.”

Marie Sherlock, the last woman standing among the five Labour Senators (Mark Wall is the fifth), must be feeling worried.

Michael De Viking

There may have to be an emergency intervention at the Áras.

Since the pandemic, President Michael D Higgins, who recently turned 80, has been marooned above in the park, making videos to beat the band and delivering worthy addresses over the ether. But he needs people to talk to and events to host and real live audiences for his speeches.

“It’s really changed the way I do things … I’ve actually made 90 video pieces,” he told William Cawley during a wide-ranging and thoughtful interview on Radio Ulster’s Talkback this week. It’s well worth a listen back.

“I would get a great deal of energy from the feedback. I like meeting people; it’s what I’ve been doing all my life,” he said wistfully.

During the hour-long interview he selected three pieces of music: Van Morrison’s Burning Ground, Leonard Cohen’s Come the Light and Luke Kelly’s version of Raglan Road.

He mentioned “one thing” he learned when he was at Manchester University: “the importance of the sociology of migration”.

As you do.

“You know, people are talking as if they were attached to a rock, or something like that. Everyone is a migrant. My name in Irish is Ó hUiginn and when you do the genetic trace on it, it’s the Irish for ‘Viking’ and the first of the Ó Uiginns is in the Inishowen peninsula in Northern Ireland.

“So I’m probably a Viking.

“And there are people from the north of this island who have been going on marauding raids to Scotland and there are people who have been coming back and some have stayed.

“Why not take all their sounds and symbols and cultures and languages and draw from them all.”

Micheal D.

A Viking.

We’ll leave it there.