Miriam Lord: FF good-news merchants jump the gun in rush to start the party

Elsewhere Sinn Féin reminded us that if you have to curse, you should curse in Irish

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly: he has eased up noticeably on the histrionics and adopted a more considered and conciliatory approach during his Dáil outings.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly: he has eased up noticeably on the histrionics and adopted a more considered and conciliatory approach during his Dáil outings. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

What’s the point in having Government Ministers in your corner if you can’t use them to steal a march on political rivals?

Details of major capital investments are supposed to remain secret until the big announcement, but Ministers regularly pass on information to party members in advance so they can break the good news ahead of the competition.

Minister for the Environment Darragh O’Brien was due in his Fingal constituency at 11am on Friday to announce funding for eight urban regeneration projects in Dublin city and county. With €430 million to spend in the second round of disbursements under the scheme, some of the Minister’s colleagues were keen to get the word out quickly to impress voters.

They included Senators Catherine Ardagh and Mary Fitzpatrick, who both just missed out on Dáil seats in the last election. The two Fianna Fáil politicians were so eager to spread the good news that they took to social media first thing on Friday morning, before the Minister was due to speak.

“Fantastic news! €174m for Dublin City Projects!” trumpeted Mary.

“Delighted to see such huge investment announced for the South West Inner City” gushed Catherine, with “€53m” writ large above her head.

But their joy, unfortunately, remained confined when they were told by headquarters they had jumped the gun. The posts were quickly taken down. But they were up again as soon as Darragh opened his mouth in Balbriggan.

Meanwhile, Westmeath-based Senator Aidan Davitt has also been the bearer of glad tidings this week, emailing county councillors all over the country with an update on the proposed pay increase for local authority members.

In his message headed “Commitment from Minister McGrath on the Moorhead Report”, Davitt “Working with Councillors for Councillors” said a motion due for discussion at this week’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting had been deferred.

“I understand from my colleague Senator Diarmuid Wilson that he spoke with Minister Michael McGrath last evening, and that the Minister indicated it was his intention that this matter will be brought to Government in the coming weeks with a view to it being implemented by June 2021 as promised in the programme for government.”

The Cabinet agreed as much last month.

“I sincerely hope that this matter will now come to a satisfactory conclusion,” wrote Davitt, who should be well got with the Minister as he was Fianna Fáil Seanad spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform until he lost the whip following his attendance at last year’s Golfgate dinner. Happily, it was restored in January after five months in the wilderness.

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It is generally agreed that the Labour Party has upped its game in recent months. Leader Alan Kelly, while still a martyr to the amateur dramatics, has eased up noticeably on the histrionics, and adopted a more considered and conciliatory approach during his Dáil outings.

Despite its reduced circumstances (just six TDs and five Senators) the party is performing well on the big issues. The quality of Dáil contributions during major debates has attracted favourable media attention and generated welcome publicity. Speeches combining criticism of the Government with constructive suggestions show a welcome willingness not to sacrifice substance for soundbite.

But that new energy and engagement is not translating into an increase in support. The party remains deep in the opinion poll doldrums. What to do?

There are whispers around Leinster House that Labour is planning a big relaunch in autumn. However, a spokesperson brushed aside the suggestion, saying they were concentrating on recruiting new members and reorganising around the country.

This weekend sees the launch of a month long “Sign Up A Sister” campaign where existing members are asked to encourage women to get more involved in politics and sign up to Labour for free. On Monday the Senators are launching a women’s manifesto for International Women’s Day.

And while headquarters is saying there are no plans for a relaunch in autumn, one senior Labour source tells us it is definitely on the cards.

“You’d be right about that. I don’t know what exactly is envisaged, but it is one of a number of things we are doing, such as rebuilding around the country and improving our social media output.

“The party has been getting great coverage, but it’s not showing in the polls. Everyone knows the party needs a refresh. It has gone staid and stale, and we need to regroup and keep pushing through.”

New political director Cónán Ó Broin and recently appointed general secretary Billie Sparks are driving the push forward.

Labour could not go ahead with its annual conference this month, and is hoping to hold it in the autumn. It will be Alan Kelly’s first conference as leader, and the ideal time to unveil the new look.

Will it be a full rebranding? Will the red rose emblem go?

“More of a refresh. We won’t be losing the rose. We’re doing stuff now that resonates with a lot of people, and there’s a great esprit de corps among the TDs and the Senators, especially the new Senators. We all know that we have to keep that spirit going and push well beyond the six seats in the next election or else we’ll be gone.

“There’s no point on going off on agendas that people don’t get at all. We’re not doing virtue signalling like our cousins in the Soc Dems.”

Former senator Kevin Humphreys, who is the new national organiser, says Labour is working hard on the ground. “We are back up and running in places gone from us since 2012. Membership figures are well up.”

They will be keeping a close eye on developments across the water where details emerged this week of a review commissioned by UK Labour which recommended radical rebranding of the party to win back former voters.

Leader Sir Keir Starmer, while regarded by focus groups as a positive asset, was also seen as a leader who likes “sitting on the fence”.

The strategy, which Starmer has not endorsed, suggests Labour should appear more patriotic, making more “use of the flag, veterans and dressing smartly” in a effort to distance the party from its disastrous performance under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

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It isn’t often that politicians get away with swearing in the Dáil Chamber, but Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh managed to turn the air blue on Tuesday afternoon during a somewhat soporific sitting of the Oireachtas Committee on the Irish language and the Gaeltacht.

Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary was in the chair as the committee ploughed through a long discussion on the Official Languages Bill which aims to improve and strengthen the delivery of public services in Irish. There were over 300 amendments and over 90 of them were ruled out of order. It was heavy going.

A weary looking Ó Snodaigh sat surrounded by pages of documents and notes as Calleary said he was moving on to amendment 88.

Clear as day the TD for Dublin South Central exhaled deeply and loudly sighed “f**king hell!”

Nobody seemed to notice in the Chamber or outside, but an alert journalist with the online newspaper Tuairisc heard the Deputy’s pained cry.

Some might have presumed the reason for his frustration was the tedious nature of the debate, but Sinn Féin’s Irish language spokesman explained afterwards that he was annoyed because documents kept falling out of his files.

“I have to careful, the microphones in the Dáil are obviously very sensitive.”

Aengus was a bit annoyed with himself. “If you have to curse at all, you should be cursing in Irish!”

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For all of you who have just returned from a trip to Mars and don’t know the news, it’s International Women’s Day on Monday.

Needless to say the politicians have gone mad marking the occasion with online events to beat the band, speeches in the Dáil and Seanad, and all sorts of socially distant announcements on the plinth.

And where would Mná na hÉireann be without “virtual roundtables”?

International Women’s Day goes on for well over a week. The Minister for Justice kicked off a plethora of engagements on Friday morning with a video address to the Polish embassy’s International Women’s Day event.

Helen McEntee’s speech was “to all the Polish women living in Ireland” but she had a special mention for those who come under her department’s remit.

“We are fortunate to have a number of skilled and dedicated Polish colleagues working in a variety of areas, including in frontline jobs in An Garda Síochána, the Border Management Unit and the Irish Prison Service.

“I would like to personally thank them for their dedication and commitment, especially during the past year when our frontline services have faced immense challenges.”

On Monday Poland figures again when members of the Oireachtas All-Party Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights take to the Leinster House plinth to call on Poland to reform its abortion law. The 26-member group will be represented by Senators Alice Mary Higgins (NUI), Lorraine Clifford-Lee (FF), Annie Hoey (Labour) and Social Democrat TD Holly Cairns.

The Minister says her Friday speech was aimed at the Polish community here and she fully supports her Oireachtas colleagues’ stance.

At around the same time she will be taking part in a virtual roundtable on Monday on “Gender Equality in the Justice Sector: Perspective from Senior Leaders”.

It’s a high powered line-up including Oonagh McPhillips, secretary general of the Department of Justice; Anne Marie McMahon, deputy commissioner of An Garda Síochána; Angela Denning, CEO of the Courts Service; Maeve Hogan, CEO of the Property Services Regulatory Authority; and Linda Mulligan, chief state pathologist.

The event, which is open to the public, starts at 1pm, and will be live-streamed on the department’s social media channels.

And then it will be on to the International Women’s Day online event organised by the Muslim Sisters of Éire, where speakers include Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman, Senator Eileen Flynn and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

The theme is Unstoppable: Love in the time of pandemic.

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