Miriam Lord: FG ladies hope lunch raises funds, not just glasses

Flanagan in salute to green jersey while Varadkar shows form in leadership race

A lot of talk about "straws in the wind" in a week when the countdown to Enda Kenny's departure from the leadership of Fine Gael became the talk of Leinster House.

The decision by Fionnuala Kenny to step back from active involvement in the party's annual Ladies Lunch was seized upon as one of them. The timing of an email to female members sent on her behalf by the party's head of fundraising was seen as significant and interpreted by some as a tacit indication that she might not be in a position in November to host the lunch as the leader's spouse.

The event has been going for donkey’s years, with John Bruton’s wife Finola noted for making some mildly controversial speeches at the fundraiser back in the nineties.

According to fundraiser Helen Connolly, Fionnuala wants to "take a step back" and hand over to "the wonderful, capable and confident women in the FG Parliamentary Party". She will still attend this year's lunch in the InterContinental Hotel in Ballsbridge, but has suggested that "the concept is a bit dated and in need of an overhaul."


A meeting of Senators and TDs to discuss how the event can be improved has been organised for later this month. Changes, writes Connolly, might include “a networking element, a change of name or rebrand, a fun element like singing, competitions, spot prizes.”

At last year's €100 a plate event, the emcee, former senator Imelda Henry, introduced Mrs Kenny as "the most influential woman in Ireland". Among the guests was Catherine O'Brien, who is married to businessman Denis O'Brien.

The fundraiser went marvellously well, Imelda did a great job of pulling the raffle tickets and the guests had an exceptionally good time. But this was not without a cost to the organisers.

Due to an unfortunate oversight, we understand the hotel wasn’t given the instruction to limit the free drink to a bottle of red and a bottle of white per table.

There were a number of speeches. MEP Deirdre Clune gave the main address. She spoke for an hour and 10 minutes. The upshot of what ended up a very lengthy ladies lunch was that final bill for the wine was allegedly bigger than the amount of money that was raised for Fine Gael.

Flanagan’s salute to green jersey in Berlin

Charlie Flanagan was in flying form yesterday morning on his first visit to Berlin. But perhaps a little too relaxed, as it turns out.

Before getting down to the Brexit business at hand, the Minister for Foreign Affairs offered cheery commiserations to his opposite number on the morning after Germany’s semi-final defeat in the European Championships.

"One of the many things we have in common is that both of us lost out to France, " said Mr Flanagan. "But I would remind you that we wouldn't have qualified but for the fact that we defeated Germany in Dublin in October."

Ireland's close relationship to Germany was clear, he said, noting that their national side's away strip was green. And it was also worth nothing that West Germany's first post-war international match was against the Republic of Ireland in 1951. "The result of that match," Charlie added happily, "was Ireland 3, Germany 2."

At their joint press conference, the Minister renewed Ireland's EU vows, invited Mr Steinmeier to Dublin and toured a small exhibition of mementoes of previous bilateral German-Irish visits.

After a good morning’s work, Flanagan and his team headed downstairs in the best of good spirits. The ministry is housed in a very impressive building – austere and atmospheric, it was once the HQ of the Nazi Reichsbank.

With his German host out of sight, a cheery Charlie declared “Ich bin ein Berliner” and extended his left arm – no doubt a JFK impression – while a staffer took a snap. Perhaps it’s best that this particular photo didn’t make it on to the DFA’s busy Twitter feed, which chronicled the boss’s visit to Berlin with lots of detail and lovely pictures. People might get the wrong impression. Although we would be lying if we said we are not disappointed.

And, thank heavens, it was the Minister’s left arm. A person innocently raising the right one in a similar fashion would risk arrest in Germany – if they didn’t enjoy diplomatic immunity. Apart from JFK, Charlie may have had somebody else subconsciously in mind when striking his pose.

The Iveagh House contingent must have been delighted to escape domestic politics. Flanagan is reportedly fuming over what Joan Burton described as Enda Kenny's "cack-handed" effort to establish an All-Ireland forum on Brexit without first discussing it with First Minister Arlene Foster, who delivered a mortifying public slap-down to the Taoiseach at a joint press conference on Monday.

The incident was described by Opposition TDs this week as “humiliating” and “embarrassing” for the Taoiseach and the Government, and there were similar, privately voiced, views in Fine Gael.

The post-Brexit forum suggestion is not without merit and might well have happened had the idea been handled appropriately in the first place and through established channels. But Enda, it appears, was on a solo run and failed to consult Flanagan or the Department of Foreign Affairs.

No wonder they aren’t happy with the Dear Leader.

Enda finally feels like a winner all right in the Ascot Suite while Leo hits the tracks

“Radio Silence” won in the first on Thursday night, beating “Pipes of Peace” into second place. “Power Struggle” lost by a nose. This time.

How very Fine Gael.

There was a horsey theme to two big events held on the same night in Dublin this week. Minister for Social Protection and leadership contender Leo Varadkar buttered up the party's new Dublin TDs by inviting them to an evening in Leopardstown, where the racing was followed by a Jack L concert as part of the Bulmers Live season at the track.

Although we hear FG’s parliamentary junior infants had to pay for their own sweeties and lemonade

and Dublin North West's Noel Rock cleaned up at the bookies.

Leo's collegiate gesture – he also invited a number of supporters – won't do him any harm when the time comes to choose a new leader. His shindig clashed with Fine Gael's "New Members" night in the Alexander Hotel, where about 100 freshly minted Fine Gaelers were treated to party insights from a number of national and local representatives before the main event – a speech from Enda Kenny.

MEP Brian Hayes was master of ceremonies, while local TD Kate O'Connell welcomed the baby Blueshirts to Dublin Bay South and her constituency colleague, Minister of State Eoghan Murphy, introduced the Taoiseach to the crowd.

And the horsey connection? The meeting was held in the hotel’s Ascot Suite, the room where Fine Gael held its entertainingly disastrous general election launch. Enda, who hasn’t really been at the races this week, probably didn’t notice this, but we suspect Hayes (who was director of elections back in February) experienced some frightening flashbacks.

At least the Taoiseach’s audience was appreciative. The newly signed members from across the city gave him a hero’s welcome, surrounding him for autographs and selfies.

The Alexander may be only a few minutes walk from the gates of Leinster House, but in terms of the warmth of his welcome there, it must have felt like a different world to the off-song and under pressure Taoiseach.

Although when Hayes, who wouldn’t be considered a fan, started to sing his praises from the podium and to thank him profusely for his great work on behalf of the nation, Enda must have really started to worry.

The Taoiseach seemed very out of sorts this week, when everything he touched turned to dross. Interestingly, Kerryman Mark Kennelly, his chef-de-cabinet, was away on holidays and media handler, Government press secretary Feargal Purcell, was also on leave.

His level-headed adviser, Joanne Lonergan, is now with the Department of Health while Andrew McDowell, one of his most senior staffers, is getting ready to move on to his new €270,000 job with the European Investment Bank.

Micheál has the art of propping up Government down to a tee

A good week though for Fianna Fáil, riding high in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll. Micheál Martin was in very fine form when we bumped into him on Thursday. And why not? According to the poll results, his party is now the most popular with voters and he is the most popular leader.

So Fianna Fáil’s support surges by nine points when it props up a Fine Gael minority government, but Fine Gael’s support slightly dips.

But Martin won’t talk about the figures – Fianna Fáil is now at 33 per cent with old rivals Fine Gael some way behind on 24 per cent. He winces and shakes his head when they are mentioned, as if unwilling to tempt fate by commenting.

The poll is a bitter pill for Fine Gaelers – under constant fire and struggling to keep a Government together – to swallow.

“Enda has to run everything past Micheál before he can do anything,” complained one backbencher. “Fianna Fáil is outside the tent and p****** in on us whenever they want. And then they’ll collapse it on top of us when they think the time is right.”

We’ve found a nice T-shirt on the internet which the Fianna Fáil leader might consider buying as a gift for the Taoiseach. A token of appreciation for all Fine Gael is doing to lift his party.

It might also lift poor Enda’s spirits after having such a rotten week. He could wear it as a reminder of his main duty as head of a partnership Government.

On the other hand, Micheál could kit out his parliamentary party in these T-shirts to send a message across the floor to Fine Gael during Dáil sittings.

He can find the garment on the redbubble.com website. It’s by a Cork-based designer who goes by the name Carpaccio and features a stylised image of his face with the slogan “Better Call Micheál”.