Miriam Lord: ‘Frozen semen issue’ delays discussion of Shane Ross Bill
Filibustering senators debate dogs and drugs instead of judicial appointments
Minister for Transport Shane Ross complained that “Law Library insiders” were trying to derail the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Senators unleashed the dogs on Shane Ross and his cherished Judicial Appointments Commission Bill this week in one of the most entertaining filibusters of the Oireachtas season.
After two very productive days of bickering and nitpicking from the Upper House, the Minister for Transport, aka Winston Churchtown, complained to our Political Editor Pat Leahy that “Law Library insiders” were trying to derail his pet project to reform the way in which judges are appointed.
Winston is not happy with the Bill’s very slow progress. His humour won’t have improved if he checked the Seanad on Thursday afternoon to see how it was faring, only to find senators discussing the Greyhound Racing Bill.
Discussion of this important piece of legislation ran over by about two hours, much to the annoyance of Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who is lumbered with the job of steering Ross’s legislation through the Oireachtas. We hear Winston has been giving the Taoiseach serious earache over the delay and Leo, in turn, has been annoying Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer about speeding things up to keep Winston sweet.
The greyhounds were released the day after a very long and very cranky session where Fianna Fáil’s Lorraine Clifford-Lee (solicitor) took up the cudgels in defence of Labour’s Ivana Bacik (barrister), accusing Flanagan of constantly interrupting Bacik’s contributions with an approach “bordering on misogynistic”.
If you are going to make accusations, it is very curious that you would make them when a female Member of this House is speaking
At this point, the Leas Ceann Comhairle took grave umbrage because he thought Clifford-Lee was referring to him. After Paul Coghlan was assured he was not the object of her ire, he was then told by Bacik that he should not have allowed the Minister to continually interrupt her as she had not been waffling.
“I didn’t interrupt you at all,” spluttered Coghlan.
Then the Minister said he had intervened only because the Leas Ceann Comhairle hadn’t done enough to ensure the smooth running of the debate.
Labour’s Kevin Humphreys cried foul and said Flanagan had carried out a “quite despicable” attack on Coghlan. He called on him to withdraw his remark immediately.
Charlie looked miserable. He said the Seanad had so far spent hours debating amendments “punctured by quorums and votes, including walk-through votes . . . there are forces at work here which are designed to ensure a filibuster is engaged in”.
Ivana was incensed. How dare he? “I have spoken very little throughout this Bill.”
Charlie mumbled that he didn’t mean her.
Kevin told him to name names or stay quiet.
Lorraine got stuck in again. “If you are going to make accusations, it is very curious that you would make them when a female Member of this House is speaking.” She demanded that he apologise immediately to Ivana.
Whereupon Ivana demanded he withdraw the filibustering allegation.
Which he did.
And all this before Michael McDowell, who is leading the charge against the Bill, arrived in from the Four Courts to indulge in some high-quality niggling until it was time to go home.
On Thursday, it had been hoped to resume hostilities in the early afternoon. But senators kept on talking about greyhounds.
It was fascinating stuff. Independent senator Brian O’Dómhnaill revealed that greyhounds were being doped up on crack cocaine and Viagra, LSD and magic mushrooms – “class A drugs being fed to greyhounds up and down the country”.
“Oooh,” exclaimed David Norris at the mention of Viagra.
“Senator Norris probably knows more about that,” quipped O’Dómhnaill.
“I certainly do,” replied Norris, who was chewing something. “I’m having one now.”
The Donegal-based senator continued down the drug route: “Dogs being fed all these substances and I just pose the question here: how many of these cases ended up on the desks of An Garda?”
Norris interrupted again.
“If they had Viagra, they wouldn’t end up on the desk; they would end up on something else.”
At this rate, they’ll easily stretch out the committee stage to Christmas and beyond
There was much discussion about the artificial insemination of dogs and the quality of frozen semen. “It is a massive bone of contention,” said Fine Gael’s Ray Butler, who is the quite the authority on greyhounds.
Speaking on “the frozen semen issue”, Butler said he saw “a Pacific Mile pup” running in Nottingham the other evening “but sure he’s been dead since the mid-1990s”. Not to mention “Top Honcho” dogs. “I see them run every so often and he’s dead since the ’90s as well.”
“Did you get the name of the vet?” inquired Norris. “We could all be treated by him.”
Outlining the pros and cons of frozen semen, Butler concluded: “I don’t think that everybody in the game would be in favour of banning frozen semen. Particularly myself, when we were rearing we never used it. We always liked to see the natural mating go ahead in front of us.”
McDowell wandered in, having come up specially from the Four Courts for the Winston Churchtown filibuster only to be pleasantly surprised that the Seanad was still talking about dogs.
“While I was listening to the debate, and I profess no knowledge of the subject matter, I was looking at the property supplement in The Irish Times today and as dogs are being mentioned by name I want to say there is a particular dog called Otto whose owners are selling their house in Rathgar for €1.45 million and one of the features of the house in leafy Dublin 6 is that there is a special shower for the dog.”
“Hot or cold?” wondered Norris.
Finally, at 4.30pm, they got around to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Charlie Flanagan said he assumed they would be sitting until 10pm. No, said the Chair, the House would adjourn at 5pm. “So we have 28 minutes.”
Hardly enough time at all for senior counsel McDowell to get into his stride.
And before they knew it, the time was up. Forty-two hours talking about the Bill, sighed Charlie and they are only at section 31 of 63 sections and not yet halfway through debating all 63 amendments.
“I made myself available for a three-hour debate this afternoon,” protested McDowell.
“So did I,” bridled Charlie.
Whereupon McDowell pinned the blame for the delay on the Government which “decided to talk this matter out by having the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018 spill over until 4.35pm”.
Charlie was fit to be tied.
At this rate, they’ll easily stretch out the committee stage to Christmas and beyond. And if a general election were to arrive, what then for Winston’s Bill?
Beto O’Rourke declines to play green card
During the midterm elections in the United States, Beto O’Rourke, the new poster boy of the Democratic Party, was criticised by opponents for what they claimed were his attempts to downplay his Irish heritage in order to increase his appeal to his Latino voter base in Texas.
Robert Francis O’Rourke, who has had the Hispanic nickname Beto since childhood, studiously avoided being tagged as an Irish-American politician, probably mindful of all the connotations of conservative establishment politics that come with it. He came close to unseating Republican Ted Cruz but narrowly failed to become the first Democrat to win Texas in nearly 30 years.
When RTÉ’s Washington correspondent Brian O’Donovan asked him on the campaign trail if his Irish roots were important, O’Rourke gave a lukewarm response. “The fact that I’m a Texan and an American is what is important to me, but I will say that this country, five or six generations ago, accepted our family, the O’Rourkes,” he replied.
“We have this amazing tradition in this country of accepting asylum seekers and refugees, immigrants who’ve helped make this the greatest country in the world.”
During the campaign, which saw Donald Trump campaign heavily for the man he once called “Lyin’ Ted”, Donald Trump jnr tweeted: “What’s authentic about an Irish guy pretending to be Hispanic. Asking for some friends in Texas.”
However, this week, Beto O’Rourke posted a charming photograph on Instagram of his seven-year-old son Henry, who had just finished a project on his great-great-great-great-grandfather.
“Henry at the culmination of a weekend-long research project on the first of our family to come over from Ireland, Bernard O’Rourke (naturalized in 1868). Here he is, dressed as Bernard as we could get.”
Young Henry looks very well in his tweed waistcoat and trousers and he is holding a figure dressed the way an Irishman might have looked a few centuries ago. He has also drawn a very neat Irish flag above a map of Ireland and added shamrock (proper three-leaf ones) for decoration.
It seems the younger generation has a bit more time for the auld sod.
Varadkar avoids clash with Ireland v All Blacks
Delegates at the Fine Gael Ardfheis have a treat in store before the main event on Saturday evening.
Leo Varadkar’s keynote address is a teatime affair this year. It was pushed back to 5.30pm to allow the Taoiseach travel to Brussels for a European Union summit planned for Sunday in the event of a Brexit deal. But as nothing ever goes to plan where Brexit is concerned, the summit is now going to happen next weekend.
But Europe also provided the perfect excuse for avoiding a clash between Leo’s big moment and the small matter of the Ireland v All Blacks match at Lansdowne Road.
Imagine the dilemma this would have presented to the nation. What to do? Watch a politician talk for half an hour or watch a rugby match between the two top-rated teams in the world?
With commendable selflessness and generosity, Leo gave way. The people at the Aviva must be mightily relieved.
Before the Taoiseach takes to the podium at the Citywest Hotel, the usual tonic-for-the-troops videos will be played to work the grassroots into a lather of excitement. This year, the backroom team is compiling a video featuring some party favourites talking about their leader. It’s based on a spin-the-wheel idea, with various Ministers sharing touching gobbets of trivia about their Leo when the needle points to them.
Ministers will also reveal fascinating titbits about themselves. They were requested to have “an interesting fact” at the ready for the video, “for example a hobby, talent, favourite meal, etc”.
Then they will answer some questions about Himself.
“Describe Leo Varadkar in a few words.” (You can play along at home, if you like. It could be fun, but not for young ears.)
“What’s he like to work with?
What makes him a good leader?
First memory of him?
What’s the last text message you received from him?”
However, the video makers helpfully add that the Ministers don’t have to answer the last two questions “if not okay with answering”.
It’s going to be brilliant.
Duffy spin doctors reunite for memoir launch
The two spin doctors with the toughest job in Irish politics this year (keeping Gavin Duffy afloat) enjoyed a happier event on Wednesday where, in the convivial surrounds of the Palace’s upstairs bar, Richard Moore launched ex-Labour senator John Whelan’s new memoir on 40 years of provincial journalism: Growing Pains and Growing Up.
Commenting on their presidential race experiences, Moore noted of Whelan’s enthusiasm that “he started off as a press officer and ended up as director of strategy”.
Those who attended included Seán Costello, the solicitor for Maurice McCabe, and Fine Gael’s Kevin O’Higgins.
One source noted: “At least Whelan was trained up for Gavin Duffy; he was in the Labour Party and spent 40 years in Laois journalism.”
Growing Pains and Growing Up by John Whelan is published by Laois Today.