Miriam Lord: Happy house-hunters Leo and Matt go upwardly mobile

FG get a taste of their own medicine at Kate O’Connell’s Dublin Bay South pharmacy

After years of apartment living, Leo Varadkar is all set for a big move to a new house in Dublin 8 with his partner, Matt Barrett.

Leinster House thrives on gossip and in recent years rumour has abounded about the pair house-hunting around south Dublin. So much so that the Tánaiste can name the locations and cost of numerous million-euro-plus coastal properties they are supposed to have viewed and/or purchased.

This time, though, the rumours are true. Matt has bought a place on one of those nice tree-lined Victorian streets near the South Circular Road. They got the keys last week.

The gardaí are currently giving the road the once-over so they can put security in place. That should please the neighbours. Leo resumes as Taoiseach at the end of 2022 when he takes over from Micheál Martin in accordance with the Coalition deal with Fianna Fáil.

The house isn't too far from where Dr Barrett works as a cardiologist in St Vincent's University Hospital while the 42-year-old Tánaiste, who has an apartment in Carpenterstown, is clearly very excited about living somewhere with a garden which is close to where most of his friends live and from where he can walk to work.

He says he has always been a suburbanite so it will be nice to live close to town for a change and he will also be able to have more than four people over for dinner as the apartment only has a small galley kitchen.

The handsome villa-style house is in an area of old Dublin adjacent to the Liberties where house prices have shot up in recent years due to its popularity with the property industry’s beloved “young professionals”. With a mixture of elegant old housing and a dwindling stock of “doer-uppers” the district is a firm favourite with media and creative types.

And as this is Pride Week, it would be remiss of us not to mention that Dublin 8 is also known to many in the city’s LGBTQ+ community as the “gaybourhood”.

On the thorny subject of housing, the Tánaiste might be interested to know he will be residing quite close to a thriving community area called the Tenters, location of the State’s first public housing scheme. The Tenters marks its 100th anniversary this year. Perhaps near-neighbour Leo will pop around to cut the cake.

He will also be moving into the FG-free zone of Dublin South Central, which has neither a TD nor a councillor from that party. The Fine Gael leader is hopeful that Senator Mary Seery-Kearney can reverse that.

Candidates pop into the chemist’s for photos

Bizarre Wars: the Phantom Menace.

Kate O’Connell continues to be the ghost at the Dublin Bay South feast, despite Fine Gael’s best efforts to exorcise the spirit of their former TD from their byelection campaign.

The party is getting out the numbers for their canvasses, with Ministers, TDs and Senators from all over the country reporting for duty with the local troops. It’s difficult to see what advantage is gained from presenting rural backbenchers on the doorsteps apart from chance “I know your people” encounters, but more bodies are always welcome.

Sources within rival camps are gleefully reporting that O'Connell's highly publicised failure to get the party's nomination to run for the seat vacated by former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy is coming up on the doors. Some Fine Gael canvassers are not privately denying this, while journalists on the trail have also reported that the Kate O'Connell saga is still of interest to voters around the leafier parts of DBS.

While the party is throwing everything at the drive to get James Geoghegan into the Dáil and avoid the unimaginable scenario of having no representative in this solid Fine Gael territory, it seems Kate's pharmacy in Rathgar has become a pilgrimage site for the other candidates and their parties. Fianna Fáil was delighted to tweet a photograph of the ex-TD meeting Taoiseach Micheál Martin at her shop while he was canvassing for Deirdre Conroy.

And then who should pitch up in the pharmacy only Mary Lou McDonald with candidate Lynn Boylan in tow. Naturally pictures had to be taken and put up on social media.

Labour's Ivana Bacik, apparently the only candidate - apart from Sarah Durcan of the SocDems - who actually lives in the constituency, is a regular customer and she has been snapped having the chats with Kate.

No sign of James Geoghegan or the Fine Gael crew, though.

“It’s beginning to look like a rite of passage for all the parties to have their photograph taken with her,” remarked one miffed Fine Gaeler. “At the very best it’s attention-seeking.”

“She’s like a mutant Fine Gael variant with spike proteins that stick to non-blueshirt hosts,” sniggered an activist from a rival party who is clearly reading too much about Covid-19.

For her part, Kate O'Connell appears to be taking great pleasure in putting all the snaps up on her Instagram feed.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil seems out of the running, with Labour’s Ivana Bacik popular around the constituency and Sinn Féin making the sort of shapes a party make when they reckon they are in with a shot.

Local lawyer and Fianna Fáil leadership hopeful Jim O'Callaghan (or the Milky Bar Kid as we heard him called in some quarters) is Deirdre Conroy's director of elections. It's not the most dynamic campaign, but then, there aren't two seats for Fianna Fáil in this neck of the woods. An opposition spotter cycled around the Victorian redbricks of Rathmines and Rathgar this week, including the street where O'Callaghan lives.

“Ivana posters everywhere along with James Geoghegan and Mairead Toíbín of Aontú. Barely a sign of Deirdre.”

Iron men go to battle for their counties

Last week we told you about the Fianna Fáil Senator from Wexford who was running from the top to the bottom of his county in aid of motor neuron disease research. Malcolm Byrne completed his challenge in stages over a week.

Now we bring news of Fine Gael's Ciarán Cannon, who went one better last Saturday by cycling from the top to the bottom of the country in a day. The TD for Galway East, who describes himself as an "ultracyclist", pedalled from Mizen Head to Malin Head to raise money and awareness for Hand in Hand, a national charity which supports families affected by childhood cancer.

The former minister of state for education (he is also an accomplished musician and composer) cycled a whopping 575.55km, completing his epic journey in 23 hours and 23 minutes. Ironman Ciarán was part of a team of eight cyclists from Galway who took on the ride. He has set up a fundraising page, Ireland in a Day, and people can contribute a few bob on iDonate.ie.

On Friday, donations were at €18,000, nearly double his €10,000 target.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Byrne was still singing the delights of his county in the Seanad on Monday. Strawberry season is upon us, he informed the House, and Wexford has some of the finest strawberries in the country. Then he produced one from his pocket for the delectation of his colleagues. It was the size of a small turnip.

He said he had a few punnets out in the car and would bring some in for the Cathaoirleach. He also mentioned a young man from Wexford called Mark Kavanagh who has set up a business selling a new vodka liquor called Wexbury. If Malcolm had any of it in his boot he wasn’t offering to bring it in.

Not to be outdone, Fine Gael's Garret Ahearn got in on the act.

"We've got apples in Tipperary: The Apple Farm – Con Traas, he does fantastic work. A fantastic local business, only a mile away from me at home. I would encourage anyone to go there to buy his apples. He does strawberries as well, but apples he's famous for. And cider. Lovely cider."

When Fine Gael’s Joe O’Reilly got his turn to speak, he couldn’t let the other two away with their free advertising.

“Just to let you know, Cathaoirleach and colleagues, that Co Cavan has free fishing on 365 lakes and then you can view the drumlins as well, the beautiful drumlins, after the day’s fishing.”

Wallace’s star rises in the east

Mick Wallace is big in China these days.

They'll roll out the red carpet in Tiananmen Square for Mick (and his MEP colleague Clare Daly, presumably) should they ever wish to top their controversial visit to Iraq earlier this year with a trip to Beijing.

The China Daily, English language organ of the Communist Party, has been singing his praises of late. Former TD Wallace played a starring role in Monday's editorial for his remarks in the European Parliament questioning the EU's "aggressive" stance on China while being "led by the nose" by the Americans "who have a vested interest in challenging China at the moment".

Wallace's comments followed an EU decision to freeze a massive trade deal as relations soured amid concerns over human rights abuses in China, particularly against the Muslim minority in Xinjiang. The US has described Beijing's crackdown against the Uighurs as genocide and imposed a trade embargo.

“Although Wallace has been outspoken in praising China’s performance in poverty reduction, infrastructure construction and climate change mitigation, it is the European Union’s interests that motivated his questioning of why the EU was choosing an aggressive position with China,” explained the writer. “He is right in pointing out that it is Washington’s anxiety about losing its financial supremacy to China that has prompted it to try to hype up the so-called China threats, and draw its allies to contain the rise of the country after failing to achieve that on its own under the previous Donald Trump administration.”

China Daily gave a number of reasons why Mick Wallace was right to condemn America.

“While the US has repeatedly invaded and meddled in the affairs of other countries and regions, China has been striving to lift its people out of poverty and seek breakthroughs in technology and contribute to the common development of the world” was one of them.

Not to mention “the simultaneous decay of Washington’s spirit of multilateralism and willingness to abide by rules and its deteriorated sense of responsibility”.

And China is way more sound on the coronavirus question than America.

The state-controlled newspaper concluded: “It is thus justified for Wallace to press the EU to be wary of relinquishing its independence of action and being led astray by the US.”