Miriam Lord: Healy-Raes show the true meaning of party politics

Ministers in a tizzy about last week’s column; and yours truly comes a quiz cropper

Jackie Healy-Rae outside the Dáil. File photograph: Peter Thursfield

Jackie Healy-Rae outside the Dáil. File photograph: Peter Thursfield

 

The Healy-Raes made a right day of it in Leinster House on Wednesday when the time finally came for official expressions of sympathy in the Dáil on the passing of former TD and Kerry dynasty founder Jackie Healy-Rae.

Hordes of supporters from the family’s organisation descended to mark the occasion, and joint figureheads Michael and Danny laid on drinks for them in the bar and booked out most of the Members’ Restaurant for a lunch in their father’s honour.

A collection of more cowed, put-upon, impoverished, undernourished, overlooked and downtrodden people you never saw in your life. Representatives of the men and women who, more than anyone else in the country, are sick, sore, frightened, short-changed, persecuted, misunderstood and blackguarded on a routine basis by Them Above in Dublin and Beyond in Cork, according to the Healy-Raes in their regular bulletins to the chamber on behalf of the people of Kerry.

All considered, they seem to be bearing up very well. The very pleasant and engaging crowd looked full of the joys of spring despite having to endure the many privations faithfully reported in detail to the Dáil by their loyal servants, the Healy-Raes. There was great gas all day in the bar, the sing-songs gloriously breaking the rules and Danny a wizard with the concertina buttons.

As the guests – more than 100 – moved from bar to restaurant, a Healy-Rae activist decided to nab selfies with every TD and Senator she recognised along the way. One of them was Bríd Smith of People Before Profit, who was making very slow progress on crutches having banjaxed her leg while walking in Spain during the recent break.

“I know you,” said the woman. “What happened to you?”

And Bríd came out with the answer she gave to everyone who inquired. “I fell off a swing with a drink in both hands.”

The woman was overjoyed. “Oh my God! ’Tis you?” she cried. “Is that really you? Do you mind if I get a photograph?”

Bríd fessed up. It wasn’t her. But a happy snap was taken anyway.

Back in the chamber, the Taoiseach’s opening speech in the tributes to the late Jackie (nearly five years after he died) caught the attention of the political anoraks.

This is because Leo Varadkar talked about an interview he did in 1997 with RTÉ’s Brian Farrell after winning a seat in Kerry South. When Farrell asked the new TD who he felt he represented, “Jackie’s heartfelt and authentic response was: ‘I represent the plain people of Ireland’,” said the Taoiseach.

When pressed about what that meant, Jackie responded with a line that has gone down in legend: “The people who eat their dinner in the middle of the day.”

You don’t get away with much in Leinster House. It wasn’t long before Fianna Fáil veterans were in touch to set the record straight for Leo.

They pointed out the famous “dinner in the middle of the day” remark was coined by Mark “Markeen” Killilea, long before Jackie Healy-Rae made it to the Dáil. Killilea, who died last year, entered national politics in 1977 and served as a TD, a senator and an MEP before he retired in 1999.

He said it on radio to his political rival in Galway, Labour’s Michael D Higgins. It was his description of the type of people who supported Fianna Fáil.

The company of Woulfe

Unlike some of his distinguished legal predecessors, Attorney General Séamus Woulfe doesn’t come across as staid or standoffish when it comes to mixing with the political and journalistic rabble.

For the second year in a row on Thursday, Séamus took on the thankless task of refereeing disputed answers at the Oireachtas Press Gallery charity table quiz. There was one particularly tense standoff when a veteran political correspondent and a noted authority on the history of Fine Gael questioned a ruling concerning the results of the byelection in 1917 and general election in 1918.

The Woulfe of Merrion Street held his ground, backed up by quizmaster Dr David McCullagh, who is a historian as well as a journalist on RTÉ’s Prime Time.

The issue was amicably resolved when our team decided not to launch a challenge in the courts following wide consultation with more drink.

On Friday, June 21st, the Attorney General organised a dinner in Dublin for his predecessors – there’s a lot of them around. He decided to revive this tradition after it had lapsed for a number of years.

It was an informal gathering. The convocation of legal eagles – nine in all, including the incumbent – landed in Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club in Ranelagh, where they shared common experiences and exchanged war stories over a leisurely meal. The only one missing was Dermot Gleeson, who was abroad.

At the dinner Séamus Woulfe hosted for former attorneys general at Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club were, back row: Harry Whelehan, Michael McDowell, Eoghan Fitzsimons, John Rogers, David Byrne and Paul Gallagher. Front row: John Murray, Woulfe and Máire Whelan
At the dinner Séamus Woulfe hosted for former attorneys general at Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club were, back row: Harry Whelehan, Michael McDowell, Eoghan Fitzsimons, John Rogers, David Byrne and Paul Gallagher. Front row: John Murray, Woulfe and Máire Whelan

Between them, these lawyers know the stories behind the biggest and most explosive political and constitutional controversies in recent decades.

There are unsubstantiated reports that this coming-together of seven senior counsels and two judges sparked a sudden supply crisis in the vintage port strongholds of Dublin 4 and Dublin 6.

The socialising silks and previous attorneys general were Harry Whelehan, Michael McDowell, Eoghan Fitzsimons, John Rogers, David Byrne, Paul Gallagher, John Murray, Máire Whelan and Woulfe.

A travesty of quiz justice

The annual Oireachtas Press Gallery charity table quiz in the Alex Hotel on Fenian Street was a triumph, marred only by one distressing turn-up for the books.

It was won by the Taoiseach’s team.

A travesty, of course, compounded by this column’s ignominious slide down the results table following last year’s magnificent victory when the questions were much harder. We did, however, give the right answer to the question on Love Island, but so too, did Leo’s team. He was joined by his partner, Matt Barrett, and his chief of staff, Brian Murphy. There was a fourth team member, a young man we didn’t recognise. It turns out he is Matt’s friend who works in St Vincent’s Hospital and is a keen quizzer.

Their team was called The Fiscal Space Invaders.

There were dark mutterings about “a banger” in the Fianna Fáil ranks. Leader Micheál Martin arrived late after a number of rounds had already taken place, which was his excuse for his team trailing in behind the Taoiseach. Expect Fianna Fáil to field some serious artillery next year, if the talk of avenging party honour is anything to go by.

Nearly 100 teams took part, including entries from Sinn Féin, Labour and the Social Democrats. The Independent Alliance sent a crew – although Winston Churchtown didn’t tog out, as it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else. The independent grouping of Senators had a good showing. On the night, the politicians won out over the journalists and teams drawn from Oireachtas staff.

The quiz was in aid of Samaritans, and while the final tots still have to be done, almost €10,000 was raised on the night. The ranks of the defeated repaired next door to The Gingerman, where a smiling Taoiseach exercised his legitimate bragging rights before doing a flit before the midnight hour.

The Delaney Golden Shoe

Bad news for absent-minded sports journalists. The deadline for entering the 2019 FAI Communications Awards passed on Friday.

“Set up in order to recognise the excellent work being done by journalists to promote Irish football, the FAI Communications Awards stretches across all platforms including written, broadcast, digital and photographic,” reads the blurb inviting entries from “members of the sports media”.

There are four categories, including a best club PRO award and one for best use of social media to promote Irish football.

The photographic prize is open to amateur and professional photographers who have captured a striking image from grassroots football with a theme “that portrays the subject matter in a positive light”.

Portraying the FAI in a positive light away from grassroots level may prove a stumbling block for the man who should stroll away with the gong in the Best Feature category.

This award is open to journalists and contributors “who have written or created a striking feature piece that gives a unique insight to Irish football” at local, national or international level.

The FAI will be all too aware that the most striking and unique insight into Irish football this year was written by Mark Tighe of the Sunday Times. It made waves locally, nationally and internationally.

He broke the story John Delaney tried to injunct, blowing the lid off the shambolic nature of governance at the FAI, precipitating a shedload of inquiries and a major shake-up in the organisation and forcing the departure of the highly paid chief executive from his perk-laden position.

It was a striking insight into the doomed fiefdom that was uniquely Delaney’s FAI. And a good thing for Irish football.

Even if he hasn’t entered, Tighe should receive the inaugural Delaney Golden Shoe: a brass trophy commemorating the time John lost his shoes during celebrations with fans in Poland, its metal burnished to a gold-like sheen by the tongue of the former chief executive’s avid cheerleader, Michael Healy-Rae.

Emmet Malone, of this parish, should get the other perpetual Delaney Golden Shoe in recognition of long years spent putting a reluctant and combative football supremo and his FAI minions under the microscope and then communicating the results to demoralised grassroots.

The winners of the FAI Communications Awards will be announced at the agm delegates’ dinner in Meath on July 26th, when the Abbotstown top brass will communicate its full appreciation to journalists for all the great work they did for the organisation during the year.

It’ll be very moving.

A correction about emissions

Time for a correction. In last week’s column we mentioned the major photo opportunity laid on by the Government for the launch of its Climate Action Plan. It involved the Taoiseach and members of his cabinet arriving at the venue in Grangegorman on a hybrid Dublin Bus.

“As a matter of interest, almost all members of Cabinet travelled on the out-of-service bus for the first leg of their short journey. Just three of them managed the return trip,” we wrote, adding that the rest of the Cabinet “shot off in their ministerial cars”.

No names were used to protect the guilty.

However, we were unfair to three Ministers. While they did not return from the launch by bus, they travelled instead on the Luas.

The wronged unidentified Ministers are Eoghan Murphy, Paschal Donohoe and Richard Bruton. We know this because a spokesperson for each of them was in touch to correct the record first thing on Saturday morning. Before breakfast. By 8.30am, this column was made aware that three Ministers had taken the Luas.

For this, in the interests of accuracy, we are most grateful. Moreover, we are very much comforted by the knowledge that three of our most senior Government Ministers are so quick off the mark when dealing with difficult situations that can suddenly arise.

Ferris wheel to turn again?

Is Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris about to put the interests of his beloved party before his desire to walk into the political sunset at the next election?

Nobody in Sinn Féin can say that Ferris hasn’t given everything to the cause, but a need has arisen in Kerry that it seems only he can fix. His daughter Toiréasa had been selected to run for the seat he intends to vacate after the 32nd Dáil comes to an end, but in a shock announcement earlier this month, the popular Kerry county councillor said she was withdrawing her candidacy for personal reasons.

There has been no word from Sinn Féin about a replacement, but rival TDs from the region are predicting that selfless Martin will step in to the breach to try to hold on to the seat for the party, which finds itself in difficult electoral circumstances.

“His Facebook activity has suddenly ramped up again and he is putting himself about a lot more,” said one observer.

Will he go again? It’s not so long since those emotional scenes at Sinn Féin’s ardfheis in November of 2017, when Gerry Adams announced he would be stepping down as party leader the following year and would not be seeking re-election to the Dáil. He also surprised delegates in the same speech by disclosing that Martin Ferris would also be stepping down.

The two misty-eyed men embraced and joined hands, raising them aloft as the crowd, many in tears, cheered them to the rafters.

It was a time for change, said Ferris, a former IRA member and convicted gunrunner. He was 67 in February.

“I’ll be able to walk Banna Strand and go out in my boat, do a little fishing. My two favourite people in the world are my two dogs. They’ll sit down on the couch and I’ll have them up in my lap, so I’m looking forward to it. That’s my life.”

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