Miriam Lord: Hope springs maternal as Helen McEntee’s good news is delivered

Congratulations pour in for Minister as knives come out in Dublin Bay South

Welcome to the world, Michael Shane Hickey. Your early arrival made national headlines and set the perfect tone for a welcome day of hope and optimism as lockdown blues finally began to ease.

You made history, too – the first baby ever born in Ireland to a serving Cabinet Minister.

And history will show how close you came to setting another record. Just 24 hours earlier and you could have become the first baba born in Government Buildings, after a press conference outside on the steps.

So congratulations, Michael Shane (a lovely nod to your mother's late father, Shane, a much-liked TD in Leinster House), and congratulations to your proud and delighted parents, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Paul Hickey.

Little did they know on Tuesday evening, when Helen did a final photocall and departed Merrion Street to begin maternity leave, that you had no intention of hanging around until the due date.

At this week’s Cabinet meeting, when lifting Covid-19 restrictions was the hot topic, McEntee joked that she hoped hairdressers would be open by May 14th because she really wanted to have her hair done by then.

May 14th was Michael Shane’s ETA. A broad estimate, as it turned out. Having handed over the reins temporarily to Heather Humphreys, McEntee didn’t put her feet up immediately.

Instead, she headed to her Meath East constituency office in Kells to deal with calls and emails and to tie up some loose ends. She was on the Michael Reade Show on LMFM and later tweeted about signing the order to implement amendments to the Children Act, restoring the right to publicly name child victims of homicide after a person is charged with the offence.

After spending most of the day in the office, she returned to Dublin for what she thought would be a routine check-up in the Rotunda. But it was at this point that young Michael Shane, demonstrating an astute sense of forward-planning and location, decided to make his dramatic entrance.

He was born in the hospital at 9.20pm on Wednesday, weighing in at a bouncing 3.4kg (7lb 8oz).

The news on Thursday’s morning news bulletins put people in a good mood, bringing a heart-warming start to a bright day.

The Tánaiste was on Dáil duty, offering his "sincere and heartfelt congratulations" to his Fine Gael colleague and friend and her husband.

“I hope that young women and girls will see today that in Ireland you can hold high office, take maternity leave and raise a family and be supported to do so. Of course, we have more work to do in this area, but it is a positive day and history is being made by the McEntee and Hickey family.”

The Taoiseach took to Twitter with best wishes for his Minister without portfolio and her husband. “Congratulations @HMcEntee and Paul on the birth of your wonderful baby boy. A time of great joy for you all. Enjoy! Wishing you every happiness, always.”

Battle of Dublin Bay

Thankfully the line-up of candidates for the Dublin Bay South byelection will not be an all-female affair.

Some of us remember the famous European election scrap between Fine Gael’s two female candidates in Ireland East back in 2004. There was talk, for example, of throwing “bonnets” into the ring.

“Handbags at dawn” were regularly referenced as the two competed for what was thought to be the one available FG seat. A number of publications gleefully referred to the contest as a “catfight”.

As it happened, both Avril Doyle and now EU Commissioner Mairéad McGuinness won seats. At least the catfight references might be kept to a minimum now with one man at the starting line already and another about to seek his party's nomination to run.

Fine Gael councillor and barrister James Geoghegan said yesterday that he wanted to run, potentially setting himself up against the high-profile Kate O'Connell, who lost her Dáil seat last year but has yet to reveal her hand.

Meanwhile, Cllr Mannix Flynn said on Friday he was "definitely" going to run. "I will be throwing the kitchen sink at it and the campaign starts now."

Flynn is keen to take Eoghan Murphy’s place. “I always regarded him as the Minister for Rolled-Up Sleeves. He’s the only politician that’s going around with the phrase ‘I have gone away, you know’. Good luck to him in the future.”

He has found renewed purpose with the rapidly expanding Dublin Cycle Lane Alliance and is trying to overturn city manager Owen Keegan’s plans for a controversial cycle path in Sandymount, which he says will “drive thousands of cars through the village”.

Ten Cycle Lane Alliance groups have been formed around the city, with 40 more seeking to join the campaign. “We are not opposed to cyclists or cycle lanes but what we want is democracy in public transport and democracy on the road. We want due process and to be part of the process.”

This isn’t Flynn’s first tilt at the Dáil but he thinks this time will be different because people will not want to vote for candidates from the big parties.

“The other thing is, this is a byelection, so people can afford to take a punt. It’s bit like the Lotto with a good bonus in it, and it’s a bank holiday weekend, and you say ‘I don’t normally do something like this but I’m going to do it now.’ ”

The return of Denis O’Brien

There’s a giddy touch of gamekeeper turned poacher about the Indo these days with the newspaper’s attitude to former proprietor Denis O’Brien. The lifting of restrictions is all the rage these days.

An innocent tweet on Monday from the British ambassador, Paul Johnson, about a very high falutin' Zoom retirement tribute to former RTÉ northern editor Tommie Gorman set tongues wagging this week in the small Dublin politics and meeja bubble.

“An honour to deliver a personal tribute from the Prince of Wales to the great Tommie Gorman,” he wrote, and he wasn’t referring to the hotel in Athlone.

The ambassador listed some of the great and good who took to their computers to give the veteran journalist a send-off. Names included Taoiseach Micheál Martin, former president Mary McAleese, RTÉ news and current affairs boss Jon Williams, RTÉ director general Dee Forbes and "many others".

The ambassador helpfully included a screenshot of Tommie’s old friends and fans. Of immediate interest was the square on the bottom right that didn’t feature a person but a black screen, two white blobs, a muted audio sign and the name “Denis O’Brien”.

The Irish Independent reported that the controversial businessman’s attendance at the RTÉ organised virtual event caused “disquiet” among staff and that the Taoiseach, a strong critic of O’Brien in the past, was unaware of his involvement in advance.

At Thursday’s press conference after Micheál Martin’s televised address to the nation, an Indo reporter pressed the Taoiseach for a comment on his attendance at an event O’Brien was also invited.

The paper also reported that the NUJ's Ireland secretary, Seamus Dooley, spoke to RTÉ staff who were "surprised and disappointed" that O'Brien was asked to take part. Some of the more recent controversies involving the businessmen were detailed.

That would never have happened before the Belgians took over at Talbot Towers, much as the footsoldiers might have wished it. The departure of the old order has to be a terrible wrench for that tireless cohort of keyboard warriors known as “Shinnerbots”. They can’t insult hardworking INM journalists with their “Dinnybots” jibe any more.

As for Gorman, his retirement is taking nearly as long as Bertie Ahern's lap of honour. One media observer noted this week that things had started to go pear-shaped up North ever since he announced his departure. First loyalists started rioting on the streets and attacking the PSNI and now Arlene Foster has retired.

Copper face vaccs

"I didn't recognise the place. You have it lovely." Leo Varadkar didn't quite say this when he returned to the Dáil chamber on Friday for the first time this year, but he said it was a real pleasure to be back in his old stomping ground. "We've been exiled to the Convention Centre, as you know, but I'm glad that the Senators are making good use of this chamber during our brief exile."

He was back to address the Seanad on Covid-19 and its effect on business. It’s effect on the nightclub industry, which got an unexpected shout-out from the Taoiseach and Tánaiste on Thursday when they discussed the legendary Copper Face Jacks, was mentioned again.

Fianna Fáil's Shane Cassells was delighted with the new mood of optimism about the place, but he told Leo he wasn't sure he could summon up enough positivity to cope with the photograph on the front of his Irish Daily Mirror.

“Yourself and Micheál were smiling back at me with the headline Copper Face Vaccs and you were talking about the outdoor area of Copper Face Jacks. But sure, hope springs eternal, and if we do get back there this summer, I hope that you’ll bring Micheál, Eamon and Mary Lou, and, most importantly that you’ll be generous at the bar and sure maybe it’ll be Jägerbombs all around when you open your wallet, and we look forward to that.”

As are we all, Shane. As are we all.

Sinn Féin's Fintan Warfield focused on nightlife, reminding the Taoiseach that people have been campaigning for licensing law reform in the area for many years.

Clubs “are paying through the roof” for special exemption orders when they want to open past 12.30am.

“I think you will be conscious of this as well, that there is huge demand now for change in this area,” he told the Tánaiste, who is fond of a good night out. “I don’t need to tell you that we desperately need to improve the quality of nightlife in our cities in line with our European neighbours.”

The Tánaiste agreed with him and said he was looking forward to the report of the Night-time Economy Taskforce.

“Senator Warfield mentioned the whole issue of nightlife – something I miss terribly, as I know he does too. I hope I’m not too old to enjoy nightlife by the time this pandemic is over and our clubs and music venues and late bars reopen. It is certainly my view that our offering in our cities here in Ireland should be as good as anything on offer in Germany, Spain or the Netherlands. And that’s not currently the case and probably never was.”