Miriam Lord: Journalists can breathe easy with Boris on the case
Brexiteer tells reporters in Loughinisland case he will leave (almost) no stone unturned
Investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Northern Ireland journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey caused a bit of a splash when they visited Westminster on Thursday.
The two are on police bail until March 1st arising from police investigations into information featured in their award-winning documentary No Stone Unturned, about the 1994 UVF murders of six people in a pub in Loughinisland. They have not been charged, but the police are investigating alleged breaches of the Official Secrets Act.
During their visit they highlighted the aggressive raids on their homes. Birney told MPs that even his eight-year-old daughter’s pink phone and her homework, on a memory stick, had been confiscated and remains in custody.
The NUJ group, led by former union president Tim Dawson, got a warm reception from predictable sources, including Tony Lloyd, Labour spokesman on Northern Ireland and Chris Stephens of the SNP. Former deputy PM John Prescott was especially supportive.
Afterwards, there was a special showing of the film at the NUJ’s head office in King’s Cross. Among the attendance was the Sinn Féin MP for South Down, Chris Hazzard, along with academic and journalist Roy Greenslade, historian Dr Maurice Walsh, late of this parish, and an array of others.
Back in Westminster, with the Brexit debate raging in the Commons, there was some surprise among the visitors when Boris Johnson stopped to chat. In no time at all he was loudly expressing his shock at the treatment of the two journalists.
According to Birney, it only took the MP two minutes to become fully informed and totally outraged, “nearly as long as he took to consider the implications of Brexit”.
The journalist later tweeted a photograph of their meeting with the former London mayor and former foreign secretary with the caption: “Boris promised he’d give our case the same consideration he’d applied to Brexit and [its] impact on Ireland. We’re sorted.”
Martin McGuinness honoured at bridge-building book launch
Sinn Féin’s top brass were out in force in the Members’ Dining Room on Wednesday night when the Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl launched A Leap of Faith, a book by Presbyterian minister David Latimer recalling his long friendship with the late Martin McGuinness.
In an endorsement on the front cover, Bill Clinton writes that their “remarkable” friendship “reminds us all about the importance of building bridges between faiths if we are to truly share the future”.
Former leader Gerry Adams joined his successor Mary Lou McDonald at the event, which was also attended by Martin’s wife, Bernie, who has written the book’s foreword.
The unlikely friendship between the former IRA leader and the minister of Derry Presbyterian Church began over a decade ago, and the book covers a series of events, including the Rev Latimer’s speech at the Sinn Féin ardfheis, McGuinness’s handshake with the queen, and their joint work for peace in Derry. The author’s also writes about his time as an army chaplain at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan in 2008.
Launching the book, Ó Fearghaíl spoke of the journey undertaken by the two, “their strange challenging journey of discovery – discovery of each other, of themselves and the communities in which they served”.
Meanwhile, McDonald told of the “enriching ties of friendship” which they built across the political divide and, in the case of McGuinness, “that sometimes got him into a bit of bother, including with us, his own republican family”.
She added: “It is only with the value of hindsight that many of us realise how right he was, how wise he was.”
Latimer got warm applause from the crowd – from across the political spectrum – for his opening lines: “A Ceann Comhairle, go raibh maith agat. Dia daoibh go léir. Is álainn liom a bheith anseo.”
He said it was “a great honour” to be in Leinster House and said he couldn’t believe it when he saw Bernie McGuinness there. She had been texting him when he was coming down to Dublin on the bus from Derry, but didn’t tell him she would be at the launch too.
Forget rural Ireland – what about the needs of urbane Ireland?
The culture clash between Leo Varadkar and the rural Independents is regularly stoked by the quartet of Mattie McGrath and the Healy-Rae brothers, with Michael Collins from Schull, Co Cork given the occasional walk-on part.
Week in, week out, there are howls of protest over the Taoiseach’s coldness to rural Ireland as he variously closes it down, rips the heart of it, turns it into a wasteland and deprives thirsty aul’ fellas of their pints on the way home from Mass. This week, according to Kerry’s Danny Healy-Rae, he blew “the social fabric of rural Ireland to smithereens” and brought about a situation where “people who need a car to get from A to B can’t even have one pint”.
And why was “the culture of the rural people being blown to smithereens” by guards stopping thirsty aul’ fellas on the roads at all times of the day and night and bagging them?
Danny gave Leo the answer: “It was at your behest, trying to satisfy Minister Ross.”
Shane Ross’s name was mentioned again by McGrath, but this time it wasn’t in relation to rural transport and the drink driving laws. He wanted the Taoiseach to ask his Minister for Transport to arrange a meeting between one of his constituents and the Road Safety Authority.
“There’s a young man in Tipperary, an entrepreneur named Jason Maher, and he’s developed a tyre app – and he’s with the RSA, up and down – a road safety app for tyre safety. And it’s the most important part of the vehicle, is the connection with roads and our tyres, and would you please ask Minister Ross to get the Road Safety Authority to engage with him?” said Mattie, in the course of a somewhat garbled contribution.
Leo looked up and drawled: “For the benefit of the stenographer, I think the Deputy said ‘tyre app’.”
“Correct,” nodded Mattie.
“I thought he said ‘tie rack’,” smirked the Taoiseach.
Michael Healy-Rae was not impressed.
“There’s no need to be smart.”
But Leo was delighted with his little quip. “I wasn’t quite sure what use a tie rack would be to the Road Safety Authority,” he chuckled to himself.
The Taoiseach appeared to give us an insight into his town-versus-county view of politicians when commenting on Tuesday about the length of time it is taking for legislation to go through.
“We have an effective filibuster here by rural Independents on the abortion Bill and a filibuster in the Seanad by urbane Independents on the Judicial Appointments Bill.”
Leo and the rural urbane divide.
A lightbulb moment for Wexford TD
Q: How many ministers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: The reality is, and let us be perfectly clear about this, we all recognise the importance of lightbulbs and that is why we are even more determined to nearly meet our lightbulb target almost as soon as we get the report from the scoping committee advising on the structure of the expert group to be established under the chairmanship of retired Ms Justice Whoeversfree to examine expressions of interest from stakeholders in the chandelier pillar groups in partnership with incandescent civic society with a view to joining the Taoiseach and insignificant others at a big launch before lunch in Government Buildings in time for the one o’clock news.
So, how many ministers does it take to change a lightbulb?
None. You couldn’t let them anywhere near electrics.
No. A clever press adviser will do the job.
When Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton joined the Taoiseach at the Government’s latest Project 2040 launch in Merrion Street recently – the one about the €500 million Climate Action Fund, he announced the provision of €17.5 million for the retrofitting of public lighting.
All very laudable, but how does this relate to the man and woman back in the constituencies?
Former Indo reporter Niall O’Connor, who is now press adviser to Paul Kehoe, the Minister of State for Defence, was quick off the mark to see the potential for his boss.
Immediately after the announcement, bright spark O’Connor had his own lightbulb moment and he lobbed in a query to Bruton’s department.
And Kehoe was able to supply the Wexford media with a good news announcement: “New funding provided to Wexford county will see the upgrade of up to 12,000 public lights across Wexford.”
On foot of the Government’s plan to retrofit 326,000 public lights around the country, “Minister Kehoe said he understands around 12,000 lights will fall under this scheme in Wexford. Poor public lighting can cause people, particularly elderly people, to feel unsafe. This will provide a piece of mind to many communities and ensure that our streets are better lit.”
12,000. That’s a nice round figure.
Donohoe dials Deliveroo during Eurogroup meeting drudgery
It was a tough start to the week for the Minister for Finance.
Paschal Donohoe flew out to Brussels on Sunday evening to be in time for his monthly Eurogroup meeting, which had an early start on Monday morning. On Tuesday he was due at the regular Ecofin meeting to discuss banking union and the digital services tax.
The Eurogroup meeting went on, and on, and on. Appropriately enough, as the European Commission was marking the 20th anniversary of the euro, the ministers were discussing monetary union and securing the euro. It had been expected that proceedings would wrap up around midnight, but that didn’t happen.
During a break in the early hours, Paschal called Deliveroo and ordered a raft of burgers and chips from “Be Burger” for the starving Irish contingent in the Europa Building. The meeting finished at 8am. The Minister then moved on to his Ecofin appointment, where all the sleep-deprived EU foreign ministers talked until midday before staggering out again. After a couple of hours’ sleep, Paschal left for the airport and a Tuesday evening flight home.