Miriam Lord: Leo needed a wake-up call for his post-budget interview

The ‘people who get up early in the morning’ were kept waiting as the Tánaiste slept it in

When he became Fine Gael leader and taoiseach in 2017, Leo Varadkar promised to represent the “people who get up early in the morning”. He was immediately attacked for ignoring the people who may not get up early in the morning but work hard in their lives too.

At the time he defended the comment, insisting his party would “never apologise for standing up for people who get up early in the morning, who work nights and weekends, who aspire for something better for themselves and their families”.

Leo’s political opponents have developed a fondness for the phrase, dredging it up every now and then so they can beat him around the ears with it.

In his line of work, the Tánaiste gets up early in the morning all the time. At the top level in politics, days are gruelling and very long for all party leaders, but they relish the job.


Budget day, which starts with an early morning Cabinet meeting, is particularly demanding for Government Ministers. After the budget announcements in the Dáil, they have their departmental press conferences in the evening. Meanwhile, a schedule of local and national media appearances kicks in.

On the morning after Budget 2022, Leo was scheduled to do the big interview on RTÉ's Morning Ireland. His appearance after 8am was trailed on social media and during the first hour of the broadcast. The item immediately after the 8am bulletin is the box-office slot, the one which pulls in most listeners and is reserved for the big hitters and the big stories.

“We will be hearing from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar shortly, reacting to yesterday’s budget,” said presenter Aengus Cox, before cutting to the news.

Jon Williams, Head of News and Current Affairs, went to the foyer to greet the Tánaiste and escort him to the studio. But there was no sign of him.

The bulletin came and went. The programme’s second hour opened with a lengthy interview on the Northern Ireland protocol with Queens University professor Katie Hayward.

“And we’ll be talking later with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar,” promised presenter Justin McCarthy, before Verona Murphy, the Independent TD for Wexford, was wheeled out to give Opposition reaction to the budget. An item on the death of musician Paddy Moloney came next. The 8.30 headlines and sports news followed. There was a suspiciously long interview with former Irish international Ray Houghton.

“It is 8.41 and we are joined in studio now by the Tánaiste and Minister for Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar . . .” announced Justin, finally about to get stuck in.

What happened?

Apparently Leo was hugely apologetic when he arrived in RTÉ for his “early in the morning” interview. He made a full confession.

“I slept it out.”

Even Homer nods . . . off.

Senator ’s plan bee

The Seanad will be buzzing on Wednesday when Senator Vincent P Martin (or Vincent B Martin) introduces his Bill to save the Irish honeybee from extinction.

“The Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill” has the support of all parties and groupings in the Upper House as the future of Apis mellifera mellifera hangs in the balance, threatened by non-native imports which are hybridising and diluting the species.

The Native Irish Honeybee Society, along with beekeeping associations throughout the island, is fully behind the move and points to compelling scientific evidence for a ban on the importation of non-native bees.

“That’s another species gone if we don’t act now,” says the Green Party Senator and senior counsel, who describes himself as a keen amateur beekeeper with “four hives on the go” at his home in Kildare. When preparing the legislation he got expert legal opinion from the Climate Bar Association to guard against the Bill contravening EU law.

Vincent B tells us that non-native bees are more prone to swarming, are more aggressive and they don’t appreciate our climate. They can also bring in dangerous diseases and pathogens. But the Irish honey bee produces good, dependable honey as they fly in low temperatures and light rain, they are placid, have low swarming tendencies and are frugal with winter stores.

“Ireland is fortunate to have a pure population of its own native Irish honey bees which is perfectly adapted to this island, this climate and this flora,” wrote Senator Martin in a letter to Seanad colleagues. However, it is under severe threat due to the “continued, increasing and unnecessary” importation of non-native varieties.

“Ireland is the envy of much of Northern Europe where this same bee originally reigned but, due to hybridisation, pure Apis mellifera mellifera is now only found in a few pockets.”

Vincent sent a jar of his pure Kildare honey with his letter. His “Honeywood” crop is sold in Swans on the Green in Naas.

He contacted the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission recently and asked about the possibility of putting some hives on the roof of Leinster House. The Ceann Comhairle, a great supporter of local food initiatives, wrote back saying the authorities will certainly investigate if this is possible.

Busy bee Vincent P is also in the middle of a project to get his small vineyard into production. He has been “trialling and shortlisting” mildew-resistant grape varieties for the last few years and hopes to have his first vintage in around five years time.

“The Welsh are beating the French in wine-tastings on white sparkling. I am on a mission to bring champagne to Kildare.”

Cuvée Vin de P from Chateau Martin, with a native bee on the label.

Stick us down for a magnum.

Bad for the optics

How is the rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP)going?

Let’s get the National Development Plan (NDP) programme manager before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to explain all.

That sounds like a good idea.

The PAC met top officials from the Department of Communications on Thursday morning and broadband was one of the main topics for discussion. Fortunately the department’s high-speed supremo, Fergal Mulligan, was on hand, albeit remotely, to answer questions.

When Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked general secretary Mark Griffin about broadband in schools, he deferred to his colleague.

“Fergal, I don’t know if you want to come in on that . . .”

“I can do that,” replied the NDP man, headphones on and microphone attached, sitting in a leather office chair in what appeared to be his attic. Something like a mini-satellite dish was on his desk, partially in the shot.

The scene was well lit because of the Velux window above, but the picture was fuzzy and then Fergal’s voice began breaking up just as he was getting into the detail.

“I’m not trying to be funny, but I’m not sure your broadband connection is the strongest there,” said Jennifer, showing great discipline under the circumstances.

Later, she asked sec gen Griffin about problems in the Dublin city network and in her own constituency of Dún Laoghaire. Was there a plan to improve that situation?

“I’m going to ask Fergal to come in on this.”

The programme manager for the National Development Plan reappeared on another stuttery, low-resolution link and began by setting out in sequence what will be done.

“So all the ducks, all the du-”

And he froze before he was able to get them in a row.

Chairman Brian Stanley intervened.

“You’re losing your sound there.”

And Jennifer, who had given up on trying not to be funny, quipped: “Maybe you’re in Dún Laoghaire, are you?”

Mark Griffin chipped in: “He’s not. Actually, deputy, he’s in Wicklow and he’s a man stuck in an amber area who badly needs a connection.”

Amber areas in the NBP map are those identified for the rollout of high-speed fibre.

Eventually, Fergal resurfaced, to everyone’s relief. “Apologies everybody for my connection. You’ll be glad to hear that National Broadband Ireland will be getting me fibre hopefully in the next few months. I’m part of the 60,000 by the end of the year so next time around I should have a much better connection.”

Later, when discussing committee business, chairman Stanley suggested the PAC should insist “at the very least” that senior officials attend meetings either in person or contribute from their department headquarters. He said it wasn’t good enough to have the manager of the National Broadband Plan trying to address the meeting over a dodgy line.

“His broadband actually went down, his connection collapsed in the middle of the meeting . . . that’s not okay,” said Stanley.

“It’s not a good look, one way or the other,” agreed Verona Murphy.

“It’s awful. It’s awful,” sighed the chairman.


Des res

We note with some sadness that Des and Pat O’Malley’s apartment in Ballsbridge is up for sale. Des, the former Fianna Fáil minister and founder and first leader of the now-defunct Progressive Democrats, died in July. His beloved wife, Pat, died in 2017.

The three-bed, two-bath top-floor apartment in Lynton Court is located on the corner of Merrion Road and Sandymount Avenue and is on the market with Sherry Fitzgerald with an asking price of €675,000. It’s a fine property, judging by the envy-inducing photographs on the auctioneer’s website.

We were struck by the image of Des’s study – a small, bright room with a sturdy chair, compact mahogany desk and anglepoise lamp in the corner near the window. And, along the wall, a large shredder.

O’Malley had a long, distinguished and often controversial political career. His celebrated clashes with Charles J Haughey are part of history now.

If that shredder could talk, what tales might it tell?