Miriam Lord: Man down at NoTalk as Coveney poaches Chris Donoghue

Thankfully George Hook will soon return from suspension to keep things masculine


Simon Coveney has finally ended his search for a second special adviser.

Eyebrows will be raised in the political and media bubble around Kildare Street with the news that the Minister for Foreign Affairs will appoint journalist Chris Donoghue to the role. The Newstalk stalwart, who was with the radio station for 14 years, formally handed in his notice this week and is expected to join Coveney’s team in Iveagh House next month.

As word of another high-profile exit from Newstalk began surfacing in media circles in the last few days, there was much speculation that the broadcaster might be moving to the Taoiseach’s office. The 33-year-old Dubliner and Leo Varadkar are long-time friends.

Given that Varadkar and Coveney were rivals for the Fine Gael leadership, confirmation that Donoghue is jumping ship to Foreign Affairs is sure to surprise the Leinster House chatterati. He will join Simon’s right-hand woman and special adviser, Caitríona Fitzpatrick.

In marked contrast to the way Theresa May’s dysfunctional Brexit cabinet seems intent upon tearing itself apart since last year’s chaotic leadership contest, Coveney and Varadkar have put forward a strong and united front as the Government presses the State’s Brexit case in Europe and Westminster.

Donoghue had been presenting Newstalk’s drivetime programme with Sarah McInerney but the show was axed to make way for former Fine Gael minister turned celebrity broadcaster Ivan Yates. Donoghue was then appointed political editor for Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp Group, which includes Newstalk, and given a two-hour show on Sunday morning.

In a controversial reworking of the station’s programming schedule, the talented McInerney was shunted to an 8am hour-long Saturday morning current affairs slot, displacing Sarah Carey – who wasn’t given another show – and her intelligent programme Talking Point. Another female broadcaster, Dil Wickremasinghe, had her weekly Saturday evening show cancelled when she refused to present it in protest at remarks about rape made by presenter George Hook. He was quickly suspended, but Wickremasinghe was shown the door.

The dearth of female voices on Newstalk, allied to the Hook affair, was roundly criticised in those sections of the media outside the considerable ambit of Denis O’Brien. An opinion piece by Fintan O’Toole upset the management so much that a barring order was imposed against all Irish Times employees, whose voices are now banned from NoTalk and all other Communicorp radio stations.

The group has lost three excellent political correspondents in the past few months. Gavan Reilly departed recently to TV3, while Paraic Gallagher left for a senior position with leading communications and PR company Q4.

Still, it’s not all bad for NoTalk.

Donoghue may be departing, but, mirabile dictu, George Hook’s suspension is nearly up so he should be out of the sin bin by next month.

It could never work: Healy-Raes, the comedy

The Sinn Féin ardfheis isn’t the only political show in town tonight.

Dublin 4 will be heaving with Shinners and Fianna Fáilers as Gerry Adams has his big night in the RDS and Micheál Martin hosts his party’s annual President’s Dinner at the Clayton Burlington Hotel.

But Ballsbridge faces stiff competition from Dublin city centre, where that political phenomenon known as the Healy-Raes will be celebrated on stage at the Teachers’ Club in Parnell Square.

The Rise and Rise of the Healy-Raes has been packing in the crowds in Kerry this year, with eight sell-out performances in the Kingdom already. The comedy, written by Killarney actor Ray O’Sullivan and directed by Kerry’s Eye journalist Aidan O’Connor, tells the story of the formidable Healy-Rae election machine and how it swept a family from the tiny village of Kilgarvan to the top of the political tree.

The play is touring the county for the second time this year following an earlier “world tour of Kerry”, and the company is doing one special performance “above in Dublin” tonight.

Most of the Kerry dates are nearly sold-out. The show at the INEC on December 2nd is completely sold-out and a second date, December 3rd, has been added.

The two-act play tells the story of bachelor brothers Densey and PJ Doona who live their lives parallel to the rise of the Healy-Rae political dynasty. While frequently hilarious (according to the blurb), “the play is also a poignant exploration of life in rural Ireland, loneliness, celibacy and how politics affects and changes people’s lives.”

Writer O’Sullivan said “We’ll be very interested to see how an audience outside of Kerry will view the play. I think Aidan O’Connor has turned something ordinary into something we believe is very, very special and we hope the audiences in Dublin and elsewhere will feel the same way.”

Meanwhile, Michael Healy-Rae reckons audiences will be surprised at what they see, describing the play as something “far bigger than the Healy-Raes”. It isn’t just about his family, but about “a way of living that is very true to life. It is very honest and down-to-earth. It’s a much deeper play than people might expect.”

You can tell he is mightily impressed.

“The acting at times would literally put the hair standing on your head, it’s so real,” said Michael, who is bald.

Leo goes awol in Cavan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar shows his decorative socks to British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar shows his decorative socks to British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

The Joy of Socks.

Leo is all for it.

He indulged again in Sweden yesterday, showing off his latest acquisition: a €9 pair of Irish Socksciety gents hosiery emblazoned with hurleys, sliotars and the slogan “Pull Hard”, designed by two Polish women who live in Galway and have set up an Irish novelty goods company. Local TD Ciarán Cannon presented a selection of their socks recently to the boss, who instantly tweeted a photo of them.

Apparently British PM Theresa May, who is very partial to nice shoes, was most taken with Leo’s socks. He went full leprechaun for the occasion, teaming his diddly-aye legwear with a very snazzy pair of double-buckle brogues.

Wonder if he wore them to the wedding last week. The Taoiseach left the Fine Gael conference in Cavan on Saturday evening to attend the wedding of a college pal in Castle Durrow in Laois. While there, he hung out with another old college pal, former FG TD Lucinda Creighton, who was there with her husband, former senator Paul Bradford.

Lucinda instagrammed a photo of Leo with her hubby and another guest and captioned it “Da Boyz”.

We hear in da hood that Leo think Lucinda be woke. Some homies reckon he gonna axe her to run for da European parliament next time out.

Meanwhile, the grassroots weren’t best pleased to see their main man hotfooting it away so early on Saturday. It had been an expensive weekend for them – two nights at a hotel in Cavan and no sign of their Taoiseach in the main bar on Friday or Saturday night.

Some senior Ministers did a bit of glad-handing on Friday when Leo was in his suite sharing a meal of chicken balls with his political mates. Richard Bruton, Charlie Flanagan and Simon Harris were spotted, while Paschal Donohoe put himself about and was quite the charmer.

The delegates in Cavan are the people who put leaflets through letterboxes on cold winter nights and take abuse on the doorsteps at election time. Conference weekend is the one time they can mix with the top brass and shoot the breeze with the boss. It’s like going to visit Santa in his grotto and getting a selfie for posterity. Only this time the star of the show wasn’t there.

Members, including a lot of TDs and Senators, were raging.

Noone proud to be a nanny

Catherine Noone accepts the award for overall Nanny of the Year
Catherine Noone accepts the award for overall Nanny of the Year

The organisers of an awards ceremony held by a smokers’ rights group to “honour” people for their services to the nanny state were very surprised when one of the winners turned up in person on Monday night to collect her gong.

They were also absolutely delighted, in a sad kind of way, because they don’t usually get much attention.

Forest, an English-based pressure group funded by the tobacco industry, usually hosts the awards dinner in London but decided to relocate to Dublin this year because of the zealous approach taken by Irish politicians in trying to restrict what people can eat, drink and smoke.

The event, in Suesey Street restaurant on Leeson Street, began with a drinks reception on a smoking terrace, followed by a three-course dinner “with delicious wines and after-dinner entertainment” followed by speeches and the announcement of the Golden Nanny Award winners. (No shortage of money where this group is concerned.)

Guest speakers at the “Farewell to Freedom Dinner” included Keith Redmond, cofounder of the Hibernia Forum think-tank - “a free market advocacy forum”, and Irish Independent columnist Ian O’Doherty.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar headed the shortlist, along with the likes of Minister for Health Simon Harris, former minister of state for health Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Paschal Donohoe. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who introduced the smoking ban, and Senator James Reilly, who supported plain packaging of tobacco, were both nominated for a lifetime achievement award.

Senator Catherine Noone, nominated for her involvement in a number of health-awareness campaigns, won overall Nanny of the Year. She did a Halle Berry on it – Berry famously made an appearance at the Golden Raspberry Awards to accept the prize for worst actress for her role in the atrocious 2004 movie Catwoman – turning up to accept her honour and deliver a speech.

“As to some of the specific nannying I’ve promoted in the last year: the sugar tax, the sunbeds and the alcohol bill, I see neither mitching cider-swigging youths, wrinkled over-ripe bronzed oompa loompas nor energy drinking obese diabetics in the audience, so obviously you’re all enlightened,” she told her audience.

“Libertarians, contrarians, barbarians: I’m honoured to accept this award. You’re great sports! And I’m a loon, obviously ... ”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.