Miriam Lord: On Military manoeuvres at Leinster House

Perfect chinese penmanship and stress relief share the corridors of power with portly rats

The morning after Donald Trump was elected, Minister of State Eoghan Murphy headed to Government Buildings for a pre-breakfast meeting with Michael Noonan.

He was tired, having stayed up half the night watching the election count. As he waited outside the Minister for Finance’s office, he worried about the consequences of Trump’s sensational victory.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He looked up and saw Paul Kehoe, the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, being marched along the Ministerial corridor by a dozen men. These "serious looking dudes" in sharp suits wore earpieces and talked urgently into their shirt-cuffs, secret service style.

Murphy greeted his colleague, who barely replied, head down, as he was rushed past. A number of the men ran ahead and opened the door to Enda Kenny’s office before ushering the silent Kehoe inside.


The Taoiseach, by the way, is our titular Minister for Defence, but Kehoe has all the responsibility.

Given the election result earlier that morning, Eoghan didn’t know what to think. Had something happened in the few hours since he abandoned his television for bed and woke up in a world according to Trump?

For the rest of the day, Kehoe was escorted through Government Buildings and Leinster House by his grim-faced minders, as if a threat to the State was imminent or underway.

Close protection

When Kehoe went for breakfast, his close protection officers came too. When he stood to leave, the occupants of two nearby tables jumped up and followed him out.

Kehoe's Fine Gael colleagues were agog. At the launch of the Government's "Be Winter Ready" campaign, attended by a number of senior ministers, the burly minders stood near the Wexford TD and former chief whip.

Shane Ross lookeda bit miffed because he wasn't getting similar attention.

And so it continued for the rest of the day, with bemused TDs and Senators wondering why security men were guarding the doors when Kehoe nipped to the gents and why they were posted at the exits to the Members’ Bar when he went in for a sandwich.

One backbencher nearly died of shock near the Dáil chamber when he heard a shout of “Hit the floor!” and turned to see Kehoe diving for cover, with the lads piling in over him.

"The only danger I could see was Michael Ring approaching in the distance" he said.

Curious TDs have now established that Kehoe, who refused to say what was going on, was taking part in a training exercise with an elite army group of close protection officers.

He appeared to enjoy it very much. These drills happen twice a year in various situations with VIP volunteers. Nothing to worry about so.

This explains why the Ringer wasn’t shot on sight.


Could Taoiseach take a leaf out of Mr Ji’s book?

Leinster House hosted a visiting delegation of Chinese politicians on Tuesday. The group was led by Mr Ji Binxuan, vice-chairman of the standing committee of the National People's Congress.

In accordance with convention, he signed the large, gold-tooled leather bound visitors’ book before entering the Dáil. He also added a message, as many VIPs do.

Usually, they stand and sign the book at a table just outside the main doors to the chamber. But in this instance, the writing was done in an ante-room and took some time to complete.

It’s clear to see why.

The stunning calligraphy stands out among the pages of handwritten felicitations and spidery ballpoint signatures.

Clifford Coonan, our man in Beijing, tells us it took him a while to get to grips with the language in Mr Ji's beautiful message as it is written in the classical style.

Calligraphy and meditation are popular forms of stress relief in China. Where our politicians and business leaders might choose to unwind over a few pints, their Chinese counterparts like to sit in meditative silence and practice calligraphy.

Not only is it a very popular hobby, it is also a key part of exercising power. Perfecting their penmanship is a big thing with Chinese leaders. And some of them seem to go on forever.

Perhaps Enda should consider taking it up?

Here's what Mr Ji wrote: "No distance can separate the best of friends. China and Ireland are far apart but have a deep friendship. We should jointly promote win-win co-operation as the core of the relationship between two countries and form a common destiny and common interest between two countries. We should always be the constructors of world peace, the promoters of global development, the guardians of international order. The people of the world can work together to create the future of peace and partnership for the long-term development of mankind."


Lowry’s secret meeting sends Kelly off rails

What possessed Alan Kelly to mount such a stinging attack on Mary Mitchell O'Connor this week?

The Minister for Jobs has taken an inordinate amount of criticism for her performance in the early days of her tenure, when many of her Cabinet peers have hardly distinguished themselves either. Enda’s first team is not so much a Basket of Deplorables as a Basket of Must-Do-Moreables.

To her credit, she is keeping her head down and getting on with the job. MMOC must have been wondering why the Labour loudmouth suddenly decided to attack her in the course of a newspaper interview on Tuesday.

Apparently, she gave him an inadequate answer to a Dáil question some time back. “It was the worst I have seen in a Minister in my 10 years in politics,” the former minister thundered to the Indo.

“And I’m not going to let anyone push me into a male/female row here now. It’s purely a matter of competence.”

He must have forgotten his time in Cabinet, so. Could there be another reason for his outburst, one not related to getting an unsatisfactory answer to a parliamentary question? That’s hardly unusual in Leinster House.

Maybe Mary was on the Tipperary TD's mind because of what happened a few days earlier. We hear Kelly, who is fiercely territorial and likes to think he has his finger on the pulse of North Tipp, got wind of a private meeting the Minister had in her office the previous Friday with the owners of a furniture factory near Nenagh which recently burned down, putting 65 people out of work.

At the request of Kelly's rival, Michael Lowry, Mitchell O'Connor agreed to meet Paddy and Mary Martin of Tippo International, who are determined to get back in business as soon as possible.

After the meeting, which Lowry also attended along with officials from Enterprise Ireland, they were full of praise for the Minister, saying she had been very professional, understanding and helpful.

When we contacted Lowry, he said he organised a private meeting private because he didn’t want to politicise the situation. “I felt they had endured enough and were entitled to air their financial position and future plans behind closed doors.”

He didn’t issue any statement to the local media about it.

The Martins have already started the rebuilding process, working in a temporary location in Nenagh while fully committed to a new build on the site of the old factory.

As for Alan Kelly, he was putting himself about quite a bit this week, talking tough on a number of issues. But not the one most people wanted to hear him on. Anything to deflect from the story of the beefed up Ballybrophy to Limerick rail line through Tipperary, a project which he championed when in government. It costs €550 per passenger to run.


Portly rats in the corridors of power

Is there no end to the continuing influx of rats infesting the corridors of power? It appears not.

Given that the number of Dáil seats was reduced from 166 to 158 at the last election, people are asking why there hasn’t been a concomitant reduction in vermin around Leinster House.

It's to do with all the building work going on around Kildare Street and Merrion Street. The authorities can do little to keep out rodents displaced by earth-moving machinery.

The latest sighting caused consternation in Government Buildings on Monday. A portly rat was spotted sauntering up the red carpet on the Taoiseach’s corridor, leading to panic among advisors and staffers.

Upon realising it had landed in a dangerous nest of vipers, the terrified varmint searched urgently for a way out, but all the doors along the way were closed. People inside the offices were not coming out and the ones outside fled.

The call went up: “Get the man with the stick!”

A chap from the OPW duly arrived, but he was persuaded not to clobber the by-now cornered intruder because “they’ll all start screaming.”

In the nick of time, a member of the cleaning staff arrived with a large bag. She calmly scooped up the rat and removed him from the premises.

The view in Merrion Street is that the rodent came over from Leinster House – the buildings are linked by a walkway.

There is no possibility that it was a Government Buildings rat. They wear spats and carry a cane.


Politicians show oval talent out of office

The Oireachtas rugby team returned to competition after a two-year hiatus last Saturday, taking on the Bar Council at Old Wesley's ground in Donnybrook.

Having injured himself in the warm-up, Fine Gael's John Paul Phelan retired to mentoring duties on the sideline. Maybe John Paul aggravated an old injury – the Kilkenny TD has been sliding in a lot of tackles on Enda Kenny these days and that's bound to take its toll.

He was joined on the coaching team by Senators Gerry Horkan (FF) and Michael McDowell, who were initially supposed to be playing but decided it might be wiser to offer moral support. McDowell patrolled the line, barking orders at both sides like a poor man's George Hook.

With the two senators crying off, there were very few politicians on a team top-heavy with Leinster House staffers. FG backbencher Kate O’Connell volunteered her husband Morgan. “He’s crocked too” she told his team-mates, in an effort to boost their confidence.

The match was played at a surprisingly swift pace, with a bloody gash to the forehead of FG councillor John McGahon proof of the physicality.

After a scoreless first half, the Oireachtas team got over for the first score. There was “a surging run” by the FG Senator Neale Richmond which saw “quick hands” from the resulting ruck and TD Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil’s big No 8, crashed over.

The Bar Council struck back. A skip pass from Michael Lynn SC found Circuit Court Judge Tom Teehan – a sprightly 72 – in space on the wing. He offloaded to Michael Binchy who bagged the try.

Retired Oireachtas committee clerk Eoin Faherty’s crunching tackle on former Chair of the Bar Council, David Barniville SC, brought play to a close, much to the relief of the few spectators still awake.

A 5-5 draw – not exactly a classic but the Oireachtas team will be well prepared for their spring fixtures against the French and Welsh assembly teams, followed by a clash with the Commons & Lords.

A collection raised 500 for the IRFU’s fund for injured players.