Miriam Lord: Outbreak of political monkey pox as biggest organ-grinders in the Dáil go missing

Leo and Micheál were on a mission to butter up the billionaires in Davos

An unexpected outbreak of political monkey pox put a damper on Tuesday’s proceedings when the three biggest organ-grinders in the Dáil went missing.

There was no sign of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar or Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald while Taoiseach Micheál Martin turned up for Leaders' Questions only to high-tail it out the door within an hour.

The last time Micheál moved so fast there was a flash sale on green tea in the Dáil canteen.

Simon Coveney, Jack Chambers, Stephen Donnelly and Pearse Doherty are not monkeys, even if it fell to them to stand in for their respective organ-grinders when business resumed for the week. But when the party leaders are not present for Leaders' Question a certain pall falls over the chamber and people lose interest in the back and forth.

As it happened, Micheál and Leo had signed up to attend the biggest convention of organ-grinders on the planet, otherwise known as the World Economic Forum in Davos. As soon as Leaders' Questions finished, the Taoiseach hot-footed it from the chamber and rushed to the airport for a flight to Switzerland.

News of their attendance at the annual fat cats' gabfest caught Paul Murphy by surprise at Solidarity-People Before Profit's weekly media briefing. After he called for the imposition of a "millionaires' tax" and talked about the rapidly increasing problem of wealth inequality around the world, he was asked what he thought of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste going to Davos.

“Oh, is that where they are this week, is it?” asked Paul. (How could they not have told him?). Barely skipping a beat he replied: “I mean, look. Davos is a gathering place of the elites in the world, the real elites, in terms of the very, very wealthy, the bankers, their political representatives. The decisions made in Davos are not made in the interests of ordinary people.”

His Davos would be different. It wouldn’t be in Davos, for starters.

“If we had a left government in this country we would be having a very alternative type of summit involving trade unionists, small farmers, representatives of ordinary people around the world as opposed to partying with the rich. So certainly, there’s a question mark over why we have both Taoiseach and Tánaiste going to Davos.”

Like it or not, Leo and Micheál were going off on their mission to butter up the billionaires on behalf of the nation.

Slightly closer to home, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald was across the water, buttering up the Brits. The leader of the “largest political party in Ireland” turned up at the crack of dawn on ITV’s ‘Good Morning Britain’ breakfast show to talk about the recent elections, the Northern Ireland Protocol and whether there will be a referendum on Irish unity within the next decade.

In a packed day, which included a meeting with representatives of the Confederation of British Industry, Mary Lou’s London blitz culminated in Westminister with “a conversation for change” on current developments in Ireland. Sinn Féin invited all MPs and peers to the briefing session, although none of Boris Johnson’s ministers were expected to take up the offer.

Back home, Seanad Cathaoirleach Mark Daly and his fellow Senators were busy buttering up The Yanks. The members of the upper house were en fête because they had bagged themselves a VIP visitor. And with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and the leader of Sinn Féin elsewhere, they might just have convinced their honoured guests that the Seanad is much more powerful and significant than the Dáil (a common misconception among US politicians, where, unlike our crowd, their senators are actually a big deal).

While gushing Senators were showering praise on Richie Neal and his bipartisan congressional delegation, worthy speeches on "The role of journalists in conflict across the world" were being read out to near deserted benches in the Dáil over a three-hour period.

‘Standing ovation’

But across the long corridor in the Seanad chamber after the applause had died, an enraptured Daly was declaring: “I’d like to inform the house that it’s the longest standing ovation anyone has received in my time here”.

Still, it was quite a feather in his cap to land the first ever member of the US Congress to address the upper house in its 100 year history.

After the session, ushers took Daly into an ante-room and hosed him down for fear he might spontaneously combust with delight. Senators crowded around to shake hands with Congressman Neal and the rest of his party, but they managed to behave with some restraint, unlike the time Nicola Sturgeon addressed the Seanad and some of them carried on like besotted fans at a South Korean boy band concert.

The Cathaoirleach, who is from Kenmare, is a regular visitor to Capitol Hill and he knows Neal well (his mother came from Ventry). The veteran congressman is chairman of the US House of Representatives powerful Ways and Means committee and co-chairmanof the Congressional Friends of Ireland caucus.

During his speech to the Seanad, he mused that “but for the rhythms of history, I might be sitting where you are today, Mark”. And the Cathaoirleach along with other members of the Seanad, he suggested, could be plying their trade in Washington DC.

“I wonder would we be able to get him on the ticket for Kerry in time for the next general election?” wondered one Fianna Fáiler after the event.

That’s a thought. Richie Nealy-Rae has a nice ring to it.

But back to Blighty and Sinn Féin president McDonald and vice-president Michelle O’Neill, who were flying the Sinn Féin flag in London and getting a lot of high-profile media attention. When Mary Lou was in the Good Morning Britain studio reaching out to a new audience, Michelle was on BBC radio 4’s Today programme.

They also met Labour leader Keir Starmer, but perhaps the biggest success of the trip came when Mary Lou's met Shaughna Philips at the GMTV studio.

Shaughna who, sez you? Only the Shaughna Philips from season six of Love Island. Yes, that Shaugha She has a million and a half Instagram followers.

The two women were photographed together and Shaughna tweeted it. "The president of Sinn Fein, an absolute delight" she wrote. A lot of people wanted to know where she got her lovely pink blazer. "Zara, babes" she replied to them all.

“Great to meet you @Shaughna_P bright and early” replied Mary Lou, retweeting it.

You wouldn’t get that with Jim Allister or Jeffrey Donaldson.