Miriam Lord: Party think-ins lack glitz appeal of yore

Greens saved on emissions, PBP/AAA saved face, while FF saved the best till last

The meaningless “think-in” season draws to a close today with the Green Party saving on carbon emissions by not travelling anywhere for their pre-season bonding session.

Instead, its Oireachtas members (three), councillors and spokespeople will discuss priorities for the coming term in the glamorous but cosy confines of head office above a shop in Dublin’s Suffolk Street. (We say glamorous because they once had a disco ball on the ceiling that nobody bothered to take down after a Christmas party.)

The Labour Party just about managed to spin out its event for two days, thanks to an evening start on Thursday and a lunchtime finish on Friday.

The timetable was rather odd – the final event, listed for 2pm yesterday, was the “Welcome by Brendan Howlin TD, Party leader”.


So there were high hopes that Brendan might cheer everyone up with a rendition of the Groucho Marx classic Hello, I Must Be Going.

But he didn’t.

Most of the politicians around him were former Labour TDs who lost their seats in February, so there wasn’t much to cheer about.

Due to drastically reduced circumstances, the party decided not to splash out on a country hotel for its brainstorming session.

Members opted to go the short distance from Leinster House to Dawson Street. But not, as might have been expected, to rattle around in Dublin's smallest pub, the Dawson Lounge.

Luckily, the Lord Mayor of Dublin is Labour councillor Brendan Carr and the deputy Lord Mayor is his party colleague Rebecca Moynihan.

So Labour’s handful of Oireachtas members, along with councillors and advisers, were able to hold their heads up high in the Mansion House, which they temporarily own.

And so to those horny-handed sons of the Socialist Worker, the People Before Profit/Anti-Austerity Alliance Oireachtas group.

Richard Boyd-Barrett and Paul Murphy gathered with their comrades yesterday morning in the stylish confines of the Hilton Hotel in Dublin 8.

It's hard to know what attracted them most to the venue: its proximity to the old Kilmainham Gaol and courthouse or the blurb for the hotel: "Towering elegantly over one of Dublin's oldest addresses, the four-star Hilton Dublin Kilmainham is perfectly positioned on the most accessible edge of the city centre: close enough to be there within minutes – yet peacefully removed."

It was probably the “peacefully removed” reference that swung it.

There was a press briefing and photocall organised for lunchtime. The media duly arrived and gathered outside, facing the hotel.

Not a good idea as far as the AAA/PBP people were concerned. It wasn’t that they were worried with “the optics” or anything like that. It was just that the pictures might look better if shot from a different angle.

There were a few suggestions that the recently restored jail and courthouse looked nice. Ruth Coppinger thought so. Paul Murphy did too.

“Well, actually, yeah . . .” began Boyd-Barrett, as if he’d just been struck by the idea. “That might be a good shot.”

Not in front of the chrome and glass facade of a four-star hotel that is part the high-end Hilton chain? Eh, no.

So the snappers swivelled themselves and their tripods around, thus allowing the serial protesters of AAA/PBP their evocative backdrop, with not a vulgar hint of multinational bling in sight.

The week began with Fianna Fáil going to Carlow to practise being humble when TDs and Senators are just thrilled to be back in the political driving seat.

If they are the tail wagging the Fine Gael dog, that tail is firmly up and swinging like a metronome.

It was an uneventful affair although we hear there was a lively sing-song after dinner that stretched into the early hours.

The TDs concerned were only doing their leader’s bidding. Micheál Martin finished up his speech before dinner by telling his troops to have a good night.

Except he said it in typical Micheál fashion. “Enjoy your interactions in the social context!” So they did.

Tense under the spotlight for Adams

Sinn Féin enjoyed being in the spotlight on Tuesday at the Ploughing Championships. But the party – and Gerry Adams in particular – didn’t welcome its blinding presence the following day.

Their tent was going great guns, with live music performances, plenty of free stuff, complimentary tea and biscuits and a nice range of 1916 T-shirts for sale.

At one point, there were queues of people waiting to get in. The feedback will have pleased party handlers, with Adams due to make his annual appearance on day two.

His star quality has always been evident at the ploughing – when he goes on walkabout he is mobbed by teenagers and older admirers demanding selfies and autographs. Gerry is always willing to oblige.

On Wednesday, Senator Fintan Warfield, the party’s spokesman on youth affairs, LGBT rights and the arts (he has toured America with the Young Wolfe Tones), was belting out ballads with friends inside the tent before the party leader’s arrival.

Sinn Féin’s big message for the event, “Standing Up for Rural Ireland”, was everywhere. There was a feel-good mood about.

But events, as they tend to do in politics, intervened. As Adams made his way through the crowds towards the stand, a large contingent of journalists, photographers and camera crews waited for him. He was nearly pinned to the wall by the media crush when he landed.

Nobody wanted to talk about rural matters. The questions were about the previous night’s Spotlight current affairs programme on BBC Northern Ireland.

It aired an allegation from an unidentified man that Adams sanctioned the murder of IRA informer Denis Donaldson, shot dead in 2005 after admitting he was a British agent.

The Sinn Féin leader specifically and categorically denied the “unsubstantiated allegations from an anonymous person” who claimed to be a former IRA and Sinn Féin member turned informer.

He has placed the matter in the hands of his solicitor. When Adams arrived at the grounds in Screggan, he made straight for the RTÉ stand to do a radio interview on News at One.

One remark stood out. “I was shocked and surprised when I heard about Denis Donaldson’s murder,” Adams told Áine Lawlor.

It stood out because there was a time when the Sinn Féin leader wouldn’t have been in the least bit surprised by such news.

Jennifer O’Leary’s Spotlight report included a chilling clip from a press conference in April 1987, 18 years before self-confessed informer Donaldson was killed.

Adams was reacting to the murder of taxi driver Charlie McIlmurray, whose body was found dumped on a rural roadside with a plastic bag over his head and his hands bound. He had been shot twice in the head.

The Sinn Féin leader declared: “I think Mr McIlmurray, like anyone else living in west Belfast, knows that the consequence for informing is death.”

An unfortunate use of tense there from Gerry, in a statement before times and, apparently, consequence changed.

Shear persistence gives Leo cutting edge

The political field was very crowded this week at the Ploughing Championships. With so many party leaders on the prowl, how was an ambitious Minister supposed to get a look in?

Leo Varadkar joined the Simon Community (Coveney and Harris) on Wednesday and spent the day trying to get himself noticed.

It was his first time at the ploughing and he was keen to get stuck in. But not in an effort to broaden his rural fanbase in advance of a Fine Gael leadership contest.

Perish the thought.

“I’m not answering any more questions about the leadership. I’m sorry to disappoint you,” he told reporters, who weren’t disappointed.

No. Varadkar was simply there to tick off another entry on his “Events I want to attend in Ireland before I become Leader” list.

Although he’d probably say it’s his “Things I want to do in Ireland before I’m 40” list.

Galway Races is his final target.

The Minister for Social Protection isn’t well up on matters agricultural, but gamely tried to burnish his credentials by claiming to have helped out on his mother’s family farm in Waterford when he was a child. Although he admits he never went near a plough.

He tried to rectify this on Wednesday but, wisely, the experts wouldn’t let him near machine or beast.

Despite his numerous requests to have a go, tractors and horses were declared off limits.

Leo then passed on an offer to do a duet with Richie Kavanagh, which would indicate he’s not quite ready for the challenge of leadership.

Finally, the captain of the Irish sheep shearing team took pity on the Minister and invited him onstage to have a go.

Ivan Scott from Donegal selected a large Poll Dorset from the cringing herd and presented it to Leo.

“Here ewe go then,” said Ivan, who is a world champion shearer and the holder of speed records on a number of continents.

The nine-strong Irish team is hoping to attend the next world championships in New Zealand in February, and they urgently need sponsors.

With Ivan’s help and cheers from the crowd, Varadkar fleeced his muttony victim. The animal didn’t appear to feel any pain. We thought it was dead, or at least on heavy medication.

Mercifully, the drowsiest sheep in Offaly emerged unfazed, unflustered, and several kilos lighter.

And Leo went away happy, cryptically quipping about not having the wool pulled over his eyes in the future.

If he makes the Farmers Journal he’ll be overjoyed.

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday