Miriam Lord: Paschal’s win makes Phibsboro the financial capital of Europe
Donohoe’s campaign to be elected head of the Eurogroup was ‘like the Eurovision’
Doing the Riverdance: Minister for Finance and new Eurogroup president Paschal Donohoe. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/EPA
It’s been going swimmingly for Fine Gael since the party went into coalition with Fianna Fáil and relinquished the Taoiseach’s office to Micheál Martin.
Both parties are equals in Government now, though you wouldn’t have thought it this week, with an excitable and agitated Fianna Fáil tripping over the levers of power after their long layoff and a laid-back Fine Gael watching on in amusement.
In the Docklands Dáil on Thursday evening, when TDs trooped across the Liffey to their temporary chamber for the end-of-week block voting session, Clerk of the Dáil Peter Finnegan commenced a roll-call vote on Labour’s Private Members’ motion on rents and mortgages.
He went through the Fianna Fáil names first, in alphabetical order, and they voted.
“Deputy James Lawless?”
“Deputy Marc MacSharry?”
“An Taoiseach . . .” began the clerk.
“Tá,” replied Leo Varadkar, head buried in his mobile phone.
Peter Finnegan looked up.
“. . . Micheál Martin.”
The place erupted with laughter and applause. Micheál wasn’t in the hall. Leo instinctively answered when he heard the call.
He admitted afterwards that he hadn’t been fully concentrating during the vote. “In my defence, I was distracted trying to follow the Eurogroup election on Twitter.” Paschal Donohoe was duly elected head of the Eurogroup of ministers, making Phibsboro the financial capital of Europe.
The Minister for Finance fought off strong competition for the prestigious role by running a very strong campaign. His team worked the phones day and night across the continent in the run-up to the election.
“It was some operation, reminded me of the Eurovision with all the back and forth between Ireland and the rest of the EU countries,” said a delighted Donohoe supporter.
On the same day, during the first vote at the Convention Centre, Peter Finnegan commenced another roll-call of members. Early on, he called “Minister Thomas Byrne”. There was silence because the new Minister for Europe wasn’t there.
For some reason, his absence was a source of great amusement to giggling Fine Gael TDs and other members of the Dáil. And then, a few seconds later, when the name “Minister Barry Cowen” was called out, they giggled again.
“Tá,” shouted Barry, very loudly, which almost finished some of them off entirely.
Tongues were wagging so much on Thursday that the wags were referring to ‘The Thomas Cowen Affair’
The reason for the joviality was the continuing fallout from the Great Huff of 2020, when a ridiculous number of Fianna Fáil TDs threw a monumental strop because they didn’t get ministerial jobs in Micheál Martin’s new administration.
The plot thickened the previous night following a wholly unsubstantiated allegation on a social media platform about who might have leaked details to the media on Barry Cowen’s drink-driving ban four years ago. Minister of State Thomas Byrne was mentioned in dispatches but, again, without foundation.
But Leinster House thrives on pernicious rumour and gossip and the tweet, sent by a veteran Fianna Fáil footsoldier, set tongues wagging on Thursday. So much so that the wags were referring to “The Thomas Cowen Affair”.
Much more sobering mentions of writs and legal actions were also flying along with the uninformed theories.
Micheál Martin could do without the distractions.
Who goes forth from the fourth estate?
It’s not only TDs who take a keen interest in jobs when a new government is formed. Who might get what from this side of the fence is always a popular subject for discussion when journalists contemplate the post-election landscape.
The trade has changed a lot in recent years. There was a time when hanging up the notebook and pen and heading to the Dark Side was a career choice taken by senior journalists and correspondents whose ambulance-chasing days were behind them.
Not so anymore. Journalists are heading for government jobs with increasing regularity these days. It’s not usually to do with political allegiance but more to do with decisions about career advancement at a time when the news business is under pressure and permanent, pensionable jobs are a rarity.
A number of Ministers, at this late stage, have still to appoint key people while the majority of positions have been filled by existing Government advisers on the Fine Gael side and senior in-house staff on the Fianna Fáil side.
The shock move among the ranks of the outside appointees was from Fiach Kelly, until very recently the deputy political editor of this newspaper. He is regarded by his peers as probably the best operator in Leinster House and news of his departure – Fiach was also a very dynamic chairman of the Oireachtas gallery – came as a big surprise.
He is leaving to become a special adviser to the new Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee. Dubs supporter Fiach will be missed in this neck of the woods.
Also linked with a move to a ministerial department is the Business Post deputy editor, Susan Mitchell, who is earmarked for a senior role in Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly’s team.
Susan is another highly-rated specialist, and her departure will be a huge loss to medical journalism.
Other recent signings include former RTÉ foreign editor Margaret Ward, who has joined Minister for Climate Action and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan’s team as press adviser, while the Examiner’s award-winning Conall Ó Fátharta, who has written extensively on mother and baby homes, is tipped for a job with Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman.
Up the hill backwards for Roscommon-Galway TD
Congratulations to Senator Eugene Murphy. The former Fianna Fáil TD for Roscommon-Galway successfully completed a charity 10km walk over Sliabh Bán mountain last weekend. That’s a big achievement in itself.
But Eugene, who like some of us is built for comfort and not for speed, traversed the mountain by going backwards. He told us he had been in training for months ahead of his fundraiser walk in aid of local charities.
Members of the public around Roscommon got used to seeing their local politician barrelling backwards around the highways and byways, while there were sightings of the Senator “almost moonwalking like Michael Jackson” around the Leinster House carpark as he prepared for his trek.
We’ve all heard of backstabbing in politics, but this is a new one: backstepping
“It wasn’t an easy feat but I trained very hard to get in shape for this,” a delighted Eugene told us after coming around from the mountain last Saturday. He was so flushed with success he immediately announced he intends to have walked 100km between now and next March.
“I’m doing it in 10km stages – back up and down Sliabh Bán a few more times but I’ve also had requests to walk backwards in other parts of the region. My next one is in September.
“We’ve all heard of backstabbing in politics, but this is a new one: backstepping.”
The former radio producer and presenter with Shannonside and Northern Sound says he got some strange looks from other walkers while he was out training, “but then when I explained what I was doing they were very supportive.”
He stressed the walk was conducted in full compliance with social distancing guidelines and he has already raised €5,000 for the Hub Community Cafe in Strokestown and the East Galway & Midlands Cancer Support Centre in Ballinasloe. The cafe does terrific work for young people with intellectual disabilities and the cancer support centre is a non-profit organisation providing psychological, emotional and practical support for people diagnosed with disease.
Eugene Murphy, the Senator who is forward about going backward, has set up a fundraising platform for people who want to donate a few bob, and the link to it will be in place for the next few months.
Senators savour temporary return to old stomping ground
Yes! They knew it. It was all a dream. It was just a bad dream.
Like when Bobby Ewing was famously killed off in the ’80s soap Dallas only to reappear a year later because the previous season’s storyline had been nothing more than a bad dream.
That’s what the Senators who used to be TDs must have been thinking when they returned to business in the Dáil chamber on Thursday morning, sinking into those old brown leather seats and scanning the familiar surroundings with relief.
February’s bruising general election, the trauma of losing a seat and then the scramble for a sliver of salvation from the Upper House, did that really happen? Ten former deputies who got the boot earlier this year – seven from Fianna Fáil, three from Fine Gael – looked very happy to be back in their rightful place.
Did any of us think we would all be here together so soon after the past few months and the general election?
The new Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Fianna Fáil’s career Senator Mark Daly, settled into Seán Ó Fearghaíl’s usual pew and informed his colleagues that it was the Seanad’s first sitting in the historic chamber since 1987.
The recently demoted TDs didn’t talk about their former political home. The senators were far more relaxed about it.
“Did any of us think we would all be here together so soon after the past few months and the general election?” wondered Victor Boyhan (Independent). “It’s always a privilege to be here. It’s a nice little space, and I am sure many of us will be motivated, having spent a few hours in here today, to give it a second look. I would encourage everyone to do that.”
NUI Senator Alice Mary Higgins wasn’t getting carried away by her surroundings either. Dáil chamber? Seanad chamber? They are just rooms.
“While much recognition has been given to this historic chamber, it is important to remember that the first Dáil did not necessarily sit here and that this chamber and the Seanad chamber are not the Dáil and the Seanad. Those are important historic spaces, but it is the members of the Dáil and Seanad and the work we are charged to do by the Constitution for and on behalf of the people of Ireland that is fundamentally important.”
It didn’t stop a few of her colleagues taking selfies of themselves in the Dáil chamber. Once deputies can find a way of abandoning their temporary lodgings in the unloved Dublin Convention Centre for a permanent return to Kildare Street, it’ll probably be another 33 years before senators get another chance to sit there.
Meanwhile, speaker Daly, who is a regular visitor to the United States and likes to rub shoulders with Irish-American politicians on Capitol Hill, is settling in nicely to his new role. He tweeted on Thursday: “One final run-through for the Senate’s session in the Chamber of Dáil Éireann (aka the House of Representatives in our Constitution).”
No stone-throwing in glasshouses – or the Convention Centre
It was very much a case of people in glasshouses not throwing stones when it came to the appearance of Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher in the Convention Centre on the day the new Taoiseach was elected. He was forced to apologise during the week for disregarding quarantine advice by attending the Dáil session when he had flown in from Brussels.
Sinn Féin couldn’t get up on their high horse because they were in trouble over the Bobby Storey funeral in Belfast, which saw such a spontaneous attendance of thousands of mourners that the party was forced to organise two funerals – the first, complete with graveside public address system, in Milltown Cemetery and the second at the crematorium in Roselawn cemetery, where the late IRA enforcer’s final obsequies were actually observed.
Once a week I also get a swab test, the one where they stick the swab up your nose and poke it around
But Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald was also at the Convention Centre, although she may have been conducting her European Parliament duties remotely.
Also spotted were Green MEPs Grace O’Sullivan and Ciarán Cuffe.
Before he issued his apology, Kelleher told us he attended having considered the size of the venue and the very strict social distancing rules in operation.
“The European Parliament had been holding remote sittings until June 8th when business started up again in Brussels. Everyone entering and leaving the parliament building has their temperature tested through an infrared system – it could be a few times a day. Once a week I also get a swab test, the one where they stick the swab up your nose and poke it around. It’s only a minor irritation and it’s worth it for peace of mind. So far I have tested clear.”