Miriam Lord: Peat promoters fume over Ford vans and Dáil waffle

Busy week with wet turf and whip-arounds ends with a welcome break for the Greens

People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith defends her 2008 Ford Transit Connect: ‘It’s a great little motor for flying around the city... I’ll be keeping it on the road for as long as it lasts’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

In the midst of the stream of consciousness emanating from Michael Collins during Wednesday’s Dáil debate on carbon tax, the TD for Cork South West took a swipe at an unnamed female deputy for driving around in a non eco-friendly vehicle. He also joined his fellow Rural Independent TDs in lambasting an unnamed expert who scandalised them entirely by declaring that people burn wet turf.

“All I’m listening to on radio in this country and in this Dáil is waffle. RTÉ had an expert on last Saturday morning. He was more like a comedian when he said that burning wet turf was bad for the environment. What in God’s name was wrong with the man? No one ever in rural Ireland burned wet turf. In God’s earthly name, why don’t these television stations not have people on who know what they are talking about?”

He was referring to Dr Colm Byrne, consultant geriatrician at the Mater hospital, who told RTÉ’s Damian O’Reilly about the very serious health problems caused by the burning of smoky fuel such as turf. But throughout their week of Dáil histrionics, this sobering truth was conveniently overlooked by the peat promoters who fixated on his one sentence about the moisture content in sods.

Townie Paul Murphy of People Before Profit-Solidarity dirtied his bib on Tuesday night when he talked about turf mining.


“I could not believe my ears when I heard a TD inside here saying last night we should be mining turf. Well, if he was in a Popeye comedy sketch, he wouldn’t come up with that kind of a comment,” fulminated Collins.

“And there’s another deputy from his own party and she’s falling over herself in here every day she has an opportunity – she’s shouting [about] fossil fuels. But at the same time I see her driving a diesel-guzzling van every day coming and going from the Dáil. The same with so many more in here: saying one thing and doing another, expecting people will not see and think they will get away with it.”

That deputy would be PBP’s Bríd Smith, a long-time campaigner on the climate change crisis who regularly contributes to Dáil debates on the issue.

“That’s my van. It’s a 2008 Ford Transit Connect and it’s a great little motor for flying around the city and it’s used all the time for political action, picking up placards and posters and the like,” she told us. “I’ll be keeping it on the road for as long as it lasts. I’ve an old school mechanic, Christy, who’s brilliant.”

Bríd says ideally she would prefer not to be so reliant on the van, but it isn’t always possible to use public transport.

The Dublin South Central TD wasn’t in the chamber when Michael Collins put her beloved jalopy on the Dáil record but she points out that keeping a well-maintained old car on the road for as long as possible instead of scrapping it and buying a new one is the greener option.

“When the time comes to replace the van, I could buy myself a train, never mind a top of the range EV, if I was as wealthy as some of those Rural Independents.”

Whip-around for the kingpin

It has been a while now since those halcyon days of charitable whip-rounds and dig-outs for Bertie Ahern when he was on his uppers as an impoverished minister for finance with not even a bank account to his name and cash mysteriously mushrooming in nooks and crannies around his humble Drumcondra lodgings.

Martin Fraser finished up on Friday after more than a decade in the top job in Merrion Street. He is heading across the water to become Ireland’s ambassador to the UK. Photograph: Alan Betson

That’s all forgotten now. In fact, it’s even okay to say the W word again in Fianna Fáil. The whip-round has been rehabilitated and it was in full swing this week. So much so that Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers assumed the temporary role of Government Chief Whip-round when assigned the task of collecting money from all members of the Cabinet, including the Super Junior Ministers, for a going away present for departing Civil Service kingpin Martin Fraser.

The secretary general to the Government finished up on Friday after more than a decade in the top job in Merrion Street. He is heading across the water to become Ireland’s ambassador to the UK.

Obviously it’s not a dig-out for Martin, who earns nearly as much as his shy and retiring counterpart in the Department of Health, Robert Watt, and won’t be short of a bob to buy a few knick-knacks for his new billet in London’s Grosvenor Place. But his erstwhile political charges want to give him a nice little send-off.

We are not sure if the Chief Whip-round distributed brown envelopes to help smooth the collection process, which would be a nice retro touch.

Anyway, we hear it was €50 a skull. Ministers of State are not included. This is the first time in the history of the State that junior Ministers have been left out of the loop and aren’t whinging about it.

We could not establish what present Jack purchased for Dubs and Liverpool fan Martin. A year’s supply of turf for the embassy would be nice. Or perhaps an assortment of sour grapes lovingly curated for His Excellency by the career diplomats in Iveagh House who had to serve their time as underlings in far-flung outposts before they could fondle their full credentials.

Comfort for the Greens

It was a bruising week for the Green Party with leader Eamon Ryan coming in for dog’s abuse from certain sections of the Opposition for his party’s stance on turf-cutting. When he wasn’t being excoriated for his heartless crusade against poor turf smoking grandmothers “in the name of so-called climate change”, he was being ridiculed over his well-documented musings on sensible ways to reduce our carbon footprint.

Salads. Cycling. Car-pooling. Wolves. Window-boxes. Shorter showers. Slower driving. All hurled as ammunition in this new Battle of the Bogside.

But Wednesday brought some comfort for the embattled Greens with the publication of energy saving tips from the Munich-based ADAC, Europe’s biggest motoring association. The ADAC may lobby for car owners and drivers, but it has called on its members to save fuel and cycle whenever possible to reduce reliance on Russian imports. Christian Reinicke, the association’s president, advised motorists to drive more slowly and consider public transport or walking instead of taking the car.

Green politicians and advisers were further cheered by a blog post from AA Ireland encouraging motorists here to heed energy saving guidelines recently issued by the International Energy Agency and the European Commission.

The recommendations include working from home when possible to avoid commuting and cycling, car-pooling or travelling by public transport when available. Car-free Sundays should be considered for cities.

Driving more slowly also saves energy – reducing speed limits on motorways by at least 10km/h saves about 290 thousand barrels per day of oil use from cars, and an additional 140 thousand barrels per day from trucks.

Petrolheads to the rescue. Who’d have thought it?

Invisible TD’s big job

What news on Dara “fob-a-job” Murphy, the former junior minister for Europe who was way ahead of the curve on the attractiveness of remote working when serving as a TD for Cork North Central while holding down a full-time political job in Brussels?

Air miles Murphy loved being a minister of state, but he was given the heave-ho in 2017 by Leo Varadkar after he took over from Enda Kenny as taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael. At this point Dara decided to spread his wings and take his unappreciated talent to Europe, where he worked for the European People’s Party.

Dara Murphy has taken up a new high-flying job as a senior adviser with international political consultancy firm Rasmussen Global. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

“I spent three years as Enda Kenny’s right-hand man,” he said after getting a belt of Leo’s new broom. “On many occasions that would have put me in direct conflict with those who wanted the taoiseach out, and that, I feel, was also a factor.”

The invisible TD resigned from the Dáil under a cloud of controversy two years after he began working abroad, commuting ever week from Ireland. Despite not speaking in the Dáil for all of that time he still drew his salary of €95,000 and full allowances of €51,500 by fobbing in electronically to the Leinster House system for the required 120 days each year.

Most of the hits were registered on non-sitting days.

Still, Dara’s unrivalled and unusual experience as a legislator and parliamentarian has served him very well, even if former colleagues were miffed because they couldn’t haul him before an Oireachtas inquiry once he had resigned. He politely declined requests from Fine Gael top brass to voluntarily take part in an investigation.

Last year he took up a new high-flying job as a senior adviser with international political consultancy firm Rasmussen Global where he advises businesses and governments on climate and digital affairs, among other things.

According to the company’s website, “Dara has unparalleled experience of European public policy and politics as a former Irish minister for data protection, digital single market and European affairs; the Cabinet expert to a European commissioner; and vice-president and 2019 campaign manager of the European People’s Party, the largest pan-European political party.” He also “brings a unique perspective of decision-making at national and European level, high-level contacts across Europe and beyond, and strong experience of coalition-building, campaign management and media relations”.

Air Miles Murphy ain’t swimming with the Kildare Street minnows now. The company founder and chairman, Anders Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is a former prime minister of Denmark and secretary general of Nato. The chief executive is Fabrice Pothier who served as head of policy planning for two successive Nato secretaries general – Rasmussen and Jens Stoltenberg.

Other senior advisers in Dara’s exalted firmament include Alexander Vershbrow, ex-deputy secretary general of Nato and a former American diplomat; Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia and Pierre Vimont, who has had a long and distinguished diplomatic career, including a stint as France’s ambassador to the United States. He is Emannuel Macron’s special envoy for Russia and has organised telephone contact between the French president and Vladimir Putin.

The public affairs company offers political consultancy and campaign advice, “political intelligence gathering” and speaker services. “We leverage our political and media networks to understand what is happening in key political centres before it is splashed on the front pages.”

It is a long way from constituency clinics in Cork North Central, the gruelling grind of long-distance expenses gathering and two long years of saying nothing in the Dáil to the nexus of international political, industrial and military power.

Leo will be dead jealous.