Miriam Lord: ‘Plastered’ TD becomes first casualty of non-election fever

Fergus O’Dowd breaks leg while leafleting and Josepha Madigan’s trumpet-blowing

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan highlighted her ‘great personal achievements’. Photograph:  Tom Honan for The Irish Times

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan highlighted her ‘great personal achievements’. Photograph: Tom Honan for The Irish Times


Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd was plastered in Leinster House this week. It had nothing to do with the Dáil bar.

The TD for Louth became the first casualty of the non-election election campaign on Monday evening when he took a bad tumble while doing the doorsteps in Drogheda and broke a bone in his leg.

The Chairman of the Oireachtas Transport Committee slipped on wet grass when taking a short cut across a sloping green area in the Five Oaks Village estate and ended up flat on his back in considerable pain.

“I was lucky it wasn’t dark because I landed in a hollow where it wouldn’t have been so easy to spot me,” he told us. “I couldn’t get up off the ground and I had to shout out for help.”

A party colleague on the same leafleting mission came to his rescue and drove him to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. Fergus was back in business by Wednesday, hobbling around on crutches with his lower leg in an impressive cast.

“I broke my fibula – I had to Google it to find out where exactly that is. It’s a long, slender bone on one side of the tibia. The good news is it’s a very clean break.”

Trump hasn’t done anything to Ireland! Ireland’s great . . . They ought to accept this guy

He’ll be hoping the fevered Dáil speculation over a snap November general election doesn’t come to pass. Hitting a mid-winter campaign trail on crutches wouldn’t be easy, although it could work wonders on the sympathy vote front. “Did Maireád McGuinness push you?” was the most common reaction from fellow politicians when he hobbled by.

It may be over 10 years since O’Dowd fought off a strong challenge from his constituency running-mate in the 2007 general election, but memories of their monumental battle still linger. MEP Maireád, of course, has since gone on to greater things in Europe.

Despite his infirmity, Fergus made it out to RTÉ on Wednesday night for Katie Hannon’s Late Debate. There was some joking in the studio beforehand about whether the Fine Gael TD was going to “make a claim”. The show’s producer, Brian Lally, tweeted that “not even crutches would keep Fergus O’Dowd” away from the discussion.

Among the TDs who liked the tweet was Fergus’s Fine Gael colleague, Alan Farrell, a TD most definitely of the view that making claims is no laughing matter.

Irish media should be nicer to Trump – or else he’ll stop reading us

Fergus’s younger brother Niall O’Dowd, the New York-based publisher and journalist, draws attention in irishcentral.com this week to an interview in a new book by RTÉ news anchor Caitríona Perry with the man who was Donald Trump’s first choice for US ambassador to Ireland.

Trump supporter Brian Burns (82), an Irish-American lawyer and philanthropist, had to turn down the job for health reasons. But he still takes a keen interest in how America’s commander-in-chief is perceived back in the ancestral homeland (his grandparents emigrated from Kerry in the 1800s).

In his opinion, we aren’t half as nice to Donald as we should be. He told Perry, a former Washington correspondent, that his good friend and neighbour in Florida is misunderstood by people in Ireland and doesn’t deserve the bad press he gets.

Trump’s affection for Ireland is as great as that of Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or JFK, he argues. “He loves Ireland.” Unfortunately, “terrible articles” are written about Trump in the Irish papers, says Burns, before revealing this bombshell about his president: “He looks” at these awful write-ups too. Sad. Who’d have thought it?

What with all that tweeting and the golf and selling hotel rooms in Miami to G7 Summit delegations and dashing off stern letters to authoritarian leaders, how on earth does he manage to find the time to read the Irish papers? We must be nicer to the Donald.

“He’s the first president that owns lots of land and has some hopes and dreams for Ireland, and you find him a really great friend of Ireland. But, sometimes, perhaps Ireland could reach its hand out too.”

Right enough, Donald is very good at reaching out the hand. As Brian Burns pleads in his defence: “He hasn’t done anything to Ireland! Ireland’s great . . . They ought to accept this guy.”

Urgent note to Fintan and all the other Irish media ingrates. Stop writing nasty stuff about the President of the United States of America. He reads it all the time and it makes him very sad and you wouldn’t want that. Would you now?

History will look upon you favourably if you get this done the right and human way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy! Don’t be a fool. As You-Know-Who might say.

Caitríona Perry’s The Tribe: The Inside Story of Irish Power and Influence in US Politics is in the shops now.

Musical Madigan’s trumpet-blowing masterclass

The Minister for Culture, who has the National Symphony Orchestra in her remit, is no slouch in the brass section.

She’s a veritable virtuoso on the trumpet. Josepha Madigan’s Family Law Bill passed through the Dáil on Wednesday evening – an achievement of which she is justly proud.

She introduced a Private Members’ Bill in 2016 proposing a change in the law to reduce the length of time spouses need to live apart before they can apply for a divorce. A referendum in May paved the way for Parliament to legislate on the issue.

She was due to make a closing speech at the end of the second stage hearing. It was emailed in advance to journalists along with a helpful cover note “highlighting the key lines from the speech”.

In a world where politics can be viewed with cynicism, it shows that one person really can make a difference

The really important parts of these key lines were further highlighted. There wasn’t much about the legislation. No. These were the really, really standout points from the already extracted key lines.

“I regard the passing of the referendum and legislating for this Family Law Bill as a huge personal achievement.” And “huge personal achievement” was underlined and italicised.

Also not to be missed was “Ceann Comhairle, to close the second stage of the Family Law Bill 2019 in this house today and to shortly see it enshrined in law is very humbling moment for me”. 

The very humbling moment was also picked out and underscored, just in case we missed it.

“I am pleased to have instigated this social reform in our country” was left to its own devices, but “It represents not just a significant achievement in my own career to date but also for new politics” got the special treatment. And then the last key line.

“In a world where politics can be viewed with cynicism, it shows that one person really can make a difference.” The last bit about “one person” etc was isolated for special notice.

When the debate happened, Josepha was late. She rushed into the chamber as the presiding Minister of State, John Stanton, was officially wrapping up proceedings. Breathless, she pleaded with the Leas Cheann Comhairle for time to speak. The TDs present agreed to allow her say her piece as it was her legislation. There wasn’t no time for the speech, but at least the Minister managed to say thank you to everyone involved and deliver those really important “huge personal achievement” key lines for posterity. Fianna Fáil’s Fiona O’Loughlin wondered aloud if an election was in the offing.

Trumpet-blowing of concert standard from the Culture Minister. Brava, Josepha!

Fancy a super job in Leinster House? You’ll need super powers

One of the most prestigious and important jobs in Leinster House is the role of superintendent of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The “super” is effectively the estate manager, the person who runs the show.

Following the departure of ex-army man Paul Conway to a new job with the European Parliament in Brussels, the post is up for grabs. Notice of an open competition for the role went up on Wednesday and there is huge interest in who will get the nod.

Nothing happens in Leinster House without the super knowing about it. He (for it has always been a man up until now) is responsible for the smooth running of the Oireachtas, with particular emphasis on security.

The job brief places emphasis on the successful applicant having a 'critical role in driving organisation change and motivating staff'

According to the very lengthy job spec, the superintendent and their unit’s primary function “is to maintain security and decorum in the parliamentary chambers and across the Leinster House complex, ensuring that a secure and safe work environment is provided for Members, their staff and the staff of the service.

“The unit must also ensure that the Houses of the Oireachtas is a secure, safe and welcoming place for visitors as ‘a Parliament which works for the people’. The superintendent has overall responsibility for the infrastructure and accommodation needs of the Houses of the Oireachtas and for Members’ and staff accommodation.”

The Taoiseach has absolute discretion on whether or not to appoint a candidate from the competition after consultation with the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and the members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

The super has a special support unit comprising the ushers team of 64 staff, 18 service offices and a small team of attendants and porters. Needless to say, the ever-obliging ushers have a very special interest in who gets the job.

The job brief places emphasis on the successful applicant having a “critical role in driving organisation change and motivating staff” in a “modern parliamentary service”. Some of the rules and conventions currently in existence belong to another, more stuffy and fussy pre-digital era and they could do a modern makeover. The closing date for applications is Monday November 4th.

Varadkar tries to flush out the unionists in the House

On Wednesday, the Taoiseach was musing on Richard Boyd Barrett’s assertion that politics in Northern Ireland should not be defined along simply nationalist or unionist lines.

“I still can’t work out whether People Before Profit is nationalist, unionist or ‘other’,” Leo Varadkar remarked.

“We are other. We declare as other,” responded Richard.

“You are absolutely right, you are one of the three parties that are designated as ‘other’ – Alliance Party, the Green Party and PBP – and they do so on the basis that they reject sectarianism, which I think is a good thing and I do want to acknowledge that.”

Then he said PBP campaigned for Brexit, which is a unionist thing to do. Richard said they didn’t.

“Well, you at least advocated Brexit, which is regrettable. I do know that there’s some in the radical left family in Ireland who actually advocate a socialist federation of England, Scotland and Ireland.”

“Not us,” bridled Boyd Barrett.

The Taoiseach agreed.

“I don’t think it’s People Before Profit, I think that’s Solidarity, but we do have unionists in this House, which is interesting, an interesting position, and not the ones you might think.”