Miriam Lord: PR man takes a swing on behalf of Maria Bailey

Swing Out Sister interview will go down in the annals of the toe-curlingly bad

Fine Gael politician Maria Bailey. Her interview with Seán O’Rourke will go down in the annals of toe-curling radio. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Fine Gael politician Maria Bailey. Her interview with Seán O’Rourke will go down in the annals of toe-curling radio. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

It was a great week for radio.

Sean O’Rourke and Pat Kenny had a whale of a time.

Sean’s Swing Out Sister interview with Maria Bailey will go down in the annals of toe-curlingly bad interviews.

And Pat Kenny followed up with a delicious interlude with PR man Paul Allen, who accompanied Maria to RTÉ for that lamentable chat about why she sued over falling off a swing, then withdrew her action.

Allen turned up as a talking head on Kenny’s Friday gathering. As a media savvy guy, he must have known why Pat invited him on as a guest. Or so you would have thought.

“You were in the news yourself. Normally the PR man sort of steps back,” began Pat.

“Nothing like a good old Friday gathering, eh?” replied Paul.

“Yeah. But normally, you’re a player. You just kind of facilitate the play,” countered the veteran broadcaster.

“Sure, and what are you referring to?”

“Eh, Maria Bailey,” chuckled Pat. “You were in her company when she went to Sean O’Rourke.”

Paul Allen said he was, because Maria and her family are his friends. She phoned him the night before the interview and asked him to go with her to RTÉ and he went as a friend.

“Did you advise [her]?” wondered Pat, not unexpectedly.

‘Tearing your hair out’

“Well to be honest, I don’t really want to fan the flames of this story any further. I think we’ve all had a lot of it and while it’s where it is at the moment I don’t really want to get into any more of that.”

So Pat played a few clips from Maria’s interview anyway.

Excruciating stuff.

“As a PR practitioner, were you tearing your hair out listening to this happening?” wheedled Pat, clearly concerned.

“Pat, as I said, as Paul Allen, I’m not fanning the flame of anything. Maria Bailey is a friend. She’s still a friend. Herself and her family will always be friends of mine.”

“But do you feel for her now?”

“Just let’s move on to our topics . . .”

So they did. And then back again. But no, Paul Allen, as Paul Allen, was saying nothing. If he commented on anything to do with advising governments in a time of crisis he would “give oxygen” with “journalists living on every word”. Not to mention “some slow learners in media quarters”.

So the media will take whatever he says and immediately “transliterate that into Maria’s case?” mused Pat, who seemed to be enjoying himself no end.

Well, the same thing would probably happen, explained the well-known PR man “in relation to my pal Alastair Campbell who was booted out of the Labour Party – what Alastair said to me this morning, what Alastair said to me last night. As Alastair is a pal of mine I’m not discussing that but we’re just giving the story oxygen . . .”

Did somebody mention Alastair Campbell?

Women in politics

Congratulations to Fine Gael’s Mary Hilda Cavanagh who successfully contested her ninth local election last week and is the longest-serving, continuously elected woman politician in the country.

The former teacher and her husband, Eddie, are beef farmers in north Kilkenny. Mary got her first taste of politics in the early 1970s when she canvassed with friends for Garret FitzGerald, who was her economics lecturer in UCD. She was first elected to Kilkenny County Council in 1974 at the age of 23 and hasn’t lost an election since.

Mary Hilda Cavanagh with her husband Eddie: the longest-serving, continuously elected woman politician in the country. Photograph: Pat Moore.
Mary Hilda Cavanagh with her husband Eddie: the longest-serving, continuously elected woman politician in the country. Photograph: Pat Moore.

In a recent piece for the Kilkenny People, she reflected on her years of public service with interesting, if somewhat dispiriting, observations about what it’s like to be a woman in Irish politics.

“My voters haven’t hesitated to vote for a woman but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be a woman politician,” she wrote. “Comparing 2019 to 1974, I can say we have doubled the number of women – but that only adds up to four out of 24. Where male colleagues accounted for 92 per cent of councillors in Kilkenny in 1974, they now account for 83 per cent. These statistics are rather depressing.”

She knows that barriers still exist. “Some are obvious – others less so. Women are judged more harshly and subject to more criticism – their dress, their tone of voice, their audacity to want to hear their voice heard.

Trousers v mini skirt

“When I was elected for the first time many men told me that I was only elected because I wore a mini-skirt when canvassing, so in the next election I canvassed in trousers and greatly improved my vote.”

Cllr Cavanagh has been 45 years standing her ground.

“I’ve often seen a man make an argument and being commended for his leadership, whereas a woman making the same argument is accused of being ‘a battleaxe’ – a pejorative description that has often been put to me over the years when I’ve stood up for what I believe in. These days I am a bit better at shaking off the everyday sexism.”

What she finds harder to deal with is the public perception of politicians. In 1974, they were respected for their public service. “Now, due to poor behaviour by a minority, almost all are viewed suspiciously as people on the make.”

Mary would love to see more women in politics. “I’d encourage any women, young or old, who care about public service, to get involved.”

Someone to count on

John Paul Phelan, the Minister of State for getting mixed up over elections, was clear as mud on Tuesday over what should happen when counting in the European elections reached the second string stage. This was to do with the last leg of the counts in Dublin and Ireland South and the ranking of the two final finishers in both constituencies.

It isn’t necessary to redistribute the votes of the last person eliminated in a general election count as the two candidates above them automatically take seats. But because Ireland’s two extra European parliament seats are to remain in suspended animation until the UK leaves the EU, those “cold storage” seats go to the last man or woman standing in both instances so the ranking order is critical.

The European Parliament Elections 2019 Act was passed earlier this year as part of the Government’s raft of emergency Brexit legislation. John Paul Phelan steered it through both Houses of the Oireachtas.

“Where a delayed withdrawal occurs, it is proposed to amend rule 88 to allow for the transfer of votes to continue for the last remaining candidates in the Dublin and South constituencies until such time as the final candidates in these constituencies are deemed to be elected. This will ensure that the last remaining candidates will each have a total number of votes that can be used to inform which candidate in each of the two constituencies will not take up his or her seat in the event that the withdrawal of the UK from the union is deferred post the holding of elections on the last weekend in May,” John Paul told the Dáil debate.

Last Monday night in the RDS, the lawyers lined up on both sides as the final two candidates sought to avoid the cold storage seat.

Extra seat

As the count officials studied the legislation, Phelan surfaced on Tuesday’s Morning Ireland and said the transfers of the final candidate eliminated should not come into play when deciding the destination of the extra seat. This scenario would have seen Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrew into second-last spot and straight into Brussels.

Independent Clare Daly, who was languishing at the bottom of the winners list, was certain to leapfrog Andrews if the transfers from Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan, who failed to make the cut, were applied.

Both sides argued their case. Daly said the recent emergency legislation favoured her.

“What should happen next?” Rachel English asked the Minister for Electoral Reform, who is also a barrister.

According to his reading of the legislation, “I think that the SF candidate is excluded and the other two are deemed to be elected in the order in which they currently stand. That would be my interpretation of the Act which was introduced a few months ago.”

He introduced it.

Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform John Paul Phelan: was clear as mud over what happens when counting in the European elections reaches the second string stage. Photograph: Alan Betson
Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform John Paul Phelan: was clear as mud over what happens when counting in the European elections reaches the second string stage. Photograph: Alan Betson

So Lynn’s votes not redistributed then, pressed the broadcaster.

“Well, the legislation doesn’t provide for those to be redistributed, so I can’t see how they will be.”

Is all not a bit unclear?

“No, the legislation is actually quite clear. It’s just it’s a new situation because of the additional seats but the legislation doesn’t seem to provide at all for the redistribution of Lynn Boylan’s votes.”

That threw the cat among the pigeons, particularly for the returning officers in both constituencies.

Lazarus act

This pronouncement by Phelan will have alarmed his own party, looking at Deirdre Clune in Ireland South and wondering if she might need a final redistribution to complete her Lazarus act for the second time in a row.

He may or may not have had a phone call from on high to think again.

And so, a couple of hours later, John Paul was back on the airways, blaming “social media” for his lapse. Claire Daly’s interpretation of the situation was the right one. “Absolutely spot on, as far as I am concerned.”

He explained that he was “more than confused” on Morning Ireland, having read commentary on social media about the law “from people I would regard”.

So he “investigated and indeed what was quoted in the legislation indicated they were right, but unfortunately they weren’t quoting the updated Act as amended”.

As amended by John Paul Phelan, BL TD.

He was deeply contrite for having been misled by social media and then having gone on the radio and given the wrong information.

“I apologise to all the listeners for my misunderstanding this morning. It was a real mea culpa moment.”

In throwing himself on the mercy of Sean O’Rourke, who had ever so gently eviscerated Maria Bailey on the same programme the morning before, Phelan gave his Fine Gael colleague a masterclass on how to own your own mistake. A purring O’Rourke was very forgiving.

All the fun of the fair

Here’s another entry for the “You Couldn’t Make It Up” file.

The Dáil Business Committee met as usual this week to agree the agenda for next week’s business. (Actually, that would be the business in two weeks’ time as the House isn’t sitting next week.)

There is a logjam of private member’s Bills awaiting second-stage discussion, legislation from outside government and mainly from opposition TDs. Such is the demand on Dáil time, the Business Committee has to hold draws to choose which Bills make it on to the floor of the House for further consideration.

And whose Bill was drawn out of the committee’s hat this week? The lucky sponsor was Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins. His playgrounds and funfairs Bill is now up for debate on Thursday, June 13th. “Under these proposals any funfair equipment operator must ensure a duty of reasonable care to recreational users,” says the Limerick County deputy.

A serendipitous pick, as it turns out.

“The Health and Safety (Funfair)(Amendment) Bill 2017” is to provide for improved health and safety standards in funfairs and for related matters.

Such as swings.

Extending the franchise

Paddy Burke painted an appalling vista in the Seanad on Tuesday as the row over who should get the cold storage seats was in full swing.

The Fine Gael Senator from Mayo wanted a debate in the House on the reform of the electoral register, which isn’t up to scratch. He was also stuck by the confusion at the count in the three European constituencies.

“During the Seanad reform committee, some of us raised a lot of issues in relation to extending the franchise to everybody in the Republic, Northern Ireland, America and Irish citizens all over the world. We can see now from the ballot paper in the Ireland South the logistics of having such a large ballot paper.”

Ireland South had 26 names on the ballot paper and an electorate of about 750,000.

“We could have over one million people voting on some panels and we could have over 40 candidates so you can imagine the logistical problems with the size of the ballot paper, with the number of counts,” he shuddered.

“I would think that if we had an election of that sort now, the count wouldn’t be over until Christmas.”

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