Miriam Lord’s awards: Who is most cunning of them all?
‘Consummate media performer’ Paschal Donohoe scoops Politician of the Year Award
Politician of the Year Paschal Donohoe: “A consummate media performer, popular with the public and his party, he rarely puts a foot out of place and is always there at his leader’s shoulder.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Get it Off Your Chest Award: Brian Cowen resurfaced in September to accept an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland. Resplendent in his academic robes, the former taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader spoke for 50 minutes, defending the pre- and post-crash Fianna Fáil governments, which he feels are sorely misunderstood.
“He had seven years to think about that speech,” explained one parched guest, staggering towards the wine when Cowen finally stopped talking.
Most Precious Ornaments Award: The members of Seanad Éireann, who have moved into new lodgings in the National Museum’s Ceramics Room while their chamber undergoes extensive renovation. It was also intended to renovate the senators, but conservation experts reported they are beyond repair and of little discernible use.
Recurring Useless Soundbite Award: Theresa May, who said after her visit to Government Buildings in January that any post-Brexit Irish Border would “seamless and frictionless . . . as possible”. The British prime minister added: “That isn’t just a phrase.”
Oh, yes it is.
Liam MacCarthy Award for International Senior Hurling: Enda Kenny, for informing the Dáil that he would speak “eye to eye” with Donald Trump on his St Patrick’s Day visit to Washington and say what he really thought about the US president’s immigration policies.
“It is not politics as usual any more. Senior hurling has gone global,” he declared with menace.
During the Speakers’ lunch on Capitol Hill, Kenny said his piece and the video of the event went viral.
Trump took it well. And carried on as usual.
Opportunist of the Year Award: Stephen Donnelly, formerly an Independent and late of the Social Democrats, jumped ship in February and joined Fianna Fáil to become their Brexit spokesman with his eyes on a ministerial berth if the party returns to power.
“Stephen will add value to the party,” crowed a delighted Micheál Martin, showing off his catch. “He will broaden the attractiveness of the party.”
Donnelly, once a vociferous critic of Fianna Fáil, said he joined after finally giving in to the hordes in Wicklow who kept begging him to lend his talents to the Soldiers of Destiny.
Apology of the Year Award: The winner, with a late run, is Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who found himself embroiled in the email controversy that finished Frances Fitzgerald’s ministerial career.
Enda Kenny had been in pole position with his mortifying “mea culpa” having regaled TDs in February with details of an imaginary conversation he had held with the Minister for Children during one of the first Department of Justice furores. “I am guilty here of not giving accurate information,” he confessed.
But Charlie found himself mired in the email treacle when it transpired he had inadvertently withheld from the Taoiseach knowledge of a crucial communication in the latest Garda whistleblower saga. He stayed silent in the Dáil while Leo said there wasn’t any email and the ensuing ructions almost brought down his Government.
He had to make a grovelling apology to everyone, including Labour’s delighted Alan Kelly, who initially raised the matter.
On the plus side, he got to keep his job.
Hats and Horticultural Award: Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae scored an impressive victory when he won the right to wear his beloved cap in the Dáil chamber, telling a relieved nation in February: “Yes, I can confirm that an agreement has been reached with the authorities.”
Meanwhile, his fight to save Killarney from a creeping menace of the floral kind made headlines. He said the Army would have to be called in to tackle the “rodydundrun” infestation in Killarney National Park.
Not only are “the rodydundruns” taking over, but the deer population has “completely exploded,” he told Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring, who insisted his department was making significant progress on curtailing the wayward “rowdydandrams”.
Fighting Fizzbag Award: Fianna Fáil bruiser-in-chief Barry Cowen surpassed himself during the year’s big row over water charges as his party did a U-turn on its support for the charges in the light of Sinn Féin’s similar U-turn on the issue, while Fine Gael refused to support any legislation from Opposition parties to completely abolish the charges.
This saw Simon Coveney going head to head with Cowen as the Oireachtas committee on the charges struggled to agree on a final report. The two exchanged belligerent tweets, with each party accusing the other of reneging on its agreed findings. Cowen made regular trips to the plinth threatening all sorts of dire consequences for the future of Fianna Fáil’s confidence-and-supply agreement with the Government if Fine Gael didn’t toe the line.
In the end, Cowen was the one who had to back down.
Frenemies of the Year Award: Coveney and Cowen.
Poorest and Most Downtrodden Politicians Award: Senators, whose plight was described in pitiful detail by David Norris. They don’t get paid enough (€65,000 a year plus expenses and lots of free time) and face the humiliation of having to clock in for work, file actual expense claims and have their sick notes scrutinised.
They got a measly €311 a year pay increase. Norris cried: “It is time we stood up and asserted our dignity!” He added: “We got €311 in wage restitution – oh golly gee, wonderful, sucks, boo, I hope we don’t all spend it on the same big bash. That’s less than €1 a day. Hear! Hear!”
Best Entertainer Award: Fine Gael senator Michelle Mulherin, for owning the stage at Ballina rugby club’s “Strictly Lip Sync” with a saucy Shania Twain routine which wowed the crowd, earned her a standing ovation and first prize.
Fianna Fáil’s jobs spokesman, Dara Calleary, showing his knees in a heavy metal homage to the short-trousered Angus Young of AC/DC, was left floundering in her wake.
Best Campaign Launch Award: It happened at the junction of Leo Avenue and Leo Street in Dublin 7, with coffee and branded cupcakes and men who eat their avocado in the middle of the day. Leo Varadkar, with Paschal Donohoe by his side, knew he already had the numbers in his leadership contest with Simon Coveney. No wonder they both looked so smug.
Backbencher of the Year Award: Kate O’Connell, who backed Coveney for the leadership and branded those TDs who rallied in such hasty fashion to Varadkar’s side as nothing more than “choirboys” lining up “to sing for their supper” in the hope of getting a ministerial job.
She proved a favourite with the rural grassroots during the campaign, introducing Simon one evening in Athlone as “the man who knows the difference between tillage and beef”.
The pharmacist based in Dublin 4 has since proved a strong voice on the committee on the Eighth Amendment, standing up for all the Irish women who have to travel abroad to terminate a pregnancy or are driven to source abortion pills online then take them without medical supervision.
Happiest Minister and Best Air Guitarist Award: On the first anniversary of their year in coalition, Dublin Bay North’s Finian McGrath of the Independent Alliance said he began every day by giving thanks to Micheál Martin for keeping the Government in power. “Delighted to be here,” he boomed.
“I’m 12 months into it and, can I say, I really love my day job. I’ve a great passion and commitment and, of course, all I really want is a bit more time to survive in here and get on with the job.”
Michael Ring had been the happiest when he finally got a senior ministry, but he’s hardly had a chance to say anything in the Dáil since getting his rural affairs portfolio.
Survivor of the Year Award: At the end of summer, we gave this award to Frances Fitzgerald, who “despite having a torrid time in Justice, held on to her Cabinet seat when Leo Varadkar took over and also retained her tánaiste title”.
She was gone by November.
The award goes, by default, to Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who lost her Cabinet position in the minor Varadkar shake-up but fought a strong rearguard action to stay on as Minister of State for Higher Education.
Best Repayment of a Debt Award: Fingal TD Alan Farrell, who voted for Leo Varadkar in the leadership contest. On the day after his wedding – December 10th, 2009, Farrell suffered a serious allergic reaction to prescribed medication. He was rushed to Beaumont Hospital, where a young doctor administered a life-saving injection. The intern was Leo Varadkar.
Double Act of the Year Award: Leo and Simon, putting the leadership campaign behind them and becoming an impressive team, particularly where the Brexit talks are concerned. Party members are saying they would also look good together on the general election posters.
‘That’s so Leo’ Award: Leo Varadkar, clowning for the cameras with his VBF Justin Trudeau when they met at Farmleigh House. The two boys went outside, no jackets, and watched some children demonstrate the sport of hurling.
Justin displayed some skill when he tried it out.
But the Taoiseach declined to take part, having proved a duffer in the hand-eye co-ordination department at a similar photocall a few years ago.
“I am sooo not doing that,” he declared.
Services to Martyrdom Award: Solidarity’s Paul Murphy, acquitted by a jury on a charge of unlawfully imprisoning then tánaiste Joan Burton during a water protest in 2014.
He just can’t understand why some people think his behaviour on that day was utterly unacceptable.
“You had a fair trial . . . You are not a victim here. You are not the victim of any conspiracy,” Leo Varadkar told the incredulous TD.
“It may well be the case that you were not involved in kidnapping but it was thuggery and your behaviour was wrong. The protest was ugly. It was violent. It was nasty.”
Best-Dressed TD Award: Not for the first time, the gong goes to Limerick’s Tom Neville, or Three-Piece Tom, as we like to call him. The Fine Gael backbencher has the nattiest suits. Best-Dressed TD in the casual category goes to Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien for his stylish jumpers, jeans and selection of Converse runners.
Notice Box of the Year Award: Winston Churchtown, who will do anything to get his picture in the paper. He is also the Minister of Transport, but is more widely known for his efforts to get good coverage in his Dublin Rathdown constituency. Winston, aka Shane Ross, reached a new low recently when he dressed as Santa and stood brazenly outside Stepaside Garda Station, the reopening of which has seemed more important to him that any other trivial matter to do with his day job.
Fib of the Year Award: Courtesy of the Taoiseach, who told everyone that his new strategic communications unit would operate on a “cost-neutral” basis. Until the budget fine print revealed it will cost €5 million a year.
Don’t Teach Your Granny How to Suck Eggs Award: The winner is Leas-Cheann Comhairle Pat the Cope Gallagher, who took Leo Varadkar to task for advising him on Dáil procedure.
“Ah, hold on. Hold on, Taoiseach! I don’t need legal advice on a simple question,” he informed him. “I may not be a lawyer, but I have common sense, I’m here 36 or 37 years and I won’t be dictated to by anybody in this house, even the Taoiseach.”
Leo began to interrupt.
“Hold on, Taoiseach. Hold on. You’re not in the chair!”
He got a a spontaneous round of applause from the Opposition. That softened Leo’s cough.
International Humanitarian Award: John Halligan of the Independent Alliance, for suggesting a delegation from the Alliance – himself, Shane Ross and Finian McGrath – might travel to North Korea on a peace mission as tensions over nuclear testing rose between the state and the United States. The idea was quickly knocked on the head.
The No Hand, Act or Part Award: Frances Fitzgerald, for having had no hand, act or part in the email controversy that led to her resignation.
Best Former Taoiseach Award: Enda Kenny, for all his faults, laid terrific groundwork for his successors when the Brexit questions came front and centre. Also, his decision to refer the question on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment on abortion to the Citizens’ Assembly – one which we harshly criticised at the time – proved to be the right one.
Best Senator Award: Mayo woman Catherine Noone won deserved plaudits for her stewardship of the committee on the Eighth Amendment, often under very trying circumstances. She calmly and reasonably rebutted charges of bias laid against her and the committee by Mattie McGrath, Peter Fitzpatrick and Rónán Mullen and it was a testament to her resolve that all other members, regardless of their political allegiance or stance on abortion, publicly rallied to her defence.
In the Seanad, she also did well on legislation to do with alcohol and sunbed use.
Politician of the Year Award: While Leo Varadkar is the standout performer for obvious reasons, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald impressed as she prepares to take over from Gerry Adams, while Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin ended his year on a positive note having faced down Fine Gael and a stubborn Taoiseach over the Fitzgerald email controversy.
Clare Daly, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy continue to be serious Dáil performers, while Michael Collins of the Independent Rural Alliance deserves special mention for his efforts to help elderly people in rural Cork and Kerry access vital cataract operations in Belfast. He is doing sterling service for his voters.
But the award goes to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe – a consummate media performer, popular with the public and his party, he rarely puts a foot out of place and is always there at his leader’s shoulder. The most cunning of them all? Or just good at what he does?
Time will tell.