Politician of the Year: Green Party leader Eamon Ryan
The Greens soared in popularity during the European and local elections, taking two seats in Europe and increasing numbers on councils around the country, particularly in more urban areas. This may have been a message from voters to all parties to get serious about climate change, so that surge may be not replicated in a general election. But the party now moves forward with renewed confidence since its resounding rejection by the public following its participation in the ill-fated 2007-2011 Fianna Fáil coalition government.
Despite that bruising experience, Ryan says he is open to entering a coalition again as it presents the party’s best chance to address the climate emergency. “I know from experience how hard that can be, but also what can be achieved.” The Green Party leader also knows that the electorate has a vicious habit of punishing the junior partners in a coalition for the actions of the main government party.
Nonetheless, Eamon Ryan believes the only way to make a difference is from within the corridors of power as opposed to shouting from the sidelines. That's an admirable and brave stance. Above all, he wins the gong for his hilarious outburst of interpretive dance during the annual Pride parade, skittering barefoot along a Dublin street in a joyous display which cheered even the most curmudgeonly of hearts.
The Reverse Ferret Award for the Quickest About-turn
This award had junior minister Finian McGrath’s name on it from a long way out.
The Independent Alliance TD for Dublin Bay North said in a Sunday Independent interview that gardaí opposed to Shane Ross's new drink-driving laws were carrying out "over the top" checks on motorists and then "making a point" by blaming his Independent Alliance colleague Ross for the heavy-handed nature of their actions. This was "political policing", said Finian, calling on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris to "depoliticise" An Garda Síochána.
His comments were immediately condemned by road safety campaigners. By the afternoon of Sunday, March 31st, Finian issued a statement saying his comments were wrong and he was happy to withdraw them. He was also happy to state full confidence in the Garda Commissioner adding: “I was wrong to suggest there was any element of politicising within the force over the new drink-driving regulations.”
However, on Friday, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy swept up the inside with a late run and pipped Finian to the post. Not for the first time, Murph got up everyone's nose by trying to sell the concept of "co-living" to people desperate to buy or rent their own home, a place where "you have your own private room, en suite, but you also then have shared community spaces – a gym, a movie room, a games room potentially, a kitchen, a livingroom". He was speaking on Newstalk radio. Interviewer Kieran Cuddihy interrupted: "Like a prison." "No. It's more like a very trendy kind of boutique hotel type of place, right?" A couple of hours later, Murphy took to Twitter and apologised. "I was asked this morning were CoLiving spaces like prisons & based on what I have seen in other cities they are not. My analogy in response wasn't a good one." So the Reverse Ferret Award for Quickest backtrack goes to Eoghan Murphy.
Minister with the Most Confusing Job Title
This award also goes to Eoghan Murphy. As Minister for Housing, he is Minister for Gaffs. And as Minister for Housing he is Minister for Gaffes. Most confusing.
Minister of the Year
Step forward Heather Humphreys, the straight-talking Minister for Enterprise who didn't join the knee-jerk legion of Government and Opposition colleagues spooked by the angry reaction from beef farmers to the EU Mercosur trade deal with South American countries.
There is a long way to go before this deal is ever agreed and its extensive detail, which may address many of the reservations people have about it, has been buried under the weight of political protest. But Humphreys, with an eye to the far broader economic and trade implications at stake, stood in the Dáil and refused to jump on the beef bandwagon and condemn the agreement at this early stage.
Meanwhile, as the Government was making a big song and dance about its determination to do something about Ireland's insurance "compo claim culture", the reluctance of Fine Gael politicians to address the embarrassing case of Dún Laoghaire TD Maria Bailey's "swing-gate" legal action was very noticeable. When Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy wanted to highlight how insurance costs are damaging Irish business she reminded the Dáil that "the Maria Bailey fiasco" had put the issue back in the spotlight. Humphreys was taking questions at the time. Unlike the rest of her party's Nervous Nellies, she wasn't beating around the bush. "My own view on this is very simple – people need to have some common-sense and they need to be responsible for their own personal safety. So if you trip, yeah, if you fall, you have to ask yourself how it happened. And more often than not, the reason is because of your own carelessness." To shouts of "Hear! Hear!" from across the floor, she concluded "There's a culture in this country which says: it's everyone's fault but your own."
The George Clooney Award
Paschal Donohoe. No, really. It seems that the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure, who is very well liked and respected within the party, has been given a rather difficult and delicate task to complete. In concert with the general secretary of Fine Gael, Paschal has been going around the country to various party branches breaking bad news to prospective election candidates.
In the run-up to the general election, the right candidate selection is of paramount importance. To this end, some hopefuls who were on the ticket have had to be told their frontline services are no longer required. Politicians who had been selected to run are being told they have been "deselected" by headquarters. The most recent high-profile example would be former TD for Meath West, Senator Ray Butler.
It seems that when Paschal says “I have more difficult decisions to make” he isn’t just talking about the next budget. We hear his work in the constituencies is not yet done and he has more bad news to break to aspiring TDs in the coming weeks.
As a result, some parliamentary party wags have been referring to him as “George Clooney”. This has nothing to do with dimples, but is a reference to the movie Up in the Air, where the Oscar-winning actor plays a suave corporate “downsizer” who specialises in “termination assistance” and travels around America firing and laying off workers on behalf of their employers.
You Can’t Say Anything These Days Award
The award goes to Leo Varadkar, who had the temerity to remark in January that one of the ways he is reducing his carbon footprint is by cutting down on the amount of red meat he eats. He was also doing this for health reasons. Such was the backlash from Opposition deputies outraged on behalf of Irish beef farmers, the Taoiseach was forced to tell the Dáil that he still enjoyed a good steak, his comments were personal and not in any way encouraging people to give up beef. "I said that I was trying to eat less red meat for two reasons: namely health and climate change. My comment was not flippant. It is a fact that red meat increases the risk of cancer and contributes more to climate change," the Taoiseach explained. "You're making a bad situation worse," roared Danny Healy-Rae. "I can assure deputies that I haven't become a vegan or anything like that," added Leo, who is entitled to eat as much or as little of whatever he likes.
“Where’s the beef, ye vegan?!” Shouted at the Taoiseach during a farmers’ protest when the Government was in Cork for a Cabinet meeting.
Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes moment
When Nancy met Bono and Bono was mobbed by starstruck TDs. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, was guest of honour in the chamber in April when she addressed the House to mark the centenary of Dáil Éireann. The presence of a major international figure was enough to make TDs giddy. But when the doors at the back opened and Bono and his wife, Ali, were ushered into the visitors gallery, it was too much for some. Before and after the speeches, they hemmed the rock star into the small gallery, introducing themselves and shamelessly seeking selfies. As for Pelosi, she was similarly starstruck, but far better behaved. She had asked for Bono to be a guest on the day – she's a huge U2 fan – and they sat together at a special lunch in the Members Restaurant. A special award for dignity and self-restraint goes to the Taoiseach, who likes to rub shoulders with showbiz celebrities. When he entered the chamber, he barely acknowledged Bono, walking in a statesmanlike fashion to his seat while TDs and Senators from all sides were losing the run of themselves.
Crystal Ball Award
Mattie McGrath wins this for his pronouncement on the yet to be published report on the overspend on the national children's hospital. Addressing the media on the Leinster House plinth, the Rural Independents TD from Tipperary held forth on the spiralling cost of the building work. "It's only thoughts – we don't have it, obviously," began Mattie, pointing out that the report was 10 days overdue and an estimated €150,000 over budget. "But look: in any case, it's a whitewash."
Best Newcomer Award
Many would say the standout winner of this has to be the Dáil Rat, who brightened up the closing days of the Dáil term by running amok in the adjoining Members and Visitors bars. However, rats are no strangers to the Oireachtas. The saying "you are never more than six feet away from a rat" has never been so true in the corridors of Leinster House. No, nothing new there. Best, if not the most welcome, newcomer in this term was Bob, otherwise known as the Brexit Omnibus Bill. Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, when introducing it, said he hoped it would "never do any more than sit on a shelf in my office". The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 was 70 pages long, with an 11-page explanatory memorandum. Emergency legislation to be enacted in the event of a hard Brexit, it "focused on measures protecting citizens and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs, particularly in key economic sectors." A third of it was devoted to tax provisions. The diary was cleared so everyone could have their say, and say everything they needed to say, on this crucial piece of legislation. The debate was wound up with more than a day to go because they ran out of things to say.
Donkey of the Dáil Term
This goes to Winston Churchtown, aka Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who made an ass of himself in the chamber when he likened Sinn Féin's Imelda Munster to a donkey. Irritated with the Louth TD for criticising him for missing a transport committee meeting when he was seen in the Members Bar having his elevenses, he told her she wasn't a patch on her two party colleagues who spoke before her. They were like "thoroughbreds" while she was "like a donkey at the last race, at the last fence". Out of earshot, near the Ceann Comhairle's desk, he then accused her of telling this column about his "elevenses". "They were like thoroughbreds in a horse race and you came in as you normally do and you're like a donkey in the last race, at the last fence. You upset the whole apple cart." Winston subsequently apologised.
The Jacob Rees-Mogg Double-Barrelled Award for Outdated Views and Doing About-Turns When it Suits
This goes to Danny Healy-Rae, for continuing to deny climate change then railing against the Brazilians for clearing precious Amazon rainforest for grazing land.
Order of the Brown Nose
Michael Healy-Rae, for waiting all day at the sports committee (of which he is not a member) to make an important contribution to the session with John Delaney and assorted blazers from the FAI. As the members tore strips off the association for what they perceived to be a lack of governance and tried to get to the bottom of Delaney's unusual financial arrangements with the body, Michael eventually got his chance to speak. And when he did, he praised Delaney to the high heavens and told him he is welcome in Kerry anytime. Then he left the committee room.
Innocent Abroad Award
Shane Ross, when he gave the game away early in the year during a press conference on Brexit by truthfully answering a question on whether there would be checks on trucks crossing the Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Minister reckoned this would be the case. Later, unaware that a journalist’s phone was still on the table and recording, Simon Coveney was heard telling a contrite Ross that he said the wrong thing.
The Wrong Clap Award
This goes to the Fine Gael delegates at a party conference in Wexford who applauded when their special guest speaker on Saturday afternoon, the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson, suggested that Ireland might rejoin the Commonwealth. Chair of the session Fergus O'Dowd said they were only making Jeffrey welcome. Sinn Féin immediately took to social media, saying the Blueshirts were showing their true colours. We say the audience was bored and only half listening.
Senator James Reilly. The former minister for health, who was toying with the idea of getting an electric car, had asked the Leinster House authorities on numerous occasions when they would be installing charging points in the car park. In frustration, he raised the matter twice in the Seanad. They arrived in early March. Just the two, mind. But it's a start.
Most Sensible Apology
This goes to the Taoiseach, who quickly retracted his remarks to the Fianna Fáil leader, in the course of a routine exchange during which he compared Micheál Martin to a hypocritical “sinning” priest and apologised. It didn’t help that Leo Varadkar was attending a meeting the following day in Dublin Castle with religious leaders.
Fib of the Dáil Term
Simon Coveney, ever polite, was aghast to find the Maltese foreign minister in the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery one evening when TDs were roaring and shouting at each other. He turned to Carmelo Arbela and said "Sorry, we're not usually like this."
Most Comforting Words
They came from US president Donald Trump when he touched down in Ireland and had a meeting in Shannon airport with the Taoiseach. He put Leo right on the Border issue and Brexit. As for the Border: "I think it will work out and it will all work out very well. Also, for you, with your wall, your Border. . .We have a border situation in the United States and you have one over here, but it's going to work out very well. I think it's both going to work out very well." Furthermore, Trump reckoned Brexit could ultimately be "very, very good" for us. Leo took it well. "The main thing we want to avoid of course is putting a border or wall between both sides." "Oh, I think you do, I think you do," interrupted Trump.
Happiest at the End of Term
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who has seen his party rising in the opinion polls while the Taoiseach’s habit of making niggling remarks to him in the chamber only serves to make Martin look good.