Miriam Lord’s week

FG praetorian guard ready and able

Fine Gael’s new home guard platoon was unveiled to the public in Wicklow this week, when the Taoiseach’s hand-picked team of political commandos went out on manoeuvres in the Glen of Imaal.

What a fine body of men. Enda’s elite palace guard – the Blueshirts – are ready for anything. On Thursday, they were at the Army exercise grounds to review “a mission readiness exercise”.

The appearance of Enda’s elite must have proved a great morale boost for the brave soldiers of the 108th Infantry Battalion in advance of their departure to the Lebanon.

For them, it must have seemed like four Jean Claude Van Dammes had turned up to give them strength for what lay ahead. The top brass respectfully asked Enda’s crack political quartet not to do the obstacle course because it would make the other men feel inadequate.

They reluctantly agreed, although clearly they would have destroyed the course record had they been allowed.

Here we see them examining some of the firepower they will be using when the order goes out to take Croke Park II to the trenches.

As you can see, Senator Martin Conway (Clare) is like a coiled spring, while beside him Billy Timmins TD (Wicklow), wears a navy camouflage suit and a helmet which cannot be removed. Do not be fooled, that suit is made from Kevlar which is designed to protect his sangwiches from enemy fire. Billy used to be an army officer and has seen action in the Lebanon.

Next to him, David Stanton TD (Cork East). The mild-mannered chairman of the Oireachtas justice committee is a trained assassin and regularly abseils to his seat in the Dáil from the skylight above.

Finally, Liam Twomey TD (Wexford) is the operative standing nearest to Comdt Keith Murphy of the Defence Forces Infantry School, officer in charge of the live fire tactical training exercise.

Deputy Twomey’s hands are lethal weapons; he must keep them in his pockets at all times when not on active service.

There was stiff competition for places on Enda’s elite unit. The final four – the A Team – fought off stiff competition from the likes of James Bannon, Bernard Durkan, John Perry, Peter Mathews and Fidelma Healy-Eames.

Needless to say, Martin, Billy, David and Liam are all prepared to take a burger, sorry, bullet for their Taoiseach.

They are authorised to liquidate any TD or Senator who tries to orchestrate a coup against their leader. And that includes Lucinda!

Happy Gilmore leads Labour in a jolly gathering
On Tuesday, Fianna Fáil's Niall Collins stepped out of the lift at the wrong floor and found himself wandering down the Labour Party corridor.

“Are you lost Niall?” sniggered a Labour deputy.

“No, I just like walking around graveyards,” replied Collins.

Mind you, there was anything but an air of the graveyard about the party’s make or break parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday. Things were quite jolly, we hear.

Unhappy backbenchers, grumpy grassroots, dangerous deserters lurking among the Independents, a collapse of the party vote in Meath East and two fingers from the unions to Croke Park II. What’s not to be happy about?

So Eamon Gilmore got down to brass tacks and tackled the situation head on.

“First off, I want to thank Dominic Hannigan for running a great campaign in the Meath East,” said Happy Gilmore, calling for a round of applause.

And everybody clapped.

Maybe they weren’t clapping the way the byelection campaign was run but rather the manner in which director of elections Hannigan and his unsuccessful candidate ran from the count centre when approached by the media for a comment.

And if they weren’t feeling delighted enough with themselves, who arrived in late only the Minister for Public Expenditure.

“I’d like to congratulate Brendan Howlin on his handling of the Croke Park II talks,” gurgled Gilmore.

More applause.

Are they on happy pills?

The Minister for Communications finally decided it was time to face up to reality and start to address the problems facing the party. What are they going to do about Senator John Whelan and those pieces he’s getting into the Sunday Independent every week, wailed Pat Rabbitte.

(Although Pat and some of his senior colleagues have been known to grace the Sindo’s august columns on the odd occasion.) Rabbitte was backed up by backbencher Anne Ferris, who said Whelan had a neck to even turn up at the meeting.

It fell to Senator Denis Landy to complain that it was unparliamentary behaviour to speak ill of a person in their absence. Not least because the Minister for Communications had been sitting practically next to Whelan for much of the meeting and could have made his views known to him before he left.

The top brass aren’t best pleased with their Laois-based Senator, that’s for sure. But if he ever decides to give up politics, he could get a job writing speeches for Michael D. The two men – witness the President’s speech to the MEPs – appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to imposing austerity without paying necessary heed to the social consequences.

Et tu, Michael D? And after all we done for you . . .

Norris of the four hats
David Norris was wearing four hats in the Seanad on Wednesday. He addressed the Upper House not only as a Senator, but also as "a member of three trade unions" which voted against Croke Park II. A fact which Norris was anxious to celebrate.

“It was an exercise in democracy of the kind I would like to see more often around this joint,” he said. Furthermore, it would do no harm to send those unfeeling bean-counters in Europe a similar message, because those people in the troika have shown “no consistency or feeling for ordinary decent human beings”.

However, David was grateful for a glimmer of hope from Michael D Higgins, courtesy of his speech in Strasbourg on Wednesday which brought a standing ovation from the MEPs.

“Thank God for our President, who told it as it was today in the European Parliament, spelling matters out in a most wonderful speech,” swooned Norris. “The people of Ireland are the victims of an international swindle. And the financial houses, ratings agencies and banks who organised it are now sitting up there dictating what we will do. They are unelected and it’s undemocratic and it’s time we told them to ‘F’ off . . .”

The Cathaoirleach nearly fainted.

“Senator!” cried Paddy Burke, inhaling deeply of the smelling salts. But David didn’t see a problem.

“The Cathaoirleach will note that I have used one letter,” he pointed out.

“Senator Norris knows well that is unparliamentary language,” huffed a scandalised Paddy, who clearly isn’t used to hearing such saloon bar talk on the golfing fairways of Mayo.

McEntee in frame for obligatory photograph
Helen McEntee took her seat in the Dáil on Tuesday following her Meath East byelection win, but not before she underwent that obligatory rite of passage – a photo opportunity on the plinth with the party leader and colleagues trying to elbow their way into the shot.

As they watched the happy scenes unfold, the more serious minded pondered the thorny question of how to get more women into politics. But the most pressing question (it always is at these events) was about how to get more women into photographs.

Isn’t it strange how the majority of seats are held by men but when it comes to taking the snaps, it’s the women who are pushed up to the front, thereby giving the impression there are more females in the ranks than is the case.

It’s a tough, crowded market. The men, in their dull grey suits, have all but given up. But it’s every woman for her (brightly coloured) self.

Dún Laoghaire’s Mary Mitchell O’Connor played a clever game. She waited until the scrum was over and then she pounced. Swooping in from the wings, she produced a large bouquet of flowers for Helen and bagged the photo of the day.

The Taoiseach welcomed his new deputy at the parliamentary party meeting and noted that she was seated in the same seat in the chamber that he occupied when he first became a TD.

And on Thursday, to mark the One Million Trees in One Day initiative, Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett and Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke will plant a native broadleaf tree in Leinster Lawn at midday in memory of Helen’s father Shane.

Outline of abortion Bill to put FG nerves on edge
A lively Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting is in prospect next Wednesday when James Reilly presents the bones of the abortion Bill to his colleagues.

Those TDs and Senators who were part of a recent cross-party group flown to Washington and New York on a “fact-finding” trip funded by an anti-abortion organisation continue to prepare for the debate to come.

They include Senator Paul Bradford, who is married to Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton and TDs Terence Flanagan, James Bannon, Peter Mathews and John O’Mahoney.

Bradford and Flanagan were among a group of 10 political guests who attended an anti-abortion dinner in the St Stephen’s Green Club on Wednesday evening. We understand it was hosted by Peter Scully, who heads up the “Family and Life” organisation.

At the party meeting in Leinster House, Mayo’s Michelle Mulherrin was among those TDs who tried to start a discussion on the abortion legislation.

However, chairman Charlie Flanagan pointed out that Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Minister for Health would be speaking on the issue at the next meeting and moved matters on.

The heads of the Bill will be presented to Cabinet on Tuesday.