Miriam Lord’s week

Leo finds his sea legs on trip with anchorman Dobson

All aboard for Leo Varadkar as he casts a discerning eye at the mast.

All aboard for Leo Varadkar as he casts a discerning eye at the mast.


Some people in Leinster House reckon that the next leader of Fine Gael will be the last man standing after the battle between Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. (Although wiser heads say it would be premature to discount the assured and competent Brian Hayes).

Posh boy Simon, of course, has always projected a more patrician image compared with the bog-snorkelling and mud-running Leo.

However, it looks like Varadkar has decided to up the stakes and last weekend at the National Yacht Club in Dún Laoghaire he got in touch with his inner merchant prince.

Landlubber Leo joined RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson on the ocean waves to launch the Glenans sail-training brochure for this year, and it wasn’t long before he found his sea legs, wresting the tiller from experienced old salt Dobbo and terrifying the weekend yachting fraternity of south Dublin in the process.

Leo asked a lot of questions, which, er, anchorman Dobson was more than able to answer – he’s a part-time sailing instructor with Glenans.

Following his fantastic voyage around the harbour, Minister for Transport Varadkar was able to tell Captain Coveney he’d sailed on a 1720 racing boat, named after the year in which Simon’s beloved Royal Cork Yacht Club was founded.

There isn’t anything Leo doesn’t know about the 1720 now. For example, “it has no downstairs”.

Watch out, Simon. Varadkar will stop at nothing to get his hands on that commodore’s cap.

Diplomat Des still unbecoming for FF outfit
“Your Excellency,” began the respectful letter from the general secretary of Fianna Fáil, cordially inviting their prodigal PD back to the fold with the tempting offer of a ringside seat for Micheál’s keynote address in the RDS tonight.

After all the long years, was Fianna Fáil finally extending an olive branch to Des O’Malley, unjustly drummed out of the party nearly 30 years ago?

He told us of the moment he opened the envelope and read the communication from Fianna Fáil headquarters.

“The excitement nearly overwhelmed me.” Indeed.

Extending Fianna Fáil’s invitation to His Excellency Mr O’Malley (it is a little known fact that he’s honorary consul of Macedonia), Seán Dorgan informs Des he will be expected to arrive at the venue by 7.15pm sharp and encloses a reply form for him to complete “so that the appropriate arrangements can be made to reserve your seat”.

And doubtless, there’d probably be a little glass of wine afterwards and a chance for Micheál Martin to mend fences with a former giant of the party he now leads.

Dorgan concludes by sending kind regards and writes, “I hope you will be able to attend and I look forward to meeting you.”

Well. Des could scarcely contain the emotion. But, somehow, he managed. Needless to say, he wrote back immediately.

“Dear Mr Dorgan,

I am not clear if I am eligible to attend as the national executive of your organisation expelled me by a majority of 81 to 9. They found me guilty, on the proposition of Mr CJ Haughey, of conduct unbecoming a member of Fianna Fáil by refusing to vote for the retention of the necessity for a doctor’s prescription for the purchase of a condom.

Perhaps if your national executive passed a motion rescinding their decision of February ’85, I could give the matter further consideration and possibly consult my authorities for their guidance and directions.

Yours sincerely . . .”

And you can’t say fairer than that.

Given that Fianna Fáil dispatched its letter to Des the diplomat, the “authorities” to which he refers would be the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Protocol, and all that.

O’Malley, who founded the Progressive Democrats after he was thrown out of Fianna Fáil, waited eagerly to hear back from the mother ship.

After two weeks, word arrived from headquarters.

As you can imagine, Des was all of a dither. He’d have to clear his diary for the weekend and buy a new suit. And Pat would want a new frock.

Vindication may have been long in coming, but now it was within touching distance. And then came the po-faced response from the general secretary in Mount Street:

“I wish to apologise for any annoyance caused you by my recent letter. It was a general invitation to all ambassadors and honorary consuls and I in no way meant to cause you any offence and I hope you will accept my assurances in that regard.”

So here’s Des, expelled from the party at the bidding of Charlie Haughey for opposing his risible stance on the availability of condoms, still in the wilderness. And in the meantime, he’s watched the ignominious parade of former leaders and big names as they gave real meaning to the phrase “conduct unbecoming”.

Happily, we can reassure Seán Dorgan and the party leadership that Des O’Malley is neither annoyed nor offended by their invitation.

“Oh, not at all. I’m not in the least bit offended – I’m amused. Just amused,” says Des. “My hopes are dashed now. I’m still an unbecoming person.”

Boyd Barrett strikes while Irons hot with environmental movie
It’s not what you know – it’s who you know.

Ask Richard Boyd Barrett – he’s used his showbiz connection to get some big names to join his action campaign against the Government’s plans to sell harvesting rights to more than a million acres of Ireland’s forestry.

And he has invited his Oireachtas colleagues to a screening on Tuesday morning of a new feature-length documentary produced by actor Jeremy Irons, who is married to Boyd Barrett’s Mammy, Sinéad Cusack.

Irons will be in attendance to answer questions about the film. A full house is expected.

The People Before Profit TD tells colleagues that it’s “an informative and powerful documentary about the global environmental crisis which is developing as a result of the failure to deal properly with society’s waste”. The movie, which has not yet gone on general release, was recently shown in Britain’s House of Commons.

It’s 90 minutes long. This might tax the attention span of some of our politicians.

Meanwhile, RBB is playing a big part in “A Walk in the Woods,” which takes place at 1pm tomorrow in Wicklow’s Avondale Forest Park.

The event features songs, poems and readings from prominent musicians, actors and poets including Christy Moore, Paddy Casey, Jeremy Irons, Sinéad Cusack, Dave Lordan and Bríd Ní Neachtain. Speakers include Boyd Barrett, Deputy Catherine Murphy and Senator Fiach Mac Chongail.

Furrowed brows at delay over job in agriculture
Still no sign of the new junior minister for agriculture.

Enda’s delay in filling the job is causing much angst among those Fine Gael backbenchers nursing expectations.

Damian English has been installed as favourite for the job, and at this stage he’s sick and tired of people asking him if there’s been any news from the Taoiseach.

Colleagues are now deliberately tormenting him by continually offering their congratulations, forcing the exasperated Deputy for Meath East to explain that he’s been told nothing.

Deputies such as Tipperary’s Tom Hayes and Wicklow’s Andrew Doyle are also among those hoping for preferment.

But the Taoiseach’s foot-dragging is becoming a major worry for TDs on both sides of the House.

Those plum Minister of State jobs are highly prized. And, of course, they are very important jobs. Without junior ministers the very fabric of government would crumble.

And yet . . .

The position has been vacant for over three months now, and in an action-packed start to the year the sky hasn’t fallen in on agriculture.

People are talking. They’re beginning to wonder. Sure do we really need junior ministers at all?

And that’s what’s beginning to spook the politicians and why they want Enda to get on with it.

Howlin hand-holders up in arms over their own cuts
The atmosphere in Brendan Howlin’s office at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform must be a little icy these days.

Mr Howlin came in for a lot of stick from the Opposition this week for his handling of the failed Croke Park II negotiations and his attempts at reheating the process in an effort to extract concessions from the unions.

Now we see an interesting entry in the programme for next month’s conference of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCPS).

Motion 8, submitted by the “PER Branch” of the association, states “that conference is strongly opposed to any further worsening of the pay and conditions of AHCPS
grades who have already accepted significant pay reductions in the national interest”.

And who are the members of the PER Branch?

Only those senior public servants in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform whose job it is to hold Brendan’s hand and make sure everything thing runs smoothly for him on the slash ’n’ burn front.

Selfless, so they are.