Straight after Taoiseach's Questions on Tuesday, Leo Varadkar rushed from the Dáil chamber and down the main staircase for a photocall in front of one of the latest artworks to grace the walls of Leinster House.
Noel Murphy's portrait of all the women members of the Oireachtas has been generating a lot of interest since it was positioned at the bottom of that staircase, with passers-by drawn into the canvas as they figure out who's who among the 53 TDs and senators. The painting is positioned on one side of the double doors to the main corridor, with Mick O'Dea's portrait of Michael D Higgins on the other.
It was painted over a six-month period by the Belfast artist and commissioned as part of the Vótáil 100 commemoration of the granting of women's suffrage. (Hence the appearance of Countess Constance Markievicz among the current crop of parliamentarians.)
While Murphy was working on his canvas, journalist and art expert Eamonn Mallie interviewed the women as they sat for the artist in his studio near Leinster House.
The result is A Woman's Place, Mallie's fascinating documentary about the making of this special portrait and the thoughts of the women depicted in it.
The film also celebrates the centenary of the election of Markievicz – the first woman MP elected to Westminster and the first woman TD in Dáil Éireann – while noting the arrival of a record number of women to the Dáil in 2016.
Viewers have been puzzled by the bottom of the canvas
Now, women make up 22 per cent of TDs – a big increase from previous intakes, but, as the portrait cleverly notes, there is still a way to go.
Viewers have been puzzled by the bottom of the canvas, which has a messy, unfinished look to it. This is to represent the work still to be done to achieve a more equal and lasting representation of women in the Oireachtas.
The Taoiseach, along with Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone and Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee, posed for photos at the portrait with the artist, the interviewer and the documentary's director, Declan McGrath, to mark the premiere of A Woman's Place, this Monday in the IFI in Temple Bar. After the 6.30pm screening, Mallie will chair a panel discussion with Murphy and McGrath, Zappone and former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.
The indefatigable Mallie – we're more used to hearing him talk about the political situation in Northern Ireland – tells us that it's an open event, tickets available as usual online or at the box office.
MacGill rounds up the usual suspects
This column hasn't had much to do with the annual RUTUS Summer School since we fled Glenties on the bus at the crack of dawn four years ago having torn strips off during the previous day's proceedings.
Other people may know it as the MacGill Summer School, but to us, it is the Round Up the Usual Suspects Summer School.
Not to be confused with the Opinionated Aul’ Fellas’ Summer School (OAFSS) which happens every year after the Dáil breaks for summer and is held in. . .
Never mind. Who’s going this year?
There's Noel Whelan again. And Pat – Is that a lectern I see before me? – Cox. And Big Phil and Eamon Ryan and Brendan Halligan. And Fintan, bless, who has expressed his absolute willingness to give up his place to make way for a female speaker in light of this week's furore over the dearth of female speakers on the programme.
Nice try, O’Toole! You won’t get out of MacGill that easily.
The theme this year is: “Fundamental reform of our politics and institutions: can we meet the challenges ahead?”
It should be good. With any luck the legislators and influencers and deep thinkers will come up with shovel-ready solutions for speedy implementation by themselves for the betterment of non-summer school types, God help us.
What? Wrong theme?
Sorry about that. It appears that “Fundamental reform of our politics and institutions: can we meet the challenges ahead?” was the one debated upside down and inside out back in 2014, the year we ran away from the RUTUS Summer School.
That’s when we wrote: “It’s the same crowd every year – natural wastage notwithstanding.”
Anyway. Here's the theme for 2018: "The future of Ireland in the new Europe – the challenges ahead?"
Bertie is appearing. He wasn't there four years ago, but his adviser Gerry Howlin spoke. And Gerry is speaking this year too. As is the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, whom we unkindly labelled "one of the MacGill repeat offenders" back in 2014.
Of course, we were right. Micheál’s back again, this time ruminating over “how to square the circle” on the post-Brexit possibility of a hard border.
In 2014, Stephen Donnelly was an idealistic Independent TD. He was described from the platform as, and admitted to, being "a MacGill virgin". He can't get enough of it now and is back next month as a fully-fledged member of Fianna Fáil to address the ever-burning topic: "Our health system – is there anyone who can make it fit for purpose?"
Maybe Stephen should ask his boss Micheál – a former minister for health – for advice, seeing as they'll both be up in Donegal, thinking about such things as "Reforming Ireland to face the challenges ahead," which is the overall theme on the day management consultant Eddie Molloy makes his traditional appearance.
Panellists will ask: can our reformed Ireland in a new Europe really face the challenges ahead without a question mark?
Where’s Frank? Phew! There’s Frank, still on the list.
MacGill wouldn't be the same without former Fine Gael handler Frank Flannery, who was a big draw in 2014 after he fell out with the party.
Another big draw that year was RUTUS stalwart Pat Leahy, then political editor of the Sunday Business Post. Pat, who is now our august political editor here in The Irish Times is not in the mix this year but Stephen Collins, from whom Pat took over as political editor of The Irish Times, is.
It’s going to be great. Sure what else would you be doing?
People should stop knocking the Round Up the Usual Suspects Summer School. They shouldn’t be commenting on the age and grey hair and boring suits worn by the Usual Suspects because everyone knows that only women can be commented upon in this way.
It also keeps them together in the one place, where they can’t do much harm and make worthy speeches to each other to their hearts’ content.
Think of it like putting the goldfish bowl outside on the window ledge so the occupants can enjoy a bit of fresh air in new surroundings for a few days.
Privacy for smokers as Juncker visits
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was feted by his Irish hosts on his two-day visit this week. He seems an amiable sort of cove and appeared to have thoroughly enjoy his time here, escorted around by a beaming EU commissioner, Big Phil Hogan.
He certainly got everyone’s attention at the start of his speech to the joint Houses of the Oireachtas when explaining his rather bockety descent to the dais.
"Mr Speaker, Taoiseach, other members, I have some difficulties to walk. I am not drunk. I have sciatica. I would prefer to be drunk. Hah!"
He got a very big turnout from TDs and senators in the Dáil chamber, although Fianna Fáil TD for Kerry John Brassil took a swipe at constituency rival Michael Healy-Rae for failing to attend. Healy-Rae is chairman of the European Affairs committee and Brassil accused him of "snubbing" Juncker by failing to attend any of his engagements and staying in his constituency instead.
Gates halfway up the North Road entrance to Leinster House were completely screened out
After his speech, Juncker enjoyed lunch in the Oireachtas members’ restaurant, dining on grilled organic, corn-fed Irish chicken breast in a mango, ginger and olive sauce on a bed of herb rice, followed by fresh Irish strawberries and cream.
There was high security in and around Leinster House and Government Buildings for the visit. In an unusual move, the gates halfway up the North Road entrance to Leinster House were completely screened out – this is the Ministers’ entrance where the ministerial cars line up, next to the main gates.
It also leads to an area the back of the restaurant where there is a smoking hut. Apparently Juncker is a smoker and the black plastic sheeting which covered the wide gates from top to bottom was to ensure that nobody on Merrion Street could see him smoking.
On Thursday night, Juncker was guest of honour at a State banquet in Dublin Castle attended by a clatter of TDs, senators and MEPS, along with sundry officials from Iveagh House and Brussels. There was much talk of who might run for the European Parliament next time out, with the names of Fine Gael's John Deasy and Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher figuring strongly.
The Taoiseach and commission president made speeches, with Juncker reserving particular praise for his friend Big Phil, who seems assured of a second stint in Europe if he wants it, and for Bertie, another good friend.
They dined in the castle on a starter of Wicklow pear and Cashel Blue cheese and enjoyed a main course of Kilkenny lamb, from the home county of the agriculture commissioner.
Ross launches drink link pilot in Kerry
Winston Churchtown, aka Shane Ross, entertained the lions' den in Kerry on Friday night when he formally launched the pilot scheme for the local-link bus service, otherwise known as the rural drink link.
Winston braved the kingdom in the company of his faithful lieutenant and Minister of State Brendan Griffin, who hails from Castlemaine.
There are seven routes initially planned for the door-to-door service in Kerry, which is partly viewed as a solution for people who used to drive to their local and have one drink but won’t be able to do that any more when Winston Churchtown’s new drink-driving laws are eventually passed.
The filibustering tactics of certain rural TDs have been dragging out the passage of the Bill but it is expected to pass through the Dáil next week. Chief among the Minister for Transport’s critics are the Healy-Rae brothers, who have lambasted the Bill and the local-link plan.
If anyone wants to stop at a pub we'll be delighted to do so
Given that they miss nothing locally, would they make it to the launch of the plan in Listowel’s Lartigue Monorail and Museum on the John B Keane Road? And would they join Winston Churchtown and Brendan Griffin on a road trip around the area with locals on one of the buses?
“If anyone wants to stop at a pub we’ll be delighted to do so,” the Minister told us, “although it isn’t a booze bus. More people will probably want to use it to get to and from bingo and other community events.”
Winston, who doesn’t drink, was very much looking forward to his jaunt around the kingdom. “By the end of the night I might be the one driving the bus.”
At the time of writing, Michael Healy-Rae had indicated he would be attending the launch, but word hadn’t come through yet from Danny.
Oireachtas press corps quizzed
The revitalised Oireachtas press gallery held its inaugural charity table quiz in the Shelbourne Hotel.
It was a magnificent occasion.
Eighty teams of four. One, ahem, fabulous winning team . . . modesty forbids.
The Taoiseach was in attendance but he arrived late so can’t be held responsible for the name chosen by his departmental team-mates – “Strategic Quiz Unit.”
He made his big entrance, accompanied by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Robert Watt, secretary-general of the Department of Public Expenditure. When the hacks saw Robert, who was in hot water this week for suggesting that pensioners' free travel be restricted to off-peak hours, somebody roared: "Was the bus full?"
The prize was pulled from the tombola by the Fianna Fáil leader
The adjudicator on the night – his decision was final – was Séamus Woulfe, the Attorney General, who did a fine job of smoothing over squabbles. Bryan Dobson was question master, still cracking one-liners at midnight and bright as a button on Morning Ireland a few hours later.
Micheál Martin's adviser Deirdre Gillane won the top raffle prize, which was a generous voucher for dinner in Chapter One. Although it didn't go unnoticed that the prize was pulled from the tombola by the Fianna Fáil leader, who later won a spot prize. Tickets to see Elvis Costello. He looked thrilled.
The questions were very tough. The political rounds were extremely difficult.
After eight rounds, two teams tied for first place. One called “Fiach News” (a reference to the gallery chairman, Fiach Kelly) and the other a Fianna Fáil backroom team calling themselves “Unelected and Unaccountable”.
"Fiach News" won on a tie-break question which was won by team captain Stephen Collins, Irish Times columnist and former political editor. His triumphant team-mates were Tim Ryan, former Irish Examiner pol corr, Harry McGee and Miriam Lord.
It was like winning the World Cup.
The quiz raised a €14,000 for the Samaritans.