Miriam Lord’s Week: Dad’s army musters in the Dáil to repel the Russian threat

Rear admiral Gerry Craughwell prepared to launch secret weapon aka Simon Coveney

Action man: Gerry Craughwell.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Action man: Gerry Craughwell. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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Rear admiral Gerry Craughwell is all set to swash his buckle and take to the high seas in defence of Mother Ireland.

Who’s with him?

The Independent Senator is no stranger to military manoeuvres. He joined the British army when he was a nipper before returning home to his native Galway to join the Irish Army, serving with the first infantry battalion based in Renmore Barracks before handing in his sergeant’s stripes in 1980.

But you never forget your training. And now, says Gerry, it is time to take the fight to Vladimir Putin by dispatching a crack force from Leinster House to scare the living daylights out of the Russian fleet on its way to play war games next week off the coast of Cork.

He says members of the raiding squad should be drawn from the elite corps known as the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, nominally under the command of captain Charlie Flanagan but, presumably, led on this occasion by rear admiral Craughwell for operational purposes.

“In my view, the issue of the Russian fleet being off the southwest coast of this country in the next few weeks carrying out an exercise is something that we must monitor,” he told the Seanad on Thursday.

“We must send a Naval Service vessel to the southwest with members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence observing what’s going on there.”

Hear hear!

If the highly armed flotilla does not leave Ireland’s exclusive economic zone in the Atlantic, rear admiral Craughwell will detonate Simon Coveney and bore them all to kingdom come

Imagine the scene: the rear admiral in his cocked hat, standing on the prow of LE Kildare Street, chest puffed out and gold-buttoned arm aloft, waving his fist at Russia’s gunboats.

And behind him, standing strong and proud, the highly trained and fearless members of the joint committee eyeballing the terrified sailors who fear Craughwell’s elite force is concealing a terrifying secret weapon brought specially from Cork specially for this dangerous mission.

If the highly armed flotilla does not leave Ireland’s exclusive economic zone in the Atlantic, rear admiral Craughwell will detonate Simon Coveney and bore them all to Kingdom come.

This is serious.

The Naval Service must also provide search-and-rescue back-up for the fishermen who are “taking their lives into their hands by sailing their trawlers into a live firing exercise area”, the rear admiral also informed the Seanad.

“I’ve been involved in live firing events myself down through my career and I can tell you that when we start to fire live ammunition, there is no guarantee that there won’t be an accident.”

He said the Minister for Defence (secret weapon Simon Coveney) must be apprised immediately of the situation.

In the meantime, we understand members of the elite joint committee are training in the pond outside Government Buildings. They have been issued with inflatable armbands and camouflage galoshes and are ready to scramble at a moment’s notice.

Should things turn nasty corporal Bernard Durkan, fresh from his famous victory in the Battle of Lotto Balls, will command the troops in the ground offensive. Tactical genius Bernard, who was mentioned in Dáil dispatches on Thursday, will bring all his experience to the role.

Major Jim O’Callaghan of Fianna Fáil asked Coveney to look at the mandatory age of retirement for members of the Defence Forces as some of them leave “because they know they will have to retire between 56 and 60. At that age, many people are just getting into their prime.”

He then looked to his left.

“Deputy Durkan here beside me, could you imagine if there was a requirement in politics that people had to retire between 56 and 60? We’d lose some of the best wisdom we have in the house.”

Sergeant Kieran O’Donnell (FG) agreed. “Bernard still hasn’t reached his prime.”

“Obviously, I entirely agree with my colleague’s remarks,” replied the great campaigner.

Minister for Defence Coveney, clearly wrestling with the image of Bernard (76) in combat fatigues, bayonet fixed and going over the top, tried to address O’Callaghan’s point.

“On the image of deputy Durkan being in the Defence Forces . . . eh, eh, I, em, eh, eh, while absolutely, em, the retirement age issues are something, eh, that we have been considering and . . .”

He decided not to think about it.

RTÉ’s New Year’s Eve turkey

Kerry TD Brendan Griffin had some tough questions for RTÉ’s director general Dee Forbes and chairwoman Moya Doherty at this week’s meeting of the Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media.

Why hasn’t RTÉ brought back The Den and why was the New Year’s Eve show so awful this year?

He said the committee complained about last year’s effort and this year “we had an awful debacle of a New Year’s television celebration again. What has RTÉ got against New Year’s Eve?

The one great white hope we had was the return of The Den and for some reason that didn’t come back in 2021... It was one of the most positive developments in RTÉ

“Last year they got the tone wrong and this year they managed to get the time wrong. I mean, you’ve one job, that’s the 10-second countdown, and I’d say CNN were nearly welcoming in the New Year before RTÉ were this year, it was so far behind. Simple things like that really resonate with people.”

Turning to childrens’ programmes, he said: “The one great white hope we had in recent times was the return of The Den and for some reason that didn’t come back in 2021 . . . It was one of the most positive developments in RTÉ across the boards.”

What happened? “I think it was a huge mistake” not just for the children “but for the big kids amongst us who enjoyed it as well”.

Griffin said he was raising the matter because the number of parents who contacted him about The Den not returning “was not insignificant”.

As for New Year’s Eve next time out, “Could ye not just focus this year? You’ve got 11 months to work on it and just get it right for the arrival of 2023, please.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne suggested Griffin had so many scripted one-liners that maybe RTÉ might get him to present the show next year.

Paschal’s Ulysses odyssey

As it is, there are barely enough hours in the day to cram in all the eating, lounging, thinking, telly, tea, whingeing, scratching, scrolling and playing with the dog.

And here’s the Minister for Finance and president of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, hosting another literary event between running his department, writing reviews, going to football matches, chairing history symposiums, working through his library of music albums and adding to his extensive bobblehead superhero figurine collection.

Just where does Paschal Donohoe find the time?

You’d be inclined to hate him, if he wasn’t, well, so flippin’ Paschally.

This thought occurred on Monday night when he popped up at the virtual launch of yet another book about the book Ulysses, which is in the news because it was first published 100 years ago. The Minister was in conversation with Dan Mulhall, whose book Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey is hitting the shops just in time for the centenary next week.

Publisher New Island Books says it is “an essential introduction for all readers seeking to navigate Joyce’s notoriously impenetrable masterpiece”.

Dan also happens to be our Ambassador to the US, so it was a transatlantic Q&A, with the Minister in Dublin and the ambassador in Washington.

Paschal said his “great Covid project of 2021” was to read the book (which, naturally, he has).

“I have a copy of Ulysses which has been in my home for at least two decades and I only had, I guess, the courage to pick it up last year and to begin delving into the extraordinary world that is Ulysses and the extraordinary mind and art that Joyce had to offer.”

He wished he had had a copy of Dan Mulhall’s book to guide him through some of the more difficult passages, because he found the opening chapters “tricky enough. I really had to concentrate and persist at it, to build up a little bit of momentum until I met Leopold and Molly.”

The author’s pragmatic advice to people who get bogged down in some of the more puzzling parts is to simply skip on to the next bit and maybe return later.

“I’m approaching this and I’m talking to you here this evening as a very general reader, somebody who is at the very early stages of trying to understand all that Ulysses has to offer,” explained Paschal.

Mulhall was more than delighted to fill him in further, even managing to get in a reference to the last words of the book and their relevance to the Brexit situation today.

Yes,” chirruped Paschal, because he’s read the book.

But no.

Music-head Paschal has had more than one Covid project on the go. In an interview last year he said he had set himself the goal of listening to all of Bob Dylan’s albums

“The last three words are ‘Trieste, Zurich and Paris’,”declared Dan, pointing to the significance of Joyce going to the trouble of writing down that his novel was written in three different European cities at a time of great conflict and change.

Even “the humble reader like myself” can discover the layers and depths in Joyce’s great work, said the president of the Eurogroup, quoting from a “lovely essay” by Anne Enright which he read in the New York Review of Books last year. “Ulysses invites meaning then throws it back at you, multiplied.”

And, as a Ulysses novice, he hailed the veteran diplomat’s book as “a compass to help us on the changing journey that each read offers”.

Mind you, music-head Paschal – a regular reviewer on these pages – has had more than one Covid project on the go. In an interview last year he said he had set himself the goal of listening to all of Bob Dylan’s albums. He must have achieved it because he is now moving on to The Beatles.

Where does he find the time?

A real beaut

Maybe Dan Mulhall’s next literary explainer might be a guide to interpreting and understanding the complex and sometimes baffling world of the parliamentary written reply.

Here’s one from this week in response to a question to the Minister for Finance by Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, who asked why the beauty industry is subject to a VAT rate of 13.5 per cent while the hairdressing sector pays a 9 per cent rate and if this anomaly can be rectified.

“The VAT rates applying in Ireland are subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. While hairdressing services apply the 9 per cent rate from 1 November 2020, services consisting of the care of the human body, including beauticians, are subject to the 13.5 per cent rate,” it stated.

“This arises from the fact that many of the goods and services to which Ireland applies a reduced rate of VAT, including services related to care of the human body, have their basis under an EU derogation that provides that as Ireland applied a reduced rate to these items on 1 January 1991, we are entitled to continue applying that reduced ate to those items. However, this is conditional on the rate being no less than 12 per cent. These are known as ‘parked’ items, and are provided for under Article 118 of the EU VAT directive. As the services provided by beauticians are part of these parked items, it is not possible for Ireland to apply the rate of 9 per cent to them.”

Parked items?

With this sort of stuff emanating from Paschal’s department, it’s no wonder he was able to finish Ulysses in under a year.

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