Miriam Lord’s week: FG on back foot over World Cup playoff clash

Party seeks way to avoid Varadkar ardfheis address clashing with Ireland v Denmark

In a face-off with Martin O’Neill and the Republic of Ireland squad, team Leo knows there can only be one winner. And it won’t be Fine Gael.

Not everyone was happy when we drew Denmark in the forthcoming World Cup playoff. The fans and pundits may have been delighted with the draw, which saw O’Neill’s men avoiding some of the stronger teams in the pot, but there was dismay in Fine Gael headquarters.

That crucial first leg on Saturday, November 11th in Copenhagen will be in direct competition for television viewers with the Taoiseach's first keynote address to the party's national conference. In terms of attracting a television audience, Leo Varadkar has landed himself the worst possible weekend.

When the fixture was announced, Fine Gael headquarters insisted their event in Cavan would go ahead as planned. However, behind the scenes, organisers are desperately seeking a way out.


Short of cancelling the ardfheis – which can’t be done – there are two options: move the speech to late Saturday afternoon, when as much as an hour could be made available, or make it in the same time slot, but on the opening Friday night.

Whatever happens, it seems likely that Leo knows when to give way to the bigger draw and he will not be addressing the nation in the traditional Saturday night slot. Fine Gael has not been in official contact with RTÉ, although we hear soundings have already been made with the national broadcaster.

Detailed discussion may begin next week, but the official line from Mount Street is that nothing has been decided yet. A strict protocol pertains around these broadcasts, with RTÉ under obligation to be fair across the board to all political parties.

Sinn Féin set a precedent a number of years ago when Gerry Adams made his keynote address at teatime on Saturday. The party gained a full hour, but it's a long time to fill and viewers are not inclined to tune in at 5pm in the evening. Adams has since reverted to the half-hour 8.30 pm slot on Saturday.

In terms of media coverage, that early start for Varadkar would be swallowed up by the crunch game which follows. We understand Fine Gael would ideally like the 8.30pm slot on Friday night, if possible.

If that were to happen, it would mean that Joe Duffy's ratings hit Liveline Callback programme, where he gives the background stories behind some of the most gripping calls to his radio show would have to be bumped. However, even if Leo ends up delivering his speech on Friday night, it won't be ideal either as he will be clashing with that night's second visit to Coronation Street. But a few backbenchers would be delighted, having privately confided that they'll be off for Denmark early the next morning with Leo's big speech out of the way.

Sports, drama and politics. Bliss it will be that weekend to be alive.

EU commissioner leaves Ross in transports of delight

The European Union transport commissioner was in town this week to take part in “Citizens’ Dialogue” on the future of Europe. How did it pass us by? Thankfully, it is available to view on the European Commission’s website.

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes also took part in the discussion which was held on Thursday evening in the Royal Irish Academy on Dublin’s Dawson Street.

The event was live-streamed. Before it started, moderator Audrey Carville told the audience: "If any of you here in Dublin don't wish to be filmed as part of that streaming there is a safe zone to the back on my left." The mind boggles.

The transport commissioner is an interesting woman. Violeta Bulc from Slovenia was nominated for the post of EU commissioner just weeks after taking up her first political job at home in 2014. She is a former professional basketball player, academic, telecoms entrepreneur and new-age business consultant. The 53-year-old is a trained shaman, teaches firewalking and is a martial arts expert who believes in the power of positive energy and pure thoughts.

During her trip Dublin, Bulc addressed the Oireachtas transport committee, visited Dublin Port and Dublin Airport and had meetings with a number of representative bodies for transport industry. On Thursday afternoon, Hayes brought her to Marlborough Street to take at look at the new cross-city Luas line, which was part-financed by money from Europe.

This was, indeed, a very special occasion for Violeta because she finally got to meet Winston Churchtown, aka Shane Ross, our Minister for Transport. Due to Dáil commitments, he missed her when she met officials in his department on Thursday morning. Still, a photocall makes up for everything and Winston looked delighted with himself.

The Luas interconnector is due to go into regular service before the end of the year, which gives the Minister plenty more time for photo opportunities on the new rolling stock. Commissioner Bulc and our own EU commissioner, Big Phil Hogan, are tall of stature. They should really co-author some sort of policy paper. Then we could call it the Bulc Hogan report.

Next-generation Leyden limbers up

The confidence-and-supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil means that, publicly at least, the parties’ TDs and senators have to tiptoe around and behave nicely to each other. But Fianna Fáil is determined to reverse the power dynamic between the two come the next election.

Their TDs hate the current arrangement where they are propping up a Fine Gael government. Kildare TD and barrister James Lawless was full of fighting talk after last weekend's ardfheis. On Saturday night he took to Facebook to announce to his friends that he was back in the constituency enjoying a drink in a local hostelry after a great keynote speech for the leader and a very successful conference.

An online conversation ensued, with a man called Joe commenting “Coalition again with Fine Gael”. Not at all. “The shoe’ll be on the other foot next time, Joe – Leo’ll be selling socks on Moore Street,” replied James. That’s some image.

Meanwhile, there's a rumour doing the rounds that veteran Fianna Fáil politician Terry Leyden is considering hanging up his mileage chart at the next election. Senator Leyden, who was a junior minister in the 1980s, may be looking to the future and the possibility of another Leyden following him into Leinster House. The Roscommon People is reporting this week that his daughter Orla, who is cathaoirleach of Roscommon County Council, had confirmed she would be seeking a nomination to run next time out because she "feels the time is right".

There was a lot of talk about her running in the last election, but she steadfastly ruled it out. “In the last 3½ months I’ve taken part in something like 50 public engagements and this has made me realise that I want to continue making a contribution in both Co Roscommon and nationally too,” she said. Sitting TD Eugene Murphy will be delighted.

Varadkar networks in Brussels

Leo Varadkar was in his element in Europe this week. As one of the new boys, he was busy networking among his fellow leaders. Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, is a new chum. It turns out that he learned his English in Malahide.

During his stay, Leo was busy collecting the mobile-phone numbers of the other prime ministers. We hear EU officials were not at all happy with this new development. Meanwhile, the Taoiseach and his European counterparts had to return to the old Justus Lipsius in Brussels for their European Council meeting because the new Europa building next door had to be closed due to an emergency. The futuristic "Space Egg" had to be evacuated before the politicians arrived because of toxic fumes emanating from the kitchen in the canteen.

Leo returned to Dublin on the Government jet on Friday afternoon. He looked a little shook, but relieved, after the flight. The group endured a very bumpy approach and landing, having flown into the edge of Storm Brian. Brian Murphy, the Taoiseach's chief of staff, has denied all responsibility for the conditions.