Miriam Lord’s Week: Leo finds his inner Gaeilgeoir

Varadkar enthuses about latest unemployment figures in first official language

“What made you take it up?” somebody asked. “Is it the leadership ambitions? You have to have the aul cúpla focal, don’t you?” “Idle speculation,” replied Leo. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

“What made you take it up?” somebody asked. “Is it the leadership ambitions? You have to have the aul cúpla focal, don’t you?” “Idle speculation,” replied Leo. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Leo Varadkar was in expansive mood on Wednesday at a press briefing on the latest unemployment figures.

The Minister for Social Protection was happy to say they were “going in the right direction” and were down from where they were in October 2008.

He spoke at length about disability payments and then moved on to Sgt Maurice McCabe and the Garda whistleblower controversy, before talking about the Taoiseach’s Seanad nominees and the fact that the Fianna Fáil leader got to choose some of them.

Then it was on to a short discussion about how there was no leadership vacancy in Fine Gael at the moment; this was followed by answers on whether or not he would like President Michael D Higgins to have a second term in office. (He wouldn’t mind.)

Eventually, the briefing fizzled out. “Thanks very much,” said the reporters, reaching for their recorders.

But Varadkar was in no hurry to go. “Eh, anyone, anyone requiring Gaeilge?” he tentatively asked. “So I can give you a bit of Irish on the jobs . . . you know . . . if it’s any good to you?”

“But of course, absolutely!” lied the hacks, pretending to be thrilled.

“Maith thú,” cried one of them Gerry Adams-style.

“I’m getting better and better at it all the time,” said Leo proudly. “So, it’s just really about the jobs figures?”

Oral exam

“So, erm, táim thar barr go bhfuil an uimhir dífhostaíochta níos lú ná 8 per cent . . . ,” he began hesitantly. He went on for almost a minute, sounding more confident all the time.

We asked a passing Gaeilgeoir to mark Leo’s oral Irish exam. Apparently his opening line was a big shaky.

“I’m excellent that the number of people unemployment has fallen below 8 per cent on the first time since the emergency.”

But after that the verdict was “very impressive”.

“What made you take it up?” somebody asked. “Is it the leadership ambitions? You have to have the aul cúpla focal, don’t you?”

“Idle speculation” replied Leo. “Idle speculation.”

Taoiseach drops in, tunes out, turns off

Mobile phone interference with the sound system in Leinster House and adjoining committee rooms has long been a source of irritation.

Politicians can’t be parted from their smartphones and their iPads.

Most of them seem to spend more time checking their mobile devices than actually following what’s happening in the chamber.

The Taoiseach was the big offender during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday.

He was in full flow, talking about ensuring the quality and safety of maternity services around the country and the Government’s new strategy document on maternity care, when his phone went off.

We couldn’t hear it ring, because he had it on silent. All we could hear was the noisy buzzing feedback from the microphones.

Everyone knew Enda’s phone was causing it. “I ask the deputy whose phone is interfering with the microphones to silence it, please,” demanded the Ceann Comhairle.

“It’s not my phone!” insisted Enda, and his pocket nearly exploding with the vibrations.

“You need to turn off your guitar,” quipped Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley, to the great appreciation of colleagues around the chamber.

Enda was so determined to plough on with his reply that he appeared not to hear the din.

“It’s the Taoiseach’s phone!” cried Micheál Martin.

“There’s a bit of feedback off the electric guitar,” repeated Timmy.

Enda, who looked and sounded wrecked all week following his big night rocking away to Bruce Springsteen in Croke Park, finally got the message and switched it off.

Independents and Labour scrap over Dáil speaking rights

This morning, we take you inside the beating heart of the New Politics, to Thursday’s meeting of the committee on Dáil reform, which meets behind closed doors in line with the new dispensation on openness and transparency.

The Independents 4 Change party, whose four members fought the election without drawing any attention to the fact that they were part of a newly constituted political party, are now claiming new members and priority in Dáil speaking rights over the seven-strong Labour Party, which is an actual political party, formed over 100 years ago.

Each Labour TD does not qualify for a leader’s allowance, unlike Dáil “Independents”, who are also apparently members of a registered party.

A row develops.

Howlin (Labour): “The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part.”

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl: “The first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the first part of the party?”

Pringle (potentially Independents 4 Change): “No. The party of the second part shall be known in this contract as the party of the second party.”

Winston Churchtown (Independent Alliance): “You should have come to the first party. Why can’t the first part of the second party be the second part of the first party? Then you got something.”

Ryan (Green) and Murphy (Social Democrats) want to see the clause that Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Tommy Broughan and Joan Collins say entitles them to suddenly leap up the parliamentary pecking order.

Maureen O’Sullivan, even though she says she isn’t a signed-up member for Independents 4 Change, fishes it out for them. “It’s the usual clause that’s in every contract that just says: “If any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.””

Ceann Comhairle: “Well, I don’t know . . .”

Groucho Marx: “It’s alright, that’s in every contract. That’s what they call a sanity clause.”

Electorate: “You can’t fool us. There is no sanity clause.”

And the issue of which party or non-party party takes precedence was then parked until the next meeting, members of the sub-committee having voted and tied seven to seven on the question. Independents 4 Change, meanwhile, is recruiting more leaders’ allowance-earning “independents” (€37,000 per annum) to swell its ranks.

Sounds like a farce, all right.

Heaven be praised. The Seanad is back next week

How did we ever cope without it?

It’ll be nice for the old stagers to get back to the Upper House where they will once more be overlooked as they pronounce on important national and international issues. At least they’ll get a decent crowd in on the first day.

But there are a lot of first time Senators, many of whom have yet to meet each other. To this end, the Leinster House authorities are putting together a “light buffet” lunch for them in the Oireachtas restaurant so they can get to know each other over the cold cuts and buns. A meet and greet session before the fighting starts.

There are some live wires among the new intake.

They should relish their short time in the lovely Seanad chamber, which is soon to be closed for urgent renovation work. It could a long while before they get back to it.