Miriam Lord’s Week: Let them eat nothing but foie gras

Labour get lesson in teamwork from Brian Cody

Brian Cody addressed the troops at Joan Burton’s think-tank in Portlaoise. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Brian Cody addressed the troops at Joan Burton’s think-tank in Portlaoise. Photograph: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan


Who will tell the TDs? There’ll be a riot.

Thursday was a dark day for Leinster House with the shock news that the authorities have “dropped” foie gras from the menu.

We nearly choked on our ortolan, but thankfully everyone else in the Dáil restaurant was gorging on songbird so nobody noticed because we had linen napkins covering our faces in accordance with tradition. (And that bizarre scene in the Charlie Haughey series.)

But there it was, in black-and-white, in the opening paragraph of an email issued from the London headquarters of Peta, the animal rights organisation.

“Dublin – Leinster House has joined a growing list of notable institutions around the world that have dropped foie gras – a dish that is produced by force-feeding and deliberately sickening ducks and geese.

It confirmed the news to Peta and follows in the compassionate footsteps of the UK’s House of Commons and House of Lords, both of which maintain firm policies against serving foie gras.”

Well. You could have knocked us down with a bottle of Bolly.

The press release announced in screaming block capitals that an “anti-foie gras policy” has been “confirmed at Leinster House”.

Peta praised the “Irish Institution” for keeping the item off its menus.

The Irish Times contacted the Oireachtas authorities at once about this gastronomic bombshell.

They were rather mystified about the whole thing. Not only have they no record of Peta lobbying them on this issue, but Leinster House has never, ever, put foie gras on the restaurant menu.

(Our politicians aren’t that thick.)

“Therefore, it could never be banned,” pointed out a spokesman.

And despite the upturn in the economy in certain quarters, there aren’t any plans to introduce it.

Over so to London, where a non-event in Dublin has caused such joy. What dealings did Peta have with the Oireachtas authorities, because they’re a bit baffled by this whole fois gras thing?

It seems that “a concerned member of the public” was in touch.

Anyway, on foot of this communication, Peta contacted Leinster House to “establish its position” on foie gras.

“We were delighted to receive confirmation from the Press and Public Relations Office that foie gras is not served at Leinster House,” writes spokeswoman Hannah Levitt.

“Its decision not to serve foie gras” sent a strong message to the public.

Except Leinster House never took, or had to take, such a decision.

Peta didn’t name the “concerned member of the public” although we suspect it may have been a Mr Goosey G Gander of Chanzurarm, Pulynafastwyn, Lolz.

Nice one, though.


Cody gives Labour team talk

So who was the motivational speaker at Joan’s think-tank talkin’ shop in Portlaoise this week? Two of the country’s most prominent exponents of the genre – Hobbs and Hook – are spoken for. Eddie Hobbs (reboot camp) has signed up for Lucinda Creighton’s Whenever Party while George Hook (rugby boot camp) leans more towards the blue end of the political spectrum.

In an inspired choice, the Tánaiste welcomed Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody to address the troops. With Labour at a low ebb and some of its senior Government partners making adulterous eyes at Fianna Fáil, Cody was just the man to deliver a galvanising team talk.

But Brian wasn’t the only motivational speaker in the Tánaiste’s corner this week.

At the Labour parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday, there was an uneasy mood. The grumbling began about their unpopularity among voters and the recent dismal showings in the opinion polls. They are unhappy that the predicted “Burton Bounce” isn’t happening.

Some have been whispering to the newspapers about Joan’s failure to “assert herself” as Tánaiste while allowing Fine Gael to “outmuscle” Labour in Government by leading the way on major policy issues.

Misgivings are also being expressed about poor communications between the leadership and the parliamentary party, while it’s being whispered that deputy leader Alan Kelly is outperforming his boss.

Certain TDs and Senators were throwing about the same sort of stuff before Eamon Gilmore was given the push. If they’re at it again so soon, perhaps it says something about the calibre of the grumblers? An interesting thought.

It could have been a very difficult parliamentary party meeting for Joan if the criticism had continued. But Gilmore made an early intervention in strong support of his successor. He rounded on those TDs and Senators who are undermining the Tánaiste, and by extension, damaging the party. In particular, he referred to newspaper reports quoting anonymous sources within Labour.

How can the party move forward if its own members keep leaking damaging stories to the press? “The worst hits have been from friendly fire” he said. His trenchant defence of the woman who took his job took the parliamentary party by surprise and his angry rebuke of those who are whispering to the media silenced the dissenters.

Meanwhile, the Labour meeting was portrayed in some quarters as a crisis summit.

But it was just the party’s annual gathering of Leinster House and headquarters staff. They call it a “boot camp” – a “bonding” exercise with workshops and presentations, white boards and flip charts.

But the same-sex marriage referendum and general election strategy were also high on the agenda.

During the two-day event in the Heritage Hotel, Burton delivered an address to her team followed by a lengthy question and answer session.

Cody, who has steered Kilkenny to 10 senior All-Ireland titles, went down very well with his audience, with plenty of talk about teamwork and ground hurling.

Perhaps Joan should book him again to give a few tips about teamwork to her parliamentary party.


Irish Water gives cool response

A familiar voice on the airwaves these days is that of Elizabeth Arnett, the unflappable PR woman for Irish Water who has an answer for everything.

Nothing fazes Elizabeth, who smoothly explains and defends the company line no matter how galling an answer might sound to customers or how brazen the recent U-turns in previously unalterable policy.

She was in Leinster House this week as part of a team from Irish Water which had come in to brief TDs and Senators about the company’s work and the situation regarding water charges.

It seems Irish Water has been making regular visits to Leinster House since last year, opening for business for two hours a week.

We asked a Government TD when this little arrangement began. “Basically, when the Irish Water s**t hit the fan” he replied. “So around October, I think.”

Mattie McGrath called in to see them with fellow Independent deputy Michael Fitzmaurice. The team bases itself in the AV room, a modern auditorium on the Leinster House campus. Its contemporary design is spartan, with lots of grey stone. “There were only three of us and five from Irish Water at the top table and a couple of others floating around – more of them than us,” said Mattie. Arnett was there. “She was rubbing her hands together. She was famished looking. The room was frozen.”

The Tipperary TD decided to turn up the temperature.

“Lookit, you’re frozen. Come out here and we’ll have an oul dance and we’ll heat you,” said the former All-Ireland step dancing champion.

Elizabeth demurred.