Miriam Lord’s Week: Limerick TD unites his FG colleagues against him
Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan handed black card for unsporting behaviour
Boastful: Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
When they weren’t loudly complaining about the Coalition’s latest Covid-19 communications cock-ups while pinning most of the blame on the Fianna Fáil Taoiseach and Minister for Health, members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party discussed other pandemic-related issues at their weekly meeting.
Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan took up the cudgels on behalf of inter-county GAA players, saying top-flight GAA teams should be given the same elite athlete status enjoyed by their rugby and soccer counterparts.
Some of O’Donovan’s colleagues were so transfixed by his performance they forgot to press the mute button
The TD for Limerick County talked about the mental health benefits associated with sport – both for supporters and participants. “Particularly for those of us fortunate to be from All-Ireland winning counties last year,” he pointedly dripped, waxing lyrical about the exceptional hurling prowess of the mighty men from the Treaty County.
At one point he told Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys: “Heather, the next time Monaghan is in an All-Ireland final the pandemic will be well and truly over.”
Some of O’Donovan’s colleagues were so transfixed by his performance they forgot to press the mute button. As the boasting continued an unidentified male TD (name withheld by the snitch) loudly muttered: “He’s talking shite!”
The interjection, it was agreed afterwards, led to a rare moment of unanimity in the ranks.
International Women’s Day falls next month, and Fine Gael is marking the occasion by launching a reprint of Proud to Serve: The Voices of the Women of Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael 1922-1992.
Tánaiste and party leader Leo Varadkar is down to do the honours on March 9th at an online event that will feature a panel discussion with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, and former justice ministers Frances Fitzgerald and Nora Owen. The moderator will be Meath county councillor Yemi Adenuga.
In his forward, the Tánaiste writes that the 28 stories of female TDs, Senators and MEPs elected between 1922 and 1992 “with both inspire and infuriate. We will be inspired by their courage and devotion to public service, and infuriated by some of the obstacles they faced, and the barriers which prevented other women from getting involved in national politics.”
The book is “is an eloquent reminder that gender inequality is a deeply ingrained cultural problem and one that has prevented our party, our politics and our parliament from realising their full potential. It is self-evident we need a culture change”.
After last year’s general election, Varadkar was accused of paying lip service to the need for more women in national politics when just three of the party’s 13 nominations to contest the Seanad election were women.
“The general election of 2020 was very disappointing for Fine Gael generally and also with regard to women’s representation. Many outstanding TDs, senators and candidates were not elected, and among those were many exceptional and able women,” writes the Tánaiste, pointing out that he selected four women as Fine Gael’s nominees for the Taoiseach’s Seanad list.
“I look forward to the day when 50 per cent of our TDs are women – and that would give future taoisigh a bigger group of people to select from, and a government where half the ministers are women.”
Vaccination once again
One of the women featured in the book is Margaret Collins O’Driscoll, Cumann na nGaedheal’s first female member of Dáil Éireann. She was elected in 1923 and served as TD for Dublin North for 10 years until she lost her seat in 1933. She got involved in politics after the assassination of Michael Collins, her youngest brother, and was elected at the first attempt.
Margaret was a national school principal for many years in Cork before moving to Dublin in 1921 with her husband, Patrick, and their 14 children. She continued her teaching career in the capital.
We were struck by a fascinating extract from her Dáil contribution in 1928 on the subject of vaccinations. Speaking from “the point of view of an ordinary lay woman”, she strongly opposed an amendment to the Vaccination Bill proposing “a conscience clause” for people against the practice.
It seems the misinformation brigade and “anti-vaxxers” have always been with us. In 1928, it was smallpox. Now it’s Covid-19.
“I think the House would be criminally guilty if they allowed this conscience clause to pass, thus leaving the young children of the present day, as well as the unborn children of the future, open to such a terrible disease as smallpox” she told the House.
“Deputy JJ Byrne spoke as a family man. I speak as a family woman, and I may mention here that my family runs into two figures. Every one of my children has been vaccinated. The process gave them no pain. I was there myself when the children were vaccinated. They did not even cry during the process. After the vaccination they were ill for a couple of days. But what are the trifling effects that a child may suffer after vaccination compared with the terrible effects that children may suffer from this dire malady of smallpox?
“I have read some of the objections that in the early days were put up against vaccination. Deputy Byrne’s theories seem as ridiculous as many of the objections that were put up when Dr Jenner first discovered the effects of vaccination. It was prophesied that vaccination would brutalise the children; it was averred that the vaccinated children became ox-faced; that abscesses broke out to indicate the spread of horns, and that the countenance of the person affected became gradually transmuted into the visage of a cow, and the voice into the bellowing of bulls. There seems to be about just as much sense and logic in some of the arguments which the anti-vaccinationists have put up in this House as there were in the objections I have just mentioned. I appeal to deputies to think of their responsibilities to the children of this country and to oppose this measure.”
Norris in the House
Senators were delighted to welcome Senator David Norris back to the chamber on Friday when he returned to duty in the Upper House following two cancer operations.
“I am sorry I have not been in the House for the past month but I was in hospital having a couple of operations for cancer, which I think were successful,” he informed his colleagues during the order of business.
The Trinity Senator tells us he is back in the pink after his stay in St Vincent’s Private Hospital, where he had two tumours removed. “I can’t speak highly enough of the medical service – the nursing staff were lovely, the food was great and the consultant, Mr David Quinlan, was so thoroughly kind.”
He is still getting back into the swing of things. “I could sleep for Ireland at the moment.” In which case, one might suggest, there are worse places he could be than the Seanad.
“I am happy to be back and happy to be alive. But then, I was always happy to be alive,” he says, reminding us he had a liver transplant in 2014 following the discovery of a cancerous growth. “I enjoy every breath of fresh air and I enjoy every tweet of the birds in the garden.”
The Seanad is now sitting on Monday and Friday of each week, as its schedule has been drastically changed due to the pandemic. “The trouble with Covid is it would bore the knickers off a saint,” declares Norris, who is Father of the Upper House.
He says he is determined to stick around as he wants to be the longest-serving senator of all time. “Some old fellow called Barniville, damn him, holds the record. I have another two years to go to outdo him.”
That would be Prof Henry Leo Barniville, a surgeon who served in the Irish Free State Seanad and then the new Seanad Éireann for almost 36 years until his death in 1960.
Media baron Michael
Farewell, Denis O’Brien, who departed the Irish radio scene this week after a less than stellar three decades as a media mogul.
So in the week DOB departs, MHR arrives.
That’s right. Michael Healy-Rae announced his presence as a media investor with a new listing added to his already sizeable entry in the Dail Register of Interests.
The new register has just been published and it makes for rather humdrum reading for anyone hoping to confirm their view that Irish politicians are rotting with money and property. The vast majority of them are not, although with a TD’s basic salary set to jump beyond €100,000 later in the year, they aren’t exactly worrying where their next meal is coming from.
The entries from two deputies from Kerry catch the eye.
Norma Foley lists her occupation as “secondary school teacher”, adding for completeness “currently on a career break”. Bet she wishes now she took a career break to go travelling around Asia to find herself rather than taking time off to become the Minister for Education.
As for Micheal Healy-Rae, apart from listing five occupations (postmaster, politician, farmer, service station owner and plant hire) and three directorships and 21 land and property declarations, he has just one sparse entries under shares: “New York Times Co: media”.
Last year he filed “Nil above the amount” under the same category. Oireachtas members are obliged to declare share values over a €13,000 threshold.
Mind you, he’s only in the ha’penny place when it comes to stocks and shares. Fianna Fáil’s Sean Haughey has a bewildering basket of investments in his list which begins with Larchfield Securities, the Haughey family holding company, and continues right down a gold-plated, blue-chip list of companies including Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Alibaba in China, Amazon, Bayer, CRH, Glanbia, Pernod Ricard, Rolls Royce, Kerry Group, Amazon, Pfizer and Walt Disney.