Miriam Lord’s Week: Martin sparks Olympian levels of whingeing in Fianna Fáil
Upset hopefuls in Fine Gael and Greens manage to hold their emotions in check
Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s announcement of senior and junior ministers sparked Olympian levels of whingeing in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire
Jobs and who gets them are a serious matter for politicians, as the farcical events this week in Fianna Fáil proved. Noses were hugely out of joint following Micheál Martin’s announcement of senior and junior ministers, sparking Olympian levels of whingeing in the parliamentary party.
After the new Taoiseach insulted certain TDs who had been expecting the call to Cabinet by leaving them out, he then followed up spectacularly by bursting the carefully nurtured notions of many others by ignoring them for junior posts too.
Michael Moynihan, who has been a TD for Cork North-West for 23 years without bothering the national consciousness too much, had a deliciously public meltdown when he failed to make his leader’s second-string ministerial team. After all his years of loyalty, he was absolutely furious. “Of course I am disappointed. Not alone has he insulted me, he has insulted the entire community of northwest Cork.”
We understand the gleefully po-faced reports filed about the deputy’s upset did not convey a true sense of the colourful language employed to fully express his grief.
There was much sympathy for the former chief whip among party colleagues who felt that he was shabbily treated. “What was Micheál playing at?” asked one. “Michael Moynihan would have died for him until four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon.”
There was similar sympathy for party deputy leader Dara Calleary, who had been expecting a senior ministry only to be floored with a political punch to the solar plexus when given the job of chief whip. “He was shafted for being too nice to the other side,” said an Fine Gael adviser, referring to Calleary’s role as lead negotiator for Fianna Fáil in the government-formation talks. “If that was me I would have told Micheál to shove it up his hole,” muttered an overlooked colleague who wasn’t at all bitter at not even getting the chance to turn something down.
The omission of Jim “Legally Bland” O’Callaghan was not as unexpected, as relations between the senior counsel and his leader are said to have cooled in recent months.
The Dublin Bay South TD was offered a consolation junior ministry. He told Micheál to stick it where the sun don’t shine and then informed the nation he did this selflessly for the sake of the party, which he wants to help rebuild. There was no mention of his senior counsel’s salary which he would have been obliged to abandon for a piffling junior Minister’s wages. A senior portfolio would have sweetened the pill.
Young and upcoming whippersnapper Willie O’Dea had the brass neck to come out and say Limerick had been “grossly insulted” and the Fianna Fáil bigwigs in Mayo were so appalled by the Cabinet choices of Micheál “Cromwell” that they held “an emergency Zoom meeting” on Sunday night. His colleague in Limerick county Niall Collins was on the 16th green in his local golf course when he was told he had a job; he had a hole in one at the same spot last year. Fianna Fáil’s James Lawless in Kildare North was not so happy, claiming he was flooded with calls from members of the scientific community who were appalled to see him lose out. Why did so many people take the announcements so badly when they knew the boss had so few positions at this disposal in a three-way coalition?
In contrast, while there were many upset hopefuls in Fine Gael and a few among the Greens too, they held their emotions in check. “The Fine Gael lads had to bite their lips because they want to stay in with Leo Varadkar for when he is taoiseach again and hands out the big jobs in 2½ years’ time” explained a Fianna Fáiler. There was also a view that Varadkar had signalled his intentions well in advance – nobody from the class of 2020 would be chosen and the longer-serving “old-timers” wouldn’t be kept.
He also sent out a message that people who were strong and willing media performers would be rewarded. So the inclusion of Dublin’s Colm Brophy as a junior minister was no surprise as there is no catastrophe he won’t volunteer to talk up. Kildare’s Martin Heydon is another media stalwart and was duly recognised, while the well-regarded Kerry TD Brendan Griffin, who didn’t have such a high profile, failed to hang on to his junior ministry. Now that the message is out there, expect a few more willing soldiers to step in front of the cameras in an effort to keep up with Neale Richmond and Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, two new TDs who appear to be living part-time in television and radios studios.
Meath’s Thomas Byrne was delighted to get the plum job of Minister of State for European Affairs, a role that outgoing minister for education Joe McHugh wanted in lieu of a Cabinet post, and when he heard it was gone he declined “his pick” of any of the other departments.
Since when was Sinn Féin able to tell people what to do in west Belfast?
In other job news, apart from the dispiriting lack of women at junior and senior level, the week’s other big winner was Fianna Fáil Senator Mark Daly, who took advantage of a stubborn stand-off between outgoing cathaoirleach Denis O’Donovan and fellow long-serving Senator Diarmuid Wilson to nip up the middle and swipe the coveted title from under their noses. A Senator told reporter Marie O’Halloran that O’Donovan and Wilson “are lifelong friends but were like two bulls in a field and neither would give way and Mark Daly slipped through the gap”.
Kerry charmer Daly would not be the most prolific speaker or attendee in the Seanad and is partial to hobnobbing with US politicians on Capitol Hill who like the way he waxes lyrical about the Fourth Green Field. Now that he is “speaker” of the Irish Senate there’ll be no stopping him in Amerikay.
Mary Lou McDonald overshadowed
Who among us, upon hearing of the death of a much-loved pillar of society, has not rushed to the wardrobe to dig out a white shirt, black tie, black slacks and Tricolour armband? It’s the spontaneous thing to do. In the absence of funeral attendees Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty, it fell to leading Sinn Féin TD Violet-Anne Wynne to mark the passing of patriot and hero Bobby Storey by reading his name into the Dáil record.
The newly-elected deputy for Clare did so on Tuesday. “I send my condolences to the family and friends of our comrade Bobby Storey, who will be laid to rest today. Bobby epitomised republicanism in Ireland and will be dearly missed. I have no doubt but that he would be happy in the knowledge of the strides our party has taken in recent years to get to where we are,” she said, reading carefully from a script. Nobody else echoed her remarks.
The Ceann Comhairle didn’t call for a minute’s silence, but then, nobody asked for one.
On the Leinster House plinth on Thursday, Mary Lou, bravely bearing up following the sad loss of the lovable enforcer, named her front bench. It’s an impressive line-up. Sinn Féin will give the new Government no quarter. Unfortunately, her big reveal was overshadowed by the continuing controversy over the lack of adherence to social-distancing rules at her dear comrade’s funeral in Belfast. Bobby, she said, was her friend and she will apologise to no one for paying her respects. And there was nothing she nor anyone else could do to prevent people coming out in their droves for the funeral procession.
Obviously, mindful of the public-health restrictions and their civic duty, the Sinn Féin organisation in west Belfast would have put the word out that people should stay at home because the funeral guidelines – which have caused such heartache and hardship to so many – apply to their party and supporters in the same way they do to ordinary folk. But since when was Sinn Féin able to tell people what to do in west Belfast? It’s not like HQ on the Falls Road dictates the law in that neck of the woods, is it?
As she stood on the plinth and spoke in glowing terms of the personality, if not the acts, of the former IRA commander said to be the mastermind behind the post-peace process Northern Bank robbery and celebrated as the sort of fella you wouldn’t like to cross on a dark night, deputy McDonald drew comparisons with crowd scenes at the funeral of Det Garda Colm Horkan, who was shot dead in the line of duty in Castlerea, Co Roscommon. While not mentioning the slain garda by name she said: “This is the problem when somebody is a public figure or when somebody dies in very tragic circumstances and very difficult circumstances, people will come out to pay their respects.”
Party supporters on social media were not so circumspect.
Big Bobby may have been a hard man in his day, but he was The People’s Thug
It is true that social distancing went out the window at that funeral in Castlerea, as it did along the Falls Road and Andersonstown Road, where black flags flew from buildings. But unlike the choreographed scenes in west Belfast, the scaled-down turnout of politicians and top police officers (the President and taoiseach expressed their condolences remotely) in Charlestown did not pose for photographs and selfies with the public afterwards.
The most-read story in The Irish Times this week is by Northern Editor Gerry Moriarty, who wrote an absorbing and chilling account of the life of Bobby Storey: “The IRA’s planner and enforcer who stayed in the shadows”. It’s a long read, but well worth the time. He was also, according to McDonald, “a great republican”. Big Bobby may have been a hard man in his day, but he was The People’s Thug. For her ardent #notmytaoiseach social-media supporters, who were so quick to cite the Castlerea funeral when Sinn Féin’s top brass flouted the social-distancing rules, here’s another slogan: #notmyterrorist.
Sinn Féin surprise announcement
There was some surprise at the announcement of the new Sinn Féin front bench when Louise O’Reilly, one of the party’s star Dáil performers, was moved from health to shadow Leo Varadkar in enterprise, trade and employment. It’s not that people think she isn’t up to the job – she won’t be going easy on her former colleague in Fingal County Council. But they were recalling her party leader’s words in the Convention Centre last Saturday when she was setting out Sinn Féin’s opposition stall for the 33rd Dáil.
“Because of your lack of ambition, this is a Government already on borrowed time. Workers and families know that they deserve so much better and it’s that belief that will drive Sinn Féin’s determination to deliver effective opposition,” McDonald said in her speech after Taoiseach Micheál Martin had appointed his Cabinet.
“We have the policies, Ceann Comhairle. We have the team: Pearse Doherty has the plan to shape a fair economy, Louise O’Reilly for a national health service, Eoin Ó Broin has the plan to make housing affordable. We are happy to share those plans with you.” But Louise has a different plan now. Waterford’s David Cullinane is now the spokesman on health.
She seemed quite pleased with her new job, although as she made her way back inside Leinster House from the plinth she passed a journalist who happens to be a native of Waterford. “Huh,” she said, “and a blaa is only a bap anyway.”