Miriam Lord’s Week: No limits on our two old Michaels

President and Minister have combined age of 144 – but it hasn’t slowed their gallop

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: ball handling skills let him down during a nailbiting showdown in a local golf club. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: ball handling skills let him down during a nailbiting showdown in a local golf club. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The two Michaels have been working very hard on our behalf in China this week.

With a combined age of 144, the President and the Minister for Finance are doing an excellent job.

And we remembered the words of the late Charlie Haughey, who answered a question about his possible retirement from politics with the remark: “Some Chinese leaders go on into their 80s.”

That frightened a lot of people at the time.

Which leads us nicely to Michael Noonan (73), who recently reiterated to local journalists that he intends to contest the next general election.

Anne Sheridan of the Limerick Leader suggested he would probably be the oldest candidate in the field. But Noonan wasn’t so sure.

“You never know who might tog out” was his cryptic reply.

The Minister’s advisers also seem gung ho for another gallop. When it was put to one political aide that his man might be the oldest TD in the Dáil, he replied, “and the wisest”.

In times past, Chinese leaders weren’t big fans of retirement. The Communist party had a slogan about “working for the revolution with their last breath and last drop of blood”.

But in 2002, retirement age limits were imposed: 68 for top leaders and 65 for senior level officials. Happily for the two Michaels, no such limits apply here.

Meanwhile, Charlie Flanagan, the whippersnapper of the Irish group, had to return to Ireland on Wednesday to speak on Palestine in the Dáil.

This was a rare sighting of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who has been shuttling to meetings in Belfast for the last couple of months.

This weekend he’s supposed to attend his 88th Stormont meeting in eight weeks. Whether that would have impressed his erstwhile Chinese hosts, we don’t know.

But we know that they were most impressed by Flanagan’s CV and particularly, his role as “chairman” of Fine Gael.

Although some were slightly puzzled as to why he was content with his “demotion” from mighty chairman to mere Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Varadkar drops the ball in charity show

Our very competitive Minister for Health suffered a sporting setback recently when his ball handling skills let him down during a nailbiting showdown in a local golf club.

Not only did Leo Varadkar finish fourth out of five finalists, but first prize was taken by his Fianna Fáil Dublin West constituency rival, David McGuinness.

He was still basking in the glory when we met him in Leinster House on Wednesday night with Micheál Martin.

The Fianna Fáil leader held a meeting with a group of Dublin councillors to discuss general election strategy. The party has no TDs in the city and is determined to regain some of that lost ground. The talk was of conventions and nominations, most of which are expected early in the new year.

But back to Leo and David.

The two politicians took part in a charity version of ITV’s popular game show The Cube, where contestants are required to complete various tasks against the clock inside a Perspex box.

More than 40 hopefuls lined up for a series of knockout rounds at Westmanstown Golf Club, with Varadkar and McGuinness winning though to the final.

The event was held in front of a huge crowd and proved a very successful fundraiser for Castleknock GAA Club.

The last round involved a bucket of blue balls and a bucket of red balls and the finalists were required to switch the balls from one container to the other in as fast a time as possible.

At stake was €3,500 for a charity of the winner’s choice.

“When we both got into the final I asked Leo if he wanted to split the few bob because I thought he would beat me, to be honest,” David tells us. “He decided he wouldn’t.”

In the event, the Fianna Fáil councillor left the Minister for Health well down the field, pride considerably dented.

Still, it wasn’t all bad for fitness fanatic Varadkar.

He won a €20 voucher for Macari’s chipper in the raffle.

Big wigs dip into pockets

So there we were, having a drink in the Dáil bar on Thursday night when the Papal Nuncio arrived in for a pint. All of a sudden, the bar was packed.

There were quite a few priests and we saw the editor of the Irish Catholic having a chat with Prof Patricia Casey of the Iona Institute and former taoiseach John Bruton. There was a sighting of former Fianna Fáil minister Mary Hanafin and we vaguely recognised some important senior counsel types and some important medical consultant types.

There were three-piece suits and some very chic cocktail dresses on view.

And a very busy Senator Ronán Mullen appeared to be running the show.

We were hoping there might be a Blessing of the Taps in the Dáil bar.

But no, the sudden influx was down to a big fundraising dinner in the Members’ Restaurant in aid of “Mary’s Meals”, which provides a daily meal to more than 920,000 school children in the developing world.

The organisation is non-denominational, but it grew out of the Catholic faith of its founders, who have a particular devotion to Our Lady of Medjugorje.

The organisation received the Oireachtas Human Dignity Group’s inaugural “Human Life, Human Rights and Human Dignity Award” at a breakfast hosted by Senator Paul Coghlan in the Kildare Street Club on Thursday morning.

Independent senator Mullen pulled in quite a crowd – 140 guests – for the Leinster House dinner. There was no ticket price, diners were invited to contribute what they could. We hear they collected a sizeable sum.

Sinéad’s call for revolution at Sinn Féin

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Mary Minihan, Fiach Kelly and Harry McGee are on the case and you can sign up easily at the politics section of The Irish Times website, though Fiach’s story of how Sinéad O’Connor came to join Sinn Féin got lost in the ether for many subscribers.

The party’s newest member made an immediate call for a change of leadership. That made everyone smile.

Gerry Adams is a mere 31 years at the helm. If she’s looking for a heave, Sinéad joined the wrong party.

But she thinks “the elders of Sinn Féin are going to have to make ‘the supreme sacrifice’ and step down shortly in the same way the last pope did”.

Good luck with that.

Fiach and Inside Politics revealed the political journey Sinéad has undertaken after appearing on The Late Late Show calling for a revolution.

Academic and author Elaine Byrne says a mutual friend put O’Connor in touch with her after that outing.

A few weeks later, Sinéad enlisted with Sinn Féin.

“She didn’t mention anything about joining Sinn Féin,” says Byrne. “We didn’t have any conversation about Sinn Féin.”

Incidentally, the academic was nominated to a new group on Seanad reform by Gerry Adams, sparking rumours in Leinster House that she was about to join the party too.

Rumours the intellectually impressive Byrne has denied.

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