Miriam Lord’s Week: Nul points for timing of same-sex marriage referendum

Kevin Kilbane visited Leinster House this week in the company of Mayo TD Michael Ring. Photograph: Inpho/Donall Farmer

Kevin Kilbane visited Leinster House this week in the company of Mayo TD Michael Ring. Photograph: Inpho/Donall Farmer


So Enda came out on Thursday night and named the day for the same-sex marriage referendum. It’s May 22nd.

And he was the toast of Longford as a result, with members of the local LGBT group claiming credit for the late date; there had been much anticipation that the referendum was going to be held earlier in the month.

As previously reported here, the group wrote to political parties pointing out that the first week of May is not a good idea, since it is regarded as the gay migration season, with 5,000 Irish heading off to Gran Canaria for the Gay Pride festival.

But in politics, no good deed goes unpunished. As they were celebrating in Longford, others were complaining that May 22nd is most inconvenient.

It’s the eve of the Eurovision Song Contest and many gay music fans will be travelling to the camptastic contest, thus depriving the Yes campaign of potential support.

However, it wasn’t all bad news for the Yes brigade.

Among those travelling to Austria will be Keith Mills, who has virtually taken up residence in Montrose as one of the few gay men declaring as an opponent of same-sex marriage. (A Gay Community News survey this week showed that 95 per cent of gay people will vote Yes.)

Keith represents Mothers and Fathers Matter and has been very vocal in his view that the rights of children are central to the marriage referendum. But while mothers and fathers and babbies matter, so too does the Eurovision.

Hence his tweet as soon as the date was announced: “Feck it, I’ll be at #Eurovision as will quite a few other gay fans.”

You wouldn’t find Rónán Mullen doing that.

He’ll mind the shop.

Taoiseach throws everything at re-election bid

Enda Kenny returns to the scene of his election triumph this weekend when he delivers his keynote address to the Fine Gael faithful at their national conference in Castlebar.

But the atmosphere will be very different this time. Back in the heady days of 2011, he made his acceptance speech in the TF Theatre surrounded by three fellow FG deputies – Michael Ring, Michelle Mulherin and John O’Mahoney. The party was back in power and an elated Enda promised the divil and all.

There were scenes of wild celebration, with the Taoiseach elect leaving by helicopter to meet partying supporters in Dublin before flying back to Mayo after midnight to continue the festivities.

There will be crowds in Castlebar this time too, and probably a few wild scenes to boot, but voices will be raised in protest, not triumph.

Over 1,000 protesters are set to greet the Fine Gael delegates, with anti-austerity and anti-water protesters from around the country expected. There will also be a farmers’ protest.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach continues to beef up his profile locally in advance of the general election. He has all but taken up residence in the local radio station and his constituency team is pumping out the good news.

And it looks like Enda is getting good value from his recently appointed personal assistant. Local activist Jack O’Donnell was hired as the Taoiseach’s local media liaison officer and is charged with rebuilding the boss’s image in his hometown.

According to the Mayo News, a “Blue Tsunami of Ministers” has been unleashed on Castlebar as part of the charm offensive.

The ministerial offensive includes Michael Noonan and Richard Bruton meeting local business representatives and members of the Chamber of Commerce to brief them on the Government’s regional recovery plan.

Leo Varadkar will put on his best bedside manner for a visit to Mayo General Hospital while Simon Coveney is going to be “highlighting some of the exciting developments” taking place in Irish agriculture.

Heather Humphreys is visiting museums and arts centres, among other things, while reminding people how much Government funding has gone into their projects. James Reilly is to be dispatched to various young people’s projects. Frances Fitzgerald intends to drop in on the local gardaí for a nice chat.

And at some point, it is intended to herd a whole clatter of Ministers on to a bus and deposit them at the Céide Fields.

The nearby town of Westport hasn’t been given a look in.

Then again, they have Michael Ring, who is more than up to doing his own publicity. We saw him showing former Irish soccer international Kevin “Zidane” Kilbane around Leinster House this week.

Kilbane, it transpires, has relatives in Achill.

Stony grey stand-off at FG’s Monaghan meeting

Above in Monaghan this week, it wasn’t only the soil that was stony grey.

The atmosphere at the agm of the Fine Gael county executive was so icy, according to one observer, “you could have cut the tension with a knife”.

About 300 members attended the meeting in Castleblayney’s Glenview Hotel. The main item on the agenda was the selection of a new officer board, but the strained relations between Monaghan’s rival FG camps was the talking point of the night.

In one corner was Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys from Newbliss and in the other was Deputy Seán Conlan from Ballybay.

It would be safe to say that they don’t get on. When Heather got the nod for the ministry, Seán threw all his toys out of the pram. He’s been sniping in the Taoiseach’s direction ever since.

There was so much speechifying that the meeting – chaired by Regina Doherty of Meath East – didn’t finish until after midnight, by which point the two TDs had taken a fair amount of verbal swipes at each other.

“When it came to the bit, I’d say she was never so happy to get back to her crowd in Meath after having to listen to us,” remarked a Monaghan blueshirt afterwards.

Humphreys said the Taoiseach has her total support. Conlan said he would not apologise for speaking his mind on issues.

There were nominees for the various board positions from each camp. When the votes were counted, Heather “walked away with the room” with her supporters taking all of the positions and Seán’s backers ending up with nothing.

And it seems there is little chance of a rapprochement happening any time soon.

When free parking feels like ‘go to jail’

One of the perks that goes with being a TD is the free parking at Leinster House.

This privilege also extends to all former members of the Oireachtas – it’s not uncommon to see deputies and senators from long years past tootling up to the gates and ditching their motors inside before hitting the shops.

But these parking spaces are at a premium. Sometimes the politicians have to drive around the block a few times before a spot becomes available.

The Superintendent of the House wrote to them recently about congestion problems in the Merrion Street car park.

“On some occasions emergency access routes were at risk of being blocked; on these occasions there were unused spaces in the Kildare Street and Agriculture House car parks” he said, requesting members to “please use their assigned parking area on sitting days, as recently agreed by the party whips.”

A reasonable enough request, one would have thought.

But Labour’s Michael McNamara didn’t think so. While a line at the bottom of the memo said there was no need to reply, the Clare TD felt compelled to unburden himself on the parking issue, copying his thoughts to his fellow Oireachtas members.

“This place really is run like a prison isn’t it – the Governor delegates responsibility to the rival gangs to impose their own discipline to keep the peace,” wrote Michael, not best pleased at being told where he should park.

“And we wonder why its inmates are held in equal esteem to those of a prison (and are equally prone to becoming institutionalised).”

Perhaps the barrister/ farmer/TD might prefer to take his chances out on Merrion Square, where the clampers show no mercy and they charge by the hour.

Then he might have something to be grumpy about.

South Co Dublin, crime hotspot

Shane Ross continues his fight to have the Garda station reopened in Stepaside in south Co Dublin. Lord Ross told the Dáil this week of an “epidemic of burglaries” in the area.

Since the station closed, there have been burglaries in virtually every shop on one side of the main street.

Across in the Seanad, Gerard Craughwell was telling the Upper House how he too has been a victim of crime “in the peaceful suburbs of south Co Dublin.” The Upper House’s newest Senator said he “had a beautiful, restored Honda 50 motorcycle” swiped from outside his front door at 6.20pm. “I live on the busiest road in my area. The Luas stop is five minutes’ walk from my house. To get from there to any house in my estate, one must pass mine. As thousands of people were passing it on their way home from work, blackguards walked away with my motorcycle.”

Meanwhile, Senators are still chuckling to themselves at the image of Senator Craughwell chugging along the leafy lanes on his little nifty 50.

We hope he gets it back.

McGrath at head of Mass movement

There was a noticeable jump in the number of people sporting blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday. This was thanks to Independent TD Mattie McGrath, who marked the holy day by organising a Mass in a private room off the Members’ restaurant in Leinster House.

Some diners in the canteen were somewhat put out by the absence of red meat on the lunchtime menu – it was just fish or chicken for the day that was in it.

Mattie’s Mass was well attended, and afterwards the priest went and blessed the kitchens. Rumour has it that he attempted to bless the Dáil bar too but he burst into flames when he crossed the threshold.

Some TDs were surprised to hear about the Mass, but Mattie says it is not the first time there’s been one. “I had one back in November for the Holy Souls,” he tells us. “They have a Mass every week over in Westminster.”

We understand Mattie kept the remaining ashes on his person for the day and thoughtfully replenished the marks on colleagues’ foreheads on request.

Sinn Féin’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh won the prize for the most impressive daubing – it looked like he had a small sod of turf on his forehead.

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