Miriam Lord’s Week: Paschal gets a birthday surprise from Javid

A priest delivers Leo from Brexit evil; and ex-senator Lorraine Higgins joins the lobby

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and UK chancellor of the exchequer Sajid Javid at Farmleigh House. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and UK chancellor of the exchequer Sajid Javid at Farmleigh House. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography


News outlets were advised by the Department of Finance that the meeting between Paschal Donohoe and his UK counterpart, Sajid Javid, on Thursday would be a photo opportunity only. No provision for media questions.

This did not deter the reporters, who trooped along anyway in the hope of getting a few Brexit-related lines from the two money men.

Paschal was first to arrive because he had to perform the big welcome under the portico. There were no security restrictions in place, apart from a roped-off area for photographers in front of Farmleigh House. On such a lovely day, visitors were enjoying the grounds around the estate, including a seven-strong group of women on a day trip from Thurles. When they noticed the media activity, they went for a closer look and saw the Minister for Finance, dimples dancing in the sunlight.

With a few minutes to spare, the politician in Paschal found it impossible to resist this pleasant group of ladies waving and calling his name. He ambled over.

“Hello everybodee!”

An adviser let slip that it was his birthday. He’s 45. There were photographs taken and then the Thurles contingent serenaded the beaming Minister with a very harmonious warbling of Happy Birthday.

“Thank you very much!”

This touching interlude gave the scheming hacks an idea. They knew that unless they could grab the attention of one of the Ministers, any shouted questions would be smilingly ignored.

Javid landed and the handshakes commenced. In time-honoured tradition, the politicians studiously ignored the journalists. Suddenly a voice bellowed, Downing Street-style, from the rabble.

“Chancellor, do you know it’s the Minister’s birthday?”

The chancellor instinctively pivoted, a manoeuvre more usually associated with his boss and the truth.

Looking momentarily terrified by this briefing oversight, the UK visitor quickly regained his composure. In the rocky world of British-Irish relations in these Brexit-strained times, Paschal and Sajid have had three meetings in recent weeks. That almost makes them best pals.

“Yes. I bought him a present but I can’t tell you what it is,” he told Virgin Media’s Gavan Reilly. Contact established, the men were drawn into a reluctant exchange.

Might the present involve the unwrapping of some common ground on Brexit? And what did both sides think of a speech made by UK Brexit secretary Steve Barclay in Madrid earlier in the day?

So the finance ministers were forced into saying nothing of import, but on the record, about the special relationship between Ireland and the UK while simultaneously avoiding any public comment on Barclay’s robust remarks.

A belated happy birthday to the deputy for Dublin Central and we hope he gets to enjoy a nice meal and a few pints this weekend. Young Paschal (45) spent the night of his birthday in a meeting on Brexit with Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

From Labour to lobbyist

Former Labour senator and general election candidate Lorraine Higgins will be appointed Honorary Consul to the Slovak Republic at a reception in the embassy in Merrion Square on Thursday. She left active political life a number of years ago but is still a leading light – not to mention a rare female presence – in the Oireachtas Golf Society.

Her sister Clodagh is now a councillor in Galway, although her party of preference is Fine Gael.

Lorraine became chief executive of the trade group Retail Excellence after failing to win a Dáil seat in 2016. She has since moved on to corporate communications agency MKC, where she is director of strategy and public policy – a fancy name for political lobbyist. She filled the gap left by the departure of former Fine Gael media director and ministerial adviser Ciarán Conlon, who left for Microsoft.

Speaking of fierce big jobs, former taoiseach Enda Kenny’s chief of staff, Mark Kennelly, landed what many would call a dream gig this week when he was appointed the first chief executive of Golf Ireland. The Kerry man is a member of Killarney Golf and Fishing Club.

With all the work he has to do, not least with the Ryder Cup in Adare on the horizon, Mark will hardly have time to swing a club.

But we’re sure he’ll manage.

Knock, Knock, Leo’s there

Leo Varadkar has settled into the routine once faithfully followed by general election specialist Bertie Ahern, travelling around the country on available Fridays to get maximum exposure in the local media

This week Leo went to Mayo, starting in Knock airport before taking in Castlebar, Ballina and Shrule near the Galway border.

He cut the ribbon on Knock airport’s refurbished runway. Just as well the runway is the third-largest in the country because a lot of tarmac was needed to accommodate the amount of dignitaries gathered for the ceremony.

Leo retold the story of how townie politicians dismissed Msgr James Horan’s grand vision for an airport and how a Fine Gael minister (it was the late Jim Mitchell) famously described the site in 1984 as “far distant from any sizeable town, high on a foggy, boggy hill”.

More than 30 years on, Ireland West Airport is proof “that white elephants can fly”. A comforting thought, perhaps, for a Taoiseach constantly battling criticism of government infrastructure projects.

The parish priest of Knock, Fr Richard Gibbons, thought Leo might need some divine intervention on the Brexit situation.

“Taoiseach, I know you’re going to New York next week and meeting Boris Johnson,” he smiled, before handing him a tiny bottle. “A small little bit of added protection for you.”

To applause and much guffawing, Leo held up the holy water. “Do I throw it over him or what?”

“Oh, you can, you can!” laughed Fr Gibbons.

Apparently the good father’s harmless joke has now gone viral, outraged Brexiteers are losing the plot on social media and the permanently indignant are having a field day over the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality.

Ploughing off course

We bumped into Mattie McGrath at the National Ploughing Championships on Thursday afternoon. He seemed in a rush and somewhat hot and bothered.

The independent TD for Tipperary and member of the Dáil’s Rural Independents Group explained that he had only just arrived. He had hoped to get in much earlier but there had been a bit of a mix-up and they got lost in the car on the way to Fenagh. Which is why we found him barrelling up the steel walkway at speed, wearing his full suit in the sweltering conditions.

“I hadn’t time to change,” he said.

It seems Mattie took a lift with his Fianna Fáil colleague and TD for Cork East, Kevin O’Keeffe. Kevin put on the GPS and off they went, following the satnav directions to the letter.

When the two boys reached their “destination” they knew they had veered substantially off course.

According to Mattie, when Kevin keyed in “National Ploughing Association”, the satnav took them to the gates of Anna May McHugh’s farmhouse in Laois. The indomitable Anna May is the power behind the Ploughing.

McGrath wasn’t overly concerned about arriving late but O’Keeffe was anxious to link up with the Fianna Fáil contingent and show his face before his leader Micheál Martin left the scene.

Ross has a lot on his plate

When Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan waylaid Shane Ross after the first Cabinet meeting of the new season and presented him with a commemorative plate featuring Shankill Garda station, the Minister for Transport looked most gratified.

But it was all a little strange. Had it been specially commissioned? Why would Charlie Flanagan do this when Ross has been the bane of his life with his crusade over reopening Shankill Garda station along with his determination to push the Judicial Appointments Bill through the Oireachtas, no matter how long Flanagan has endured the Seanad filibuster against it.

It wasn’t a special piece. The Minister for Justice spotted it while browsing through bric-a-brac in an antiques shop while on holidays in Connemara. The plate was part of a series featuring scenes from south Co Dublin. Charlie wasn’t keen on buying the complete set so he stuck a deal with the owner and came away with the one he wanted.

While it clearly wasn’t too expensive, the Minister is refusing to say how much he paid.

Charlie and Shane are both beaming broadly as the gift is handed over in Government Buildings. That was nearly three weeks ago, before the Minister for Transport knew Stepaside Garda station would not be open to the public on a 24-hour basis, despite his assurances to the contrary.

Only one of them is smiling now. And it isn’t Ross, but at least he has a new china plate to hang on the wall.

Big in Japan

The sense of drift in the nation will be reversed on Tuesday, September 24th, when Seanad Éireann finally gets back to business after the summer break.

All Senators are expected to muster for duty, including the four from Fine Gael who flew to Japan for two weeks for the Parliamentary World Cup rugby tournament. The Dáil and Seanad XV made it to the semi-finals, winning the Plate match against Japan. New Zealand took the honours.

No TDs went on the trip, with the Fine Gael four the only elected representatives on a team drawn in the main from Leinster House staff.

The Senators have been quick to point out they travelled when the Upper House was in recess and everyone paid their own way – flights, accommodation, insurance and specially made deckchair-striped Alickadoo jackets.

Neale Richmond, sporting the remains of a black eye, took a break from his sporting holiday to brief business leaders on EU Brexit developments at a conference in Japan’s Keizai Koho Forum. He also met government trade representatives in Tokyo. The other Senators on the trip were Catherine Noone from Dublin, Maria Byrne from Limerick and Tony Lawlor from Kildare.

While the politicians may have paid their own way, it hasn’t stopped a few Fine Gael eyebrows rising in their absence. Three of them – Richmond (Dublin-Rathdown), Noone (Dublin Bay North) and Lawlor (Kildare South) – are running in the general election, and some party colleagues are wondering about the wisdom of taking off for Japan with talk in the air of a snap election in eight weeks’ time.

The travelling party seems to have had a great time. A Japanese commuter posted a video on Twitter of the tired-looking team lustily singing The Black Velvet Band while on the Tokyo underground (Hanzomon Line). It is a sight to behold.

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