Miriam Lord’s Week: The happy Coalition bond over Big Phil’s blood on the carpet
McGuinness puts some FG noses out of joint while Dáil rumour mill goes into overdrive
Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Closer than ever, apparently. Photograph: Julien Behal
Has any good come from the galloping delirium of the “Golfgate” furore?
Oh, yes. Most definitely.
In the two weeks since the Dáil’s early return from the summer recess, TDs from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been reflecting on the fallout from the now infamous post-tournament dinner in Galway. A messy affair, with the minister for agriculture falling on his sward and a European Commissioner impaling himself on his swagger.
Supreme Court judge Séamus Woulfe awaits his fate. Still, in these worrying times when work for barristers has fallen sharply off the Covid cliff, at least the former attorney general (who advised the Government on Covid-19 legislation) is doing his bit by lawyering up for an inquiry into his attendance at the golf shindig in Connemara which went ahead despite Government health guidelines on indoor gatherings.
Wounded Phil’s future moves were the subject of much speculation in Leinster House this week
For all the public upheaval and ensuing denunciations from political leaders in the Dáil, Golfgate has fallen off the radar in Leinster House. They’ve all moved on. It’s back to wondering if the shaky Coalition can get its act together sufficiently to provide strong leadership in the face of a pandemic winter and gathering Brexit storm.
Can the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste really work together?
Yes they can, say their troops, thanks to the exploits of the eejits in Ballyconneely.
This week, a suspiciously large number of politicians from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael suddenly formed the same touchingly contrived opinion about Golfgate and its effect on the Government.
“It’s brought Micheál and Leo together.”
They bonded over Big Phil’s blood on the carpet, deliberately engineering the end of the trade commissioner’s career. It’s “brought them together”.
The pair of them might be advised to stay that way for safety’s sake. Phil Hogan is not happy at all over their pivotal part in his downfall (he didn’t help himself by misreading the depth of public anger over his actions and making things worse with what came across as a cocky and dismissive attitude to people’s genuine concerns).
The former commissioner broke his silence at the start of the week in an exclusive interview with Mary Cody of the Kilkenny People – thus underlining his anger with the national media too. While acknowledging the mistakes which led to the premature end of his 38 years in public life, he complained he was not allowed due process and said he was subjected to “a full scale attack” by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.
He says his life in public service is now over. However, wounded Phil’s future moves were the subject of much speculation in Leinster House this week, along with knowing references to “waiting in the long grass” and “horses’ heads at the end of beds”.
A lasting coalition
Without idle gossip and tittle-tattle this column would be bereft. And we can’t leave all the heavy lifting to Fintan.
But sometimes the Leinster House rumour mill outdoes itself. You wouldn’t believe the half of what we hear when on the scrounge for zesty gobbets for the Kildare Street Court Circular. This week, an individual with excellent political connections passed on an interesting, if disappointing, snippet. It was gospel, apparently.
Similar reports were whispered over the following days. So we made a very discreet inquiry with somebody who might know. He said he would approach the person concerned, as two journalists had already been in touch and a Government Minister asked him the same question that very day.
Separately, we contacted a source close to Government to see if they knew anything. They came back the following day. “Oh, it’s definitely true.” Much corroboration cited.
Sounded out a colleague. “God yes. I heard that too. It’s all over the place.”
At lunchtime on Thursday, the friend of the rumour got back in touch.
“No truth in it whatsoever. He’s still laughing.”
And on Thursday afternoon, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar got in touch.
“No idea where it came from. We are still happily living in sin. Usually the rumour is that we had a secret wedding.”
So Matt and Leo have not split up.
And that’s the truth.
Commissioner McGuinness sets the FG boys off
Great fun this week with some of the Fine Gael lads.
They’re a bit sore over what happened to Big Phil. So it’s only right to try to offer a few words of consolation.
“Ah well, at least Mairéad got the job. And it’s a decent portfolio too, isn’t it? She really knows Europe inside out and is so articulate. She’s great in those interviews on the English news channels, isn’t she? Takes no guff from those Tory Brexiteers. Very impressive, isn’t she? Good on her!”
And the lads, they can’t not agree. But you can see from their wan smiles and stuttering agreement that their hearts aren’t really in it. Which is delicious.
Mairéad McGuinness is a confident and strong and capable woman. She is equal to and well up to the cut and thrust of EU politics. She is respected by her continental peers in the European Parliament. When Hogan’s job came up, she said, straight out, that she wanted it and would be more than able to do it.
That statement alone would have caused massive fits of the vapours among the Fine Gael lads. The ones who can’t really be doing with a “pushy” unapologetically ambitious woman such as Mairéad. It’s why they call her “Elbows McGuinness”.
It would never ever occur to them to label a male politician with similar personal qualities (plenty of them) in such a way. He’d be a hero.
And now they’ll have to elbow their way to Elbows’s door, now that she’s Commissioner McGuinness.
Speaking from the heart
One of her first tasks since her elevation was to honour a long-standing commitment to two homeless charities in her constituency – Midlands Simon and Sophia.
Representatives of the two groups feared she might not be able to launch a new EU-funded project for them last week because of the impending reshuffle in Brussels. However, in case she might be otherwise detained, McGuinness pre-recorded a speech in which she spelled out her vision of the EU “not as a collection of economies but a community of people”. She spoke of the need for a Europe-wide approach to homelessness and about how her direct experience of the charities’ work in the midlands enabled her to talk about homelessness “from the heart”.
Midlands Simon is chaired by former Fine Gael councillor Mark Cooney while one of its most committed directors since his retirement from politics has been Brian Cowen. The former taoiseach has kept a low profile since suffering a serious illness but he has contributed significantly to Simon’s work in tackling the growing problem of rough sleepers, often assumed to be an phenomenon confined to big cities.
The news from the midlands is that he continues to make a good recovery. His most recent public appearance was at the funeral of his mother, May. But while there was some controversy about the presence of photographers at it, the media respectfully stayed away from the graveyard and so missed the oration by Brian.
By all accounts it was a deeply moving speech, with the former taoiseach showing that he has lost none of his wit and oratorical skill, even in the saddest of circumstances.
Ring left with crumbs from Martin’s cleaned-up Cabinet table
We hear Fine Gael has completed a major review of the party’s less than stellar performance at the general election at the start of the year. But it’s all very hush. A lot of those who worked on the campaign in the party HQ didn’t even know it was happening.
It’s being kept under wraps for now. Will it ever see the light of day? Is it too hard on some key players or just too hot to release?
One general election specialist who is always guaranteed to deliver for the party is Mayo’s Michael Ring, who knows his way around a successful campaign. He is still smarting from being banished to the backbenches when his party leader had to do a reverse loaves and fishes job with Cabinet appointments.
Apparently when Ringo cleaned out his ministerial office, he took everything with him, except for any photo of him with Varadkar. He left all of them behind.
He’ll miss the tasty breakfasts that are laid on for Ministers when the Cabinet holds its early morning meetings. There is usually a hot buffet beforehand and light refreshments during the meetings.
With health conscious Micheál Martin doing the hosting now, the usual complement of tea and coffee arrives as always, but with a pot of boiling water for those who might like a drop of green tea. The Taoiseach drinks it all the time.
And there are no sticky buns disgracing the Cabinet table. It’s fruit all the way. Those requiring an aul biscuit have to do the walk of shame to another table.
Because there are three parties in this political marriage, pre-Cabinet meetings are held first. A buffet with a full Irish fry or a healthy Micheál Martin cold collation is laid on in Government Buildings when Coalition Ministers arrive. They fill their plates and retire to eat in their respective party rooms before convening for the main session.