Miriam Lord’s Week: Toaster police pop up at Leinster House

‘Irish Times’ sparks Brussels spat, political women booked and Casey Traveller remarks

The marmalade hit the fan in Leinster House on Tuesday after an email landed from the good people in the facilities management unit (FMU). Politicians and staff were shocked and dismayed to read they will have to alter their al-desko dining habits due to fire safety concerns.

“It has been recommended by the health and safety advisers [HSA]to the Houses of the Oireachtas that all toasters/sandwich makers are removed from use in kitchenettes/tea stations/offices throughout the complex for health and safety reasons. The HSA has instructed us to comply with our own health and safety advice and remove such equipment.”

No use ignoring the instruction either.

Toastie aficionados were given 24 hours to say their last goodbyes. After which FMU batch, sorry, snatch squads would storm the corridors in the dead of night and take all bread-related appliances.


“The FMU will review, for safety reasons, the use of toasters and will seek further advice on safe use, but for now we will be complying with the health and safety instructions and removing toasters. If any of the toasters/sandwich makers are the property of individual staff/members it would be best if you removed them. It is intended that any remaining equipment will be removed on Wednesday.”

The toaster police were coming to get them. But all is not lost. There is some hope, somewhere down the line.

“When we have established the safety standards for use of toasters we will fit out canteen kitchens appropriately if that is the final recommendation.” People are not happy.

Mattie ‘I’m partial to a slice of hot buttered toast’ McGrath was in the canteen on Tuesday, gloomily looking at the chicken Caesar wraps.

“They’re telling us the toasters are too hot to handle. There’s a kitchenette up the hall from our offices and we have a toaster. That’ll have to go now,” he told us. “I think they’re afraid the smoke alarms will go off and upset Micheál Martin upstairs. The way things are going with the health and safety, in a few years’ time we’ll have to get permission to break wind.”

The new rule explains the heavy smell of toast in the air when proceedings resumed on Tuesday after a tumultuous end to the previous week’s business. It was from the final hurrah of the Leinster House toasters and not a pungent reminder of the combustion of Dennis Naughten’s ministerial career.

Bomb blast headline

Passions ignited on the EU summit sidelines in Brussels when journalists from pro-Brexit UK newspapers berated an official from the Irish delegation over the unusual way Leo Varadkar chose to impress upon his fellow EU leaders the danger of reintroducing a hard border in Ireland.

During dinner on Wednesday night, the Taoiseach unfolded a copy of that day's Irish Times and held up its striking front page. The original newspaper report on a bomb blast at a Newry customs post in 1972 had been reproduced alongside an interview with the daughter of one of the nine people who were killed.

Brexiteers described Varadkar’s actions as a cynical stunt.

As the summit wound down on Thursday, reporters in the 600-seater press centre in the Justus Lipsius building were entertained by a lively spat between two broadsheet journalists and a Brussels-based press officer for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In what one witness described as "a very heated exchange", Irish official Eddie Brannigan was told in no uncertain terms that the Taoiseach's actions were "very provocative" and "totally outrageous".

Leo, they fumed, had pulled a fast one on the UK by whipping out his copy of The Irish Times and presenting "a very jaundiced view of history".

Brannigan stood his ground and gave as good as he got. And while the Taoiseach may have provided food for thought at the dinner, the peckish leaders were also provided with proper grub. They dined on turbot fillets cooked in wheat beer with pan-fried mushrooms, followed by a trio of sorbets (fig, pear and grape). Not great for soakage.

It seems that a few of the prime ministers went out afterwards, leaving poor Theresa May, who had to dine alone because she isn't a full member of the club anymore, out in the cold again. After dinner, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron joined Belgium's Charles Michel and Luxembourg's Xavier Betel for a drink in the Roy d'Espagne brasserie.

Apparently they were out gallivanting until one in the morning – "longer than they afforded May's Brexit speech earlier that evening", huffed the Daily Telegraph. But despite its Brussels despond, the same newspaper delivered cheering news for readers on Friday in an article headed "No-deal Brexit: Why it could create the perfect buying opportunity for property."

Because the October summit failed to live up to its advance billing as “the moment of truth”, the prospect of a special Brexit summit next month has now been taken off the table and put on ice. EU leaders will assess the situation in the coming weeks and are ready to leap into action if required. But as it stands, the next official gathering is scheduled for December.

This is slightly annoying for Fine Gael. The party's ardfheis in the CityWest hotel next month would have clashed with the special EU meeting. A number of weeks ago, when the idea of an extra Brexit summit became distinctly possible, the organisers decided to switch the time of the Taoiseach's televised keynote speech from the usual Saturday night to a teatime transmission slot.

It would all be very dramatic: a stirring late-afternoon address for the troops from Leo followed by a mercy dash to Brussels to make the EU leaders' meeting. But if it turns out that November isn't a runner, will RTÉ allow the Taoiseach a primetime telly return? Probably.

Female of the species

The National Gallery was packed to the rafters on Tuesday night for the launch of Martina Fitzgerald's book Madam Politician: The Women at the Table of Irish Political Power.

In her first book, RTÉ’s political correspondent decided to focus on a very exclusive club in our political history – female members of Cabinet. In the last 100 years, 201 people have served in government (Joe McHugh making it in under the wire following his appointment as Minister for Education on Tuesday).

There was a sharp intake of breath from many women in the audience when Fitzgerald said a mere 19 women are part of this group of Irish politicians. Two – Countess Markievicz and Labour’s Eileen Desmond are dead and all but two of the remaining group attended the launch – Mary Harney and Máire Geoghegan Quinn were out of the country.

Former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness did the honours on the night with an erudite and, at times, mischievous speech. She remembered the time – not that long ago – when entry to national politics for women was mostly confined to the widows of successful TDs.

If she wanted to pursue a career in the Dáil, mused McGuinness, “the best thing a woman could do was marry a politician and then put arsenic in his cup”.

The best thing a woman could do was marry a politician and then put arsenic in his cup

The book is stuffed with anecdotes setting out the unique set of circumstances faced by female politicians hoping to progress to ministerial level. From the bra-pinging antics of Charlie Haughey to incidents of “groping”, lecherous remarks and physical intimidation experienced by women TDs in the 1980s and 1990s.

In her speech, Fitzgerald light-heartedly remarked on the number of male TDs who, when hearing the title of her book, felt compelled to ask “when are you going to write a book about the men?”

Because there are so few books out there about male politicians.

While the author would love to see more women at the highest level in politics, she had reason to be grateful to the Taoiseach for his latest Cabinet appointment. As Leo pondered a replacement for Denis Naughten, Fitzgerald worried whether her book on the 19 female ministers “would be out date before it was published”.

McHugh saved the day.

‘PC gone mad’

With a week to go to the presidential election, it will take a spectacular implosion to deprive Micheal D Higgins of a second term in the Áras. As it stands, his lead in the opinion polls is so substantial that he seems unstoppable.

Unless, that is, Peter Casey is holding back, waiting to drop a devastating depthcharge in the dying days of the campaign. You wouldn’t put anything past him.

The candidate’s controversial remarks about Travellers have certainly enlivened a very dull campaign. But while they have been condemned by his fellow candidates and politicians from all parties, including the Taoiseach, TDs and Senators were taking a very keen interest in how Casey’s comments and his “PC gone mad’” approach will play with voters.

“He’ll triple his vote because of this” a senior Fianna Fáil politician told us on Thursday. “He’s saying what I hear in the constituency all the time,” whispered a Government TD.

Without a doubt, the public utterances of many politicians on the Casey controversy are not reflected in their private musings on the issue.

“I’m all for equal rights for Travellers, but people get very annoyed when they think they [Travellers] are getting preferential treatment,” said another.

They will be watching the results come in with added interest.

If Casey gets a big increase in votes, it will have some of them thinking. If attacking minorities works for him, well then . . .

And so it begins.