Miriam Lord’s week: Varadkar set for family Christmas in Mumbai

Taoiseach’s father will celebrate 80th birthday in the land of his birth

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The Taoiseach is enjoying some rare time off over Christmas and this year promises to be a particularly special one for Leo Varadkar and his family.

He will spend the big day at home in Ireland before the family flies to India to celebrate his father’s 80th birthday. It’s an “entirely personal” trip, said a spokesman, although we suspect the Taoiseach won’t escape his visit without a little bit of official attention and fuss.

Leo’s parents met in England in the 1960s. Ashok, who was born in Mumbai, met his mother Miriam, a farmer’s daughter from Dungarvan, when he was a junior doctor in an English hospital and she was a student nurse. After their marriage, the couple moved to India for a few years before returning to live in Ireland.

On the day their youngest child became Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach elect, he had a special word for his dad in his acceptance speech.

“I know when my father travelled 5,000 miles to build a new home in Ireland, I doubt that he ever dreamed that one day his son would grow up to be its leader and despite his differences, his son would be judged by his actions not his identity. That despite his differences, his son would be treated the same and judged by his actions and character not his origins or identity°,” said an emotional Varadkar from the Mansion House stage.

“Every proud parent in Ireland today can dream big dreams for their children.”

And in turn, Leo and his sisters Sophia and Sonia are hugely proud of their parents. Ashok became a GP in Blanchardstown and Miriam ran the busy practice.

This trip to Mumbai has been long in the planning. Leo visited India a few times when he was growing up and he also visited when he was minister for tourism.

When he became Taoiseach in June 2017, it made big news in India. In the Mumbai suburb of Borivali some 55 members of the Varadkar family gathered to watch the count on the internet and celebrated when the result was announced.

Donohoe plays with Super Mario

“Welcome to Dublin Central, Mr Draghi,” said local TD Paschal Donohoe to the former head of the European Investment Bank when he arrived in the city on Thursday night for the annual Business & Finance awards. The audience in the Conference Centre laughed, getting the subtle geo-political distinction in Paschal’s greeting. But it sailed right over Mario’s head.

The Minister for Finance presented the Peter Sutherland leadership award to Draghi, who is a big rugby fan. Paschal told guests at the black tie awards banquet that the banker is a huge rugby fan. He invited Mario to join him in the Aviva stadium for a Six Nations game and said he would also love to bring him to Croker to watch a hurling match.

Mario happily accepted.

Former taoiseach Enda Kenny presented the TK Whittaker award to Lord David Puttnam in recognition of his outstanding achievements and contribution to the arts, education and climate change. As he was handing over the award there was a loud eruption of mobile phone bleeps and beeps and what sounded like a blast of Sky News.

It was 10pm and the astonishing result of the UK general election exit poll had come through. Guests rushed to mute their phones and the event continued.

After the ceremony, Paschal repaired to the upstairs bar in the company of Kenny and former finance minister Michael Noonan. They ensconced themselves on a sofa and sat talking into the early hours while getting the latest updates from the UK election count and posing for selfies with a steady stream of starstruck corporates.

Kate O'Connell and Marty Morrissey at Leinster house.
Kate O'Connell and Marty Morrissey at Leinster house.

Marty Party comes to the Dáil

Great excitement in the corridors of power on Thursday night and it had nothing to do with events across the water.

No. Word had it that Marty Morrissey was in the building. Why? Is he considering a daring career move? Is he being wooed by one of the big parties? Or with a general election on the cards for early next year, is he thinking of establishing a new force in Irish politics – the Marty Party?

“Senior party officials were circling me like wolves but no official approaches have been made as yet,” the RTÉ star told us, tongue firmly in cheek.

In between posing for selfies with TDs – Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell nabbed him early on – Marty was in Leinster House to MC the Ceann Comhairle’s annual Christmas fundraiser in aid of Trocaire.

It was a huge success, Seán Ó Fearghail, successfully recovered from a recent knee operation, presided over proceedings in the members’ restaurant. Dinner was followed by top notch entertainment, with singers Johnny McEvoy and Finbar Furey topping the bill along with opera singer and former Florida Rose Victoria Sexton.

Comedians Deirdre O’Kane and Barry Murphy went down a storm while the Wrafter Family Band from Kilbeggan were back again this year by popular demand.

There was a raffle to further boost funds and the prizes included a tour of Leinster House and dinner with the Taoiseach; a tour of Leinster House and dinner with Micheál Martin, and a tour of Belfast City Hall and dinner with Gerry Adams.

Big Phil throws a party

Phil Hogan threw a little Christmas shindig after the EU summit finished on Friday afternoon for the many Irish officials serving in Commission cabinets. The Commissioner for Trade broke out the canapés and the vol au vents for Ireland’s high fliers – the current cabinet representation is the largest ever.

The Taoiseach was guest of honour. Also in attendance was EU Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his wife Isabelle, Commission vice-president Margrethe Vestager (Denmark) and commissioners Vera Jourova (Czechoslovakia) John Dalli (Malta) and Janez Lenarcic (Slovenia).

In a short speech, Varadkar thanked the commission for having stood by Ireland over the last three years. He also spoke of the importance of having Irish representation at the highest levels in Europe.

Who else from Ireland is serving in the cabinet of an EU commissioner? Who could it be?

Present were Anthony Whelan, who is in President Ursula Von der Leyen’s cabinet; Fiona Knab-Lunny from the cabinet of the high representative for foreign policy, Joseph Borrell (Spain); Kevin O’Connell from Jourova’s cabinet (transparency and values); Paddy McCullough from the cabinet of jobs and social rights commissioner Nicolas Schmit (Luxembourg) and Brian Synnott, who is in Swedish commissioner Ylva Johansson’s cabinet (home affairs).

Guests from Big Phil’s team included Peter Power, his chef de cabinet, Dermot Ryan and Kevin Keary. Tom Tynan couldn’t make it. Dan Ferrie from the commission’s spokesman service also attended.

But wait. There’s somebody else. Who else from Ireland is serving in the cabinet of an EU commissioner? Who could it be?

How could we have forgotten. Why, it’s Dara Murphy, recent appointee to the cabinet of Bulgaria’s Mariya Gabriel (innovation, culture and youth).

He wasn’t able to make it.

Discretion being the better part of valour, and all that. Probably just as well.

Party season and goodwill to Timmy and co

The Fianna Fáil leader hosted media drinks in Toner’s pub on Baggot Street on Wednesday night. There were no big arguments and even Timmy Dooley was in good spirits, despite having to rub shoulders with some journalists who reported on his recent War of the Buttons voting in absentia embarrassment.

The case of the two Fianna Fáil TDs at the centre of Votegate – Dooley and Niall Collins – is still with the Dáil ethics committee. Apparently the committee is to carry out further investigations in the new year. Timmy has been requested to clarify the apology he furnished to the Dáil after the story broke.

Meanwhile, Micheál Martin worked the basement room in the thorough manner of a party leader nursing big general election expectations. Had he gone upstairs and into the main bar, he might have seen Enda Kenny holding court in his favourite spot inside in the snug.

Nothing fancy, just drinks and plates of those finger yokes, what you call them? Knick-knacks

The former taoiseach was holding his annual drinks for his staff – all his former Garda drivers were there, along with his support staff from Government Buildings and the Dáil. They started in Napper Tandy’s on Merrion Row and graduated to Toner’s.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s staff party, which usually takes place in the Taoiseach’s department, was held this year in the private dining room attached to the members’ restaurant. “Nothing fancy, just drinks and plates of those finger yokes, what you call them? Knick-knacks. There was no dinner,” reported a veteran politician.

There was discussion of this year’s Fine Gael Superdraw. The top prize of €20,000 was won by Brian Scannell of the Dublin North West branch. The winning ticket was sold to him by his brother-in -law, deputy Noel Rock. Former Labour party senator Lorraine Higgins apparently won €100 in the draw and Maria Bailey won €150.

Leo Varadkar popped in for a mingle and to sample a few of the knick-knacks but he didn’t join the large crowd which decamped to Kennedy’s pub on Westland Row.

It didn’t go unnoticed among the revellers that the two Simons – Coveney and Harris – carried on to Kennedys. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Health arrived together and spent a long time with their FG colleagues. “The two Simons were going from table to table. They went around the place like they were out canvassing. They met everyone and were the last to leave,” said one shrewd observer.

Jam wisdom in the Seanad

A definite first for the Seanad on Wednesday morning when Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan put the words of The Jam’s Paul Weller on the official record of the Upper House. Speaking as “a prou d member of the London-Irish community”, Gavan appealed to the Irish across Britain to “use their votes wisely” and reject Boris Johnson in Friday’s election.

“My mum and dad worked in factories all of their lives. They were not well paid but we had a national health service, free education and my parents were able to give us a decent future. That, in turn, helped me when I came home because my oldest brother was in a position to help fund my education,” he told colleagues during the order of business. “I am saying this because I am not going to be here tomorrow and I want to appeal to the Irish across Britain, in particular in London, to use their votes wisely tomorrow.”

Gavan said he was always a big fan of The Jam and noted that the band’s last gig took place 37 years ago to the day, “which is a bit scary”. He told the Seanad that Weller wrote Going Underground in response to Thatcher getting into power and he quoted the lyrics because they are “directly relevant” today.

You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
And the public wants what the public gets
But I don’t get what this society wants.

Labour’s old rocker Kevin Humphries went misty-eyed. “I echo Senator Gavan’s remarks. This is probably the first time those lyrics were quoted in the Seanad.”

“Or in any parliament,” sighed his colleague Ivana Bacik.