Miriam Lord: Scuttling things in the Dáil bars

A rat in TDs’ midst; Shane Ross’s birthday; Dr Reilly’s tie; hands, knees and boomps-a-daisy

Imagine the scene.

Micheál Martin sitting down in the members’ bar having a cup of tea with a party colleague when a dirty great rat scuttles across the floor.

He’s not the better of it yet.

So there they are, shooting the breeze when the Fianna Fáil leader suddenly says: "There's a rat!"


We imagine his colleague didn’t know which way to look, spoiled for choice as he was.

“I’m convinced. That’s a rat. A big rat.”

In the nick of time, he turned his head in the right direction and saw “a big long tail disappearing under the sofa”.

The Senators selflessly offered it as bait for the visitor next door in the members' bar.

And so began the biggest story of a colour writer’s year in Leinster House. With your columnist in an emergency department, foot encased in a surgical boot, as messages rolled in from Ministers, TDs and Senators with the latest intelligence on the movements of the Dáil Rat.

While the Fianna Fáil leader was the first politician to spot the daring rodent, we hear some staff in Kildare Street may have been aware that unwelcome visitors were casing the joint and an advance party may have visited the vicinity of the members’ and visitors’ bars before the star turn made his entrance. habitués of the exclusive members’ bar, now that they think about it, say they noticed people quietly moving and looking behind the furniture.

Elusive rodent

The antics of the enterprising and elusive rodent have been well-chronicled. Its point of entry was discovered when the banquet seating was removed to reveal three rat holes in the floor beneath it.

From there, it was a dawdle to saunter into the adjoining visitors’ bar and terrify the occupants.

When the alarm went up, Mattie McGrath and Senator Billy Lawless held out at the bar. At least until their finished their pints. They took photos to prove their bravery.

Meanwhile, it was like the rat episode of Fawlty Towers as the maintenance staff tried to act nonchalant while desperately trying to track down the intruder(s). The bar manager who almost cornered it with a golf club will have been hoping for better luck on Friday when he played in a Leinster House society outing. He had his golf bag in the storeroom.

Meanwhile, among the visiting delegations during the two-day drama was a very high-powered group from the Chinese parliament. They must have been wondering why so many Irish men walk around with their trousers in their socks.

On Tuesday night, the Seanad Independent Group, including Michael McDowell, Victor Boyhan, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Ian Marshall, Billy Lawless and Gerard Craughwell had their end-of-term drinks in the visitors' bar.


As the canapés were cleared, all that remained was a single vegetarian spring roll. Would anyone like to eat it before it was taken away?

No. The Senators selflessly offered it as bait for the visitor next door in the members’ bar. They had gone before the intruder ventured next door, running across the foot of one of Jim O’Callaghan’s guests, and him a senior counsel representing the Dublin 4 constituency.

He probably told them it was a coypu – very fashionable these days.

By Tuesday night, both bars were closed down. And they remain closed.

By Wednesday, panic had set in among the politicians. “They went mental,” said one staff member. “The restaurant is packed out. They’re all drinking there, but there’s only wine and the Guinness lads are disgusted. Buswells Hotel was out the door.”

But every cloud has a silver lining. A charity cakebake and auction for the Finglas Down Syndrome Centre was booked for the small, Ceann Comhairle’s dining room, off the main restaurant.

The influx of patrons driven there by the closure of the bars meant all the cakes were sold out and the auction of a Leinster jersey and signed rugby ball made more than €400.

And while a rat may have been dispatched, few believe it came to the party on its own.

Micheál Martin, by the way, believes the rodent may have slipped in “through the smokers’ lobby”, a private door at the back of the bar.

Minister passes a milestone

What do Winston Churchtown, Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Lulu, the Prince of Wales, Gerry Adams, Chris de Burgh, Noel Edmonds, Cat Stevens, Olivia Newton-John, Ivana Trump and Shane Ross have in common?

All of them are in their 70th year.

Winston Churchtown, aka Minister for Transport Shane Ross, turned 70 on Thursday.

This milestone did not go unnoticed, even if Winston might have preferred it to pass quietly.

First to mark the occasion was Fine Gael whippersnapper Noel Rock, with whom he has frequently clashed during this Dáil term. Mindful that this would be their last Dáil exchange before the summer break, he told the Minister: "Despite our differences on many transport policy matters . . . I understand you have a significant birthday on Thursday. So I want to wish you a good 70th birthday. I hope you have a nice day, I hope you enjoy the recess and I hope you come back fully recharged and restored to explore the many and varied transport matters that affect our city and country."

Winston looked a bit flustered.

“I would like to thank the Deputy for those totally and utterly irrelevant remarks, but they make a lot more sense than an awful lot of the things that he has said in the past. I would like to respond in the spirit to which it is meant and say that I will take to heart everything he has said today and treat them with equal seriousness,” he replied.

Best wishes

Later in the week, on the big day, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan tweeted his best wishes.

People might be forgiven for thinking that Flanagan and Michael McDowell have come to some sort of secret accommodation regarding the highly controversial Appointments Bill after the McDowell-led opposition to it evaporated suddenly.

At least that’s the suspicion of many senators. But what might be the nature of the deal? This is the question they were asking.

Charlie was in great form anyway.

"My ministerial colleague Shane Ross celebrates a significant birthday today. To mark the occasion I'm pleased to present him with a copy of the Judicial Appointments Bill having concluded Seanad Committee stage after over 100 hours' debate."

Septuagenarian Winston, keeping a low profile and a bit grumpy because the Dáil bar was closed for a priv-rat function depriving him of his usual smoked salmon luncheon, must have thought he escaped his big Seven-O without any fuss.

He thought wrong.

Some of his staff suggested a quick dinner in a nearby restaurant and they repaired to the Unicorn on Merrion Row. But when he arrived he was "ambushed" by his three Independent Alliance colleagues, junior ministers Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Kevin "Boxer" Moran. Winston Churchtown was totally surprised and completely bowled over.

And the proverbial great night was had by all.

Open-neck medic

Drama on Wednesday when a visitor – a professor from Texas – on a guided tour of Leinster House took a tumble on a set of steps near the entrance to the Dáil chamber.

The thick-pile carpet didn't cushion her fall and a nearby usher rushed to her assistance. He knew immediately she had broken her leg. He saw Senator James Reilly, who is a medical doctor, making his way to the Seanad and shouted for his help.

Doc Reilly examined her and asked if anyone had something to tie her legs so she could be stabilised until the ambulance arrived. Nobody came forward, so the former minister for health whipped off his tie and starting knotting.

Which explain the unusual sight of James Reilly going about his Seanad duty wearing an open-neck shirt. The tie was returned to his pigeon hole.

Both usher and Senator were hailed as the heroes of the hour.

There was speculation that the woman may have been caught off-balance by a passing rat, but this has now been ruled out as the rat was busy eating a last meal of strawberry jam in the bar.

Leo’s lederhosen

That Leo Varadkar, he's not the wurst.

He entertained a delegation of Bavarian colleagues from the Christian Social Union (CSU) party in Dublin this week, with the highlight of the visit a dinner hosted by Fine Gael in the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse.

As is always the case on these occasions, gifts were exchanged. We know not (and care even less) what the Taoiseach gave the visitors, but we are overjoyed to hear about the gift presented to him by the Germans – a pair of lederhosen.

The Minister was presented with a leather phone case

“You know what they are. The little trousers with the straps,” explained a member of the FG parliamentary party (male) who was present. “It’s kind of a set, like. You get into them and the straps hold you up.”

Leo held the little leather breeches with their distinctive embroidered H shape braces up against his suit for size as the local contingent scrambled for their mobile phones to capture the moment. He didn’t get into them.

We understand horrified media advisers immediately issued a non-tweet directive.

Oktoberfest, not to mention Halloween, is coming. Perfect time for Leo to model the lederhosen. It’s not like he’s shy about showing off his knees.

There’s a thought.

Barbecue knees

The Bavarian visitors were here for three days. They enjoyed a barbecue at the German ambassador’s residence, with the Taoiseach in attendance. We’re not sure if he was displaying his knees on this occasion.

Although there are some in Germany who would like to give him a right hands, knees and a boomps-a-daisy for not backing Angela Merkel on the EU jobs, while begging her for Brexit support.

After the success of Michael D's poetry reading and state visit to Germany, the entire CSU Bundestag parliamentary party headed to the Border and Dundalk to enjoy a spot of Brexit disaster tourism on Friday. It's a welcome break for the party which has had a major political disaster of its own recently.

Their man, Andreas Scheuer, the federal transport minister, oversaw a political car crash when the European Court of Justice threw out his proposed system for autobahn tolls on cars. The system was deemed discriminatory because, while foreigners would have to pay full whack, he promised to allow German motorists write their tolls off against their car tax. The plan has evaporated at a cost of several hundred million.

The man who started the toll ball rolling, Alexander Dobrint, headed the delegation to Dublin.

You speak German?

Still with the Germans, a group of CSU politicians held a meeting with Minister for Arts Josepha Madigan to discuss cultural links and ties between Germany and Ireland.

There was no need for the interpreter as Madigan immediately switched into German and conducted most of the meeting sprechen auf Deutsch. The visitors were delighted – apparently she was the only Irish politician they had met who could converse with them in their native tongue.

The Minister, who studied German at Mount Anville and Trinity College and spent a number of years working and studying in Vienna, told them she appointed cultural ambassadors earlier this year – Ruth Negga and Martin Hayes were mentioned.

Having done her homework, she wondered if they were familiar with other Irish performers and mentioned Johnny Logan.

Instant recognition from everyone. “Ja! Ja! Ja!”

One member of the delegation got a little carried away and burst into “Hold Me Now” while banging the table.

Josepha finished the evening by accompanying the Taoiseach to his Gravity Bar dinner, joining him at the top table so she could keep the conversation flowing in two languages.

The Minister was presented with a leather phone case. Given Leo’s good luck with landing the lederhosen, she must have been disappointed it wasn’t a dirndl dress.