Miriam Lord: Seanad may be jury and executioner for judges Bill
Government's latest attempt to push Ross's Bill through involves exhausting everyone
The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is Minister for Transport Shane Ross’s pet project. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Expect fireworks in the Seanad on Tuesday when the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is up for debate again. Next week marks the first anniversary of its transfer from the Dáil to the Upper House, where it has been stopped in its tracks by a massive filibuster led by Michael McDowell.
Word has come down from on high to the leader of the House, Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer, that this infernal Bill be completed for once and for all. If only to preserve the sanity of Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who has had to endure 100 hours of gasbaggery on legislation relentlessly championed by his Cabinet colleague Shane “Winston Churchtown” Ross.
The Bill is Winston’s pet project and he has been pursuing it with the same maniacal zeal he exhibits when finding himself in the vicinity of a camera.
There was an attempt earlier this year to guillotine the debate but the Seanad voted it down.
The Government’s latest attempt to get Ross’s Bill through (he was banging on about the judges again at the last Cabinet meeting) involves exhausting everyone. The notification from the Leader’s Office of next week’s business proposes a mammoth seven-hour debate, beginning at 6pm on Tuesday and scheduled to finish at 1am on Wednesday.
Seven hours? This has not gone down well. Senators trying to block the legislation are not happy. Members of the Seanad who aren’t particularly exercised by the Bill aren’t pleased either.
If there is one thing Senators can’t stand it’s the Government dictating how they should conduct their business. And the very suggestion that they would routinely agree to a seven-hour debate is viewed as an impertinence.
When Buttimer proposes it during the order of business there will be strong opposition.
The Government is hoping a seven-hour debate will finish off the McDowell-led revolt but it doesn’t have a majority in the Seanad. It narrowly lost the guillotine attempt despite intense last-ditch lobbying in the corridors by Ross.
Fine Gael has done a deal with Sinn Féin on supporting the Bill, but that doesn’t cover votes on the order of business for debates lasting seven hours.
There will be phone calls and lobbying from both sides over the weekend and some senators may find themselves unavoidably delayed when the time comes to vote. A number of members will be abroad next week – some on Brexit business in London and others on a trip to Taiwan – but they will be “paired” with opposing colleagues at home who won’t vote.
Transports of panic as Ross invites selfies
Speaking of Winston Churchtown, the Minister for Transport was giving generously of himself last Saturday when he visited the annual Taney garden fete in Dundrum.
Early on in proceedings, constituents were overjoyed when a message crackled over the Tannoy with the wonderful news: “Shane Ross has arrived. If you would like a selfie with Shane, please make your way to the hall.”
For there he was: Winston Churchtown, in all his glory, under the impression he was first prize in the tombola.
There was minor panic as constituents elbowed and jostled each other in a rush for the doors, leaving the elderly, the infirm and the very young scrambling to find alternative means of escape.
In a selfless gesture, the Rev Nigel Pierpont, dressed as a unicorn, offered himself up to save them and Winston immediately pounced for a photo.
Some time later, after the children stopped crying and the festivities returned to normal, a second announcement floated across the grounds of the Taney Church of Ireland parish centre.
“Shane Ross has moved position and is now available again for selfies near the brass band.”
Everyone was delighted.
Ring keeps political silver jubilee quiet
Shy and retiring Michael Ring is not given to hiding his light under a bushel.
The Minister for Community and Rural Affairs celebrated a major milestone last Monday and, somehow, he managed to keep it to himself. He didn’t even tell the parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night that he had just notched up 25 years as a TD.
“I came into the meeting late and I said nothing,” the Mouth of Mayo told us. “I wouldn’t be one for making a lot of noise about that sort of thing.”
Ringo burst onto the national political scene in 1994 when he won the byelection for the seat vacated by Fianna Fáil’s Pádraig Flynn after he was appointed European commissioner. At the time, it was widely expected that Pee’s daughter Beverly Cooper-Flynn would step into his shiny shoes.
However, on a memorable night in the Traveller’s Friend Hotel in Castlebar, bread delivery man turned auctioneer Ring pulled off a shock victory. The Fianna Fáil faithful were completely stunned and local ward boss Flynn was fuming.
Ring retained his seat in the general election and Bev was also returned to restore Flynn family pride, for a while.
On the same day that Ring was elected, Eric Byrne won a seat for Democratic Left in a byelection in Dublin South 16 months after Fianna Fáil’s John O’Connell resigned the seat due to ill health.
He says he has no party planned to mark his political silver jubilee but is “hoping to get Paschal down” for a speaking gig in Mayo.
Doonbeg repurposes jazz stage for Trump
When he was holed up in his Doonbeg hotel, Donald Trump met many staff members at the golf resort. Among them was Victoria O’Connell, who is the 2019 Clare Rose. Victoria is a membership and real-estate marketing executive at Doonbeg.
We don’t know if Trump, whose past involvement with the Miss Universe beauty pageant is a matter of some controversy, is familiar with the Rose of Tralee contest. Perhaps not; as it isn’t a beauty pageant there is no swimwear section and it hasn’t made it to Moscow yet.
And if it’s any consolation to those who believe Doonbeg disgraced itself in the eyes of the world by displaying a warm tourist village welcome for the president of the United States to the golf course which was built as a result of their community action in the 1990s, the world wasn’t really watching.
The White House press corps, augmented by a wider travelling party of American media people, did not travel on from Shannon to Doonbeg. This part of the trip was private so they didn’t bother going. As for the very welcoming locals, they didn’t exactly put themselves out decorating the place for Donald Trump – the outdoor stage and bunting was already in place for the Doonbeg International Jazz festival which finished the day before he arrived.
Trump channels Washington for Varadkar
During their private meeting in Shannon Airport, Leo Varadkar and Donald Trump exchanged gifts.
The Taoiseach presented the American president with an aerial map of Doonbeg from a 1st edition six-inch map from an 1842 survey, showing the spot where the Trump hotel and golf course is situated. He also gave him a copy of Clare’s Wild Atlantic Way by Patrick G Ryan.
Melania was given a gift of a silver Children of Lir brooch.
As for the Donald, he brought Leo a very handsome, leather-bound colour facsimile of General George Washington’s famous order in 1780 giving his troops a day off for St Patrick’s Day during the American Revolution.
It says in gold letters “Presented to His Excellency Leo Varadkar Taoiseach of Ireland by Donald J Trump President of the United States of America on the occasion of his visit to Ireland. June 5, 2019.”
The general order was issued on March 16th from Washington’s headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. It was an opportunity to give his soldiers their only day off during a bitterly cold winter campaign and to recognise the Irish people’s quest for freedom from British rule.
“The general congratulates the army on the very interesting proceedings of the parliament of Ireland and the inhabitants of that country which have been lately communicated; not only as they appear calculated to remove those heavy and tyrannical oppressions on their trade but to restore to a brave and generous people their ancient rights and freedom and by their operations to promote the cause of America.
“Desirous of impressing upon the minds of the army, transactions so important in their nature, the general directs that all fatigue and working parties cease for tomorrow the seventeenth, a day held in particular regard by the people of the nation. At the same time that he orders this, he persuades himself that the celebration of the day will not be attended with the least rioting or disorder, the officers to be at their quarters in camp and the troops of the state line to keep within their own encampment.”
It seems the men obeyed his orders and there were no reports of drunkenness or violence despite the consumption of copious amounts of rum.
In appreciation of Washington’s actions, the Friendly Sons of St Patrick made him an honorary member in 1782.
Senates a ‘trump card’ for problem-solving
The cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Denis O’Donovan, left on Friday for the annual meeting of the Association of European Senates in Paris.
The two-day meeting hosted by the French senate will focus on two topics: a dialogue between European and African second chambers, and a debate on the theme “Bicameralism: an asset for democracy”.
Needless to say, senators in Dublin await Denis’s report with bated breath.
The association comprises 14 second chambers in the European Union and the senates of Bosnia, the Russian Federation and Switzerland. Seanad Éireann was accepted as a member at its meeting last year in Bucharest, Romania.
The Paris meeting marks the 19-year-old association’s first “dialogue with African senates. It hopes this deeper co-operation and dialogue will lead to new solutions to challenges like climate change and the migration crisis.”
In a joint statement issued before the meeting, members described senates as a “trump card” “in solving the problems of our days”.
Which just goes to show that they have a sense of humour.