Miriam Lord: Shock as Minister for Housing fails to dig himself into a hole

Darragh O’Brien huffed and puffed and finally got a shovelful of dirt – disappointing

In a surprise development on Friday, Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien was handed a shovel but, despite his best efforts, he was unable to dig himself into a hole.

"I just don't know what happened to him. It's a blow to his leadership prospects, that's for sure," confided a Fianna Fáil insider. "As a rule, it wouldn't be like Darragh to struggle to dig a hole but he fell short on this occasion."

The news sent shockwaves through the body politic and has caused panic in Government circles.

“There are certain standards required of Government Ministers in this Coalition. The Minister for Housing failed at the most basic level. This could have serious implications for the stability of the political system,” confided a party colleague.


Another said it was “an accident waiting to happen” and that O’Brien should not have been let anywhere near a shovel at the sod-turning ceremony in north Co Dublin to mark the construction of a 51-unit affordable housing scheme.

“Clearly, the man is exhausted. He’s been digging holes for himself for months. Something had to give.”

The incident happened at the new Dun Emer development, where prices for homes will start at €166,000 for two-bed apartments and €250,000 for a three-bed house. The Minister was accompanied by the mayor and deputy mayor of Fingal and a couple of officials.

This blatant ego-buffing guff really should have died from overuse after Eoghan Murphy's stint in the department

Five shiny new shovels, five pristine fluorescent jackets and five spotless hard hats were laid on for a publicity shot because people, especially in the middle of a housing crisis, like nothing better than to admire photos of Government Ministers playing at being construction workers while hamming it up for the cameras.

Look lads! Only 19,949 more homes to go!

So Darragh puts on the gear and the lord mayors arrange their chains of office outside their high-vis to keep things authentic, and the stage is set for the ministerial turning of the sod. This blatant ego-buffing guff really should have died from overuse after Eoghan Murphy’s stint in the department.

But Darragh O’Brien has taken up where he left off, with great enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, on Friday, Darragh was done down by a little divot.

The grassy sod designated for the turning had already been lifted and left lying on the ground for the attention of the Minister.

A shovel-ready project.

To show how hard he is, Darragh nudged the divot aside and plunged his virgin shovel into the hard ground of the Lusk dustbowl. He nearly buckled from the vibrations. Then he stood on the footplate with his heel, but there was no give and the blade skittered sideways across the surface, rolling up a bit of powdery clay.

He bashed down and twirled the shovel like a corkscrew, overheating under his hard hat, which he took off and threw to one side.

Finally, he managed to scrape up enough dirt to fling in the air for the cameras.

Job done.

At the press briefing afterwards, Darragh outlined more plans for building new homes and said he hopes to bring proposals to restrict the buying patterns of investment funds to Cabinet on Tuesday.

That’s if they let him inside the door after his sub-par digging display.

There were unconfirmed reports on Friday evening that maverick Fianna Fáil TDs are planning to go ballistic at next week’s parliamentary party meeting.

“This party has a long and distinguished history when it comes to the construction industry and it is completely unacceptable that a Fianna Fáil Minister is not able to use a shovel properly. The fact that Darragh O’Brien could not dig a hole for himself is bad enough. But this meant he was not in a position to keep digging once he knew he was in the hole, which is the very least we would expect from one of own,” said a member of the Jim O’Callaghan wing of the party.

“For God’s sake, even Micheál Martin was able to that during the week. Right up to his oxters, so he was.

“Although admittedly, he was digging his way through a load of cheese.”

Another pol corr crosses the floor

In a break with eco-friendly practice, the Greens have decided not to let the grass grow when it comes to the matter of replacing their spin doctor.

They are as speedy as the DUP when it comes to getting Poots on the ground. Sorry, boots.

Last month we reported that deputy Government press officer Ian Carey was stepping down as the party's head of communications. Four weeks later and his replacement is all prepared to take over in Government Buildings.

Unsurprisingly, it’s another journalist.

Nervous hacks are wondering which one of them will be picked off next by the insatiable spin machine that is Irish politics

Aiden Corkery, the Business Post's political correspondent, handed in his notebook this week to follow the now well-trodden path from the Leinster House press gallery to the corridors of political power.

A farmer’s son from Ballyseedy in Kerry, Aiden started out in the Kerryman before moving to the Irish Mail (where his predecessor Carey also toiled) and on to the Business Post.

Nervous hacks left behind in Leinster House have formed an emotional support group as they wonder which one of them will be picked off next by the insatiable spin machine – it’s a cross-party beast – that is Irish politics.

Aiden's replacement at the Business Post is Daniel Murray, who moves from reporting on health and environment matters. He will have no problem dealing with the politicians around Leinster House, having worked for five years as a producer on the old TV3's Vincent Browne show and survived to tell the tale.

Eye-watering costs of Anglo investigation

Observation of the week from the Ceann Comhairle.

“It seems like there must have been a lot of behind-the-scenes tears being shed if all those tissues were needed.”

He made the remark after Solidarity TD Mick Barry raised the ongoing cost of the Commission of Investigation into the IBRC, formerly Anglo Irish Bank, which has been running now for six years and is expected to report in October. The inquiry has cost almost €10 million to date, but final costs are expected to exceed €30 million, with some reports that it could be nearer €70 million.

The expenses have been racking up. “More than €1,500 was spent on tissues. I find it hard to get my head around that,” marvelled Mick.

But it's worse. The breakdown of expenditure released last year to journalist Ken Foxe under the Freedom of Information Act applied to an 18-month period between January 2019 and June 2020. So that's over €80 a month on paper hankies.

A full investigation by a team of retired judges is needed here immediately.

No expense should be spared.

Not exactly a barbershop quartet

Louth senator John McGahon was impossibly happy on Monday morning in the Seanad. "Today is a great day," he declared. "I got my hair cut at eight o'clock in the morning. I was first in the queue and it was just brilliant, like, literally and figuratively, it's a weight off my shoulders."

Then he noticed his follicly challenged colleagues Gerry Craughwell (Ind), Victor Boyhan (Ind), Mark Wall (Lab), and Paul Gavan (SF) sitting across the chamber. "No offence to the four lads over here, they might not need haircuts as quick as that, with all due respects."

Upstart crow from Dún Laoghaire delivers a soliloquy

Enter Richard Boyd Barrett, stage Left, with the thespian blood of the Cusacks coursing through his veins.

He made a passionate contribution during Thursday’s debate on the Leaving Cert accredited grades Bill.

"As an English student, let me point out the ridiculousness of some aspects of our education system," he said to Norma Foley, a secondary school teacher until February of last year, when she was elected to Dáil Éireann and then immediately elevated to the top job in Marlborough Street.

It's an indication of the way in which our education system sanitises and – to use that horrible word – 'standardises' education

"You study Shakespeare from the page and you do a written exam on, in my case, Othello or Julius Caesar.

“Reading Shakespeare from the page. What on earth has that got to do with Shakespeare, if it isn’t about acting it out, and having the teaching resources and indeed bringing the actors and directors into our schools to bring things like Shakespeare to life?”

The People Before Profit TD for Dún Laoghaire was appalled. “Reading it from a page,” he lamented again. “It’s an indication of the way in which our education system sanitises and – to use that horrible word – ‘standardises’ education.”

The Minister for Education listened politely to his soliloquy.

Even at this late stage, the impact of Covid and the "revolt" of students over their exams "should lead us to a radical, revolutionary change in the way we do education", said Boyd-Barrett, a product of St Michael's College in Ballsbridge and UCD.

“Because you see, it’s all about those words, isn’t it: ‘standardisation’, ‘bell curves’, ‘testing’, ‘assessment’. What has that to do with the human imagination, the human intellect, fulfilling human potential?”

But the lesson didn’t end there.

“Where did the exam system come from?”

Norma was all ears.

"It came from imperial China in 605 and the Sui dynasty, later expanded by the Song dynasty as a way of selecting people largely from elites – firstly military elites and then bureaucratical elites – to serve in the imperial civil service and military. Then imported into Europe in the 1500s by the Jesuits and then first pioneered on a mass scale by the British empire in India in order to select people for the imperial civil service.

"Later then, established for the same purpose in England. In other words, it was testing a very particular type of intelligence for very particular reasons and, in its origins, very much about perpetuating elites.

“Now, let us apply that to the situation today...”

We trust the Minister was taking notes.