Miriam Lord: snow heroes to get warm reception from Leo

Warm sausage rolls, cold war paranoia and ... the Ceann Comhairle interruption

Simon Community team: members    served food and hot drinks to homeless people and rough sleepers during the recent snow. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Simon Community team: members served food and hot drinks to homeless people and rough sleepers during the recent snow. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

Only the most curmudgeonly would find fault in the Taoiseach’s decision to throw a little thank you party for the people who worked so hard to keep everyone safe during the recent winter storms.

The invitations have been printed and are due to go out shortly for the event which will be held in the State Apartments in Dublin Castle on April 17th.

While most of us went into comfy lockdown (or the local pub) for the duration of Emma and Ophelia, public service workers were braving harsh conditions and going that extra mile to support people through the worst of these category-red weather events.

So many of them – including the men and women in the Emergency Response HQ who hardly got a wink of sleep, ambulance and fire crews, healthcare professionals, Defence Forces personnel, local authority workers, members of An Garda Síochána and members of volunteer organisations – worked tirelessly to maintain essential services and help people in need.

Afterwards, we had nothing but praise for their commitment and dedication. They deserve a pat on the back from the Government and a symbolic glass of wine and sausage roll. But we don’t envy whoever has to draw up the guest list.

Wisely, Leo Varadkar has left it up to the individual organisations to nominate people to attend. In terms of numbers it’s going to be a pretty large function, but noses are sure to be out of joint when the invites arrive.

Spot of hobnobbing

We hear the people invited will be “representative” of those workers and that the reception isn’t intended as a nice soiree for the top-brass from across the public service to enjoy a spot of hobnobbing with each other.

“Public officials and volunteer workers don’t often get a thank-you or acknowledgement for their work and they deserve our thanks for their great service during the storms.” said a Government spokesperson on Friday.

At this rate, it can only be a matter of time before Leo institutes an honours system. Who knows, he might even have a word about it with Emmanuel Macron, rather than Theresa May, when next they meet.

Here’s the (provisional) invite list: Age Action, An Garda Síochána, Civil Defence, Defence Forces, HSE, the IFA and representatives of the farming community, the Coast Guard, Red Cross, Irish Water, local authorities including fire services and local contractors, media representatives, medical representatives, National Emergency Co-ordination staff, Order of Malta, Peter McVerry Trust and homeless organisations, St John’s Ambulance, transport organisations and operatives, unions, secretary generals of government departments, opposition leaders, Ministers of State and Ministers.

 

NED TO GIVE NOD TO REPEAL

Over the years, Fianna Fáil’s Ned O’Sullivan has often been at odds with party colleagues in the Upper House when it comes to social issues.

On the surface, the veteran Senator from Listowel would seem to fit in perfectly with his male Seanad colleagues. But Ned likes to do his own thing.

On Wednesday, he was the only male Fianna Fáil Senator to in favour of holding a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment, voting along with Dublin-based colleagues Lorraine Clifford-Lee and Catherine Ardagh.

The rest who were present, to a man and woman (Jennifer Murnane-O’Connor) voted against giving the public a say in the matter, as they were entitled to do.

Earlier, O’Sullivan declared that Micheal McDowell’s contribution to the debate was “possibly the best speech I have heard in this House in my time here. It was a privilege to listen to it.”

He hoped it might be circulated during the forthcoming national discussion as “it would have a very large bearing on people’s opinions”.

Different land

Ned said that the amendment on abortion was inserted into the Constitution in 1983, in “a different time, a different world and a different Ireland”. Not long before, politicians had struggled for years to introduce “a tiny modicum of access to contraception to married couples”.

He mentioned this “to show the Ireland that gave rise to the Eighth Amendment”.

He went on to say he is the only one of the county’s eight Oireachtas members who will be voting for repeal and the legislation proposed by the Government should the question be carried.

Ned forgot Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris, who told the Dáil in an emotional speech that he will be voting for repeal in the referendum.

The Senator, who ran a menswear business in Listowel and was a teacher for 20 years before that, doubted that the very strong majority against repeal among Kerry’s parliamentarians was reflected in the county.

“I can assure you from the feedback I’ve been getting, I detect a very significant change.”

Having nailed his colours to the mast, he told the Seanad he had been on the receiving end of some “obnoxious” messages on social media, with people calling him “a baby murderer” and saying he is no worse than the Black and Tans.

“But the irony of it is, I have a chestful of War of Independence medals that I inherited from my grand-uncles, and some of the people who put that stuff on Facebook – I know for a fact their antecedents were making tay for the black and tans!”

ESPIONAGE TRADECRAFT AT CABINET

It was all very John Le Carré at Cabinet this week, with talk of espionage and national security and a decision to be taken on whether or not to expel any Russian diplomats from Ireland in the wake of the Salisbury nerve agent attack on a former spy in the UK.

In recent years, ministers have been well drilled about not leaking details of Cabinet discussions to the media. Sometimes they have to put their mobile phones on the table in full view of everyone so they can’t surreptitiously leak titbits to reporters.

It’s not a very effective way of guarding Cabinet confidentiality.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney under observation: in discussions of the Russian situation, no phones, iPads or mobile devices were allowed into the Cabinet room. Photograph: Alan Betson
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney under observation: in discussions of the Russian situation, no phones, iPads or mobile devices were allowed into the Cabinet room. Photograph: Alan Betson

Ministers simply wait until the meeting is over and then they blab away to their hearts’ content. But this week, as they discussed the Russian situation and the world wondered if another cold war was on the horizon, no phones, iPads or mobile devices were allowed into the Cabinet room. Nobody was exempt, including the Taoiseach.

The following day at the post-Cabinet meeting of departmental general secretaries, the ban was still in force. This is because iPhones and the like, even if turned off, still can be used as listening devices by spooks who know how to do this sort of thing. Walls have ears, and all that.

Listening in

Although you’ve have to pity the unfortunate spies lumbered with listening in on the meanderings of Leo’s Cabinet. They’d probably end up poisoning themselves. The upset of the meeting was a decision to expel one Russian diplomat from our shores.

Simon Coveney subsequently told the Dáil, “I would emphasise that the decision was not just based on political and diplomatic factors. I want to make clear that the assessment included the full range of factors, including our own national security, and relied on the advice of those with the greatest relevant expertise in each area.”

That’s comforting to hear, although the Minister for Foreign Affairs is not exactly inspiring confidence these days. Simon didn’t have a good week as he tied himself up in knots over the Government’s proposed abortion legislation and sent out very mixed signals about his support for the strategy.

He was Starbucks Coveney – absolutely all over the place.

TIME PLEASE LADIES!

The cold snap arrived early in the Dáil when Declan Breathnach, Fianna Fáil TD for Louth, took over the chair during Questions to the Taoiseach.

He replaced the Ceann Comhairle as Mary Lou McDonald was voicing concerns over the British government’s Disneyworld solutions to avoiding a hard border post-Brexit.

“It has prevaricated and delayed. It is at this stage, frankly, chancing its arm” she declared, as Declan asked her to finish up.

The Sinn Féin leader continued talking.

“It is a grave mistake to create an impression that we are fine about further delays until October. I actually agree with the Tánaiste.”

The acting chair asked her to conclude as she was eating into members’ time. Mary Lou shot him a filthy look. “Pardon me?”

Again, he asked her to finish.

“Yes, sorry, you’ve only come in deputy. Everybody has run over time in this,” she correctly pointed out.

But rules is rules, insisted Breathnach.

“Everybody ran over time,” repeated McDonald, clearly irritated.

The chair was sticking to the clock. “I’m abiding by the rules” he said, calling on the Taoiseach to speak.

‘Charming manners’

Mary Lou sat down, exchanging sympathetic glances with Joan Burton on the other side of the aisle. “Charming. Charming manners,” she murmured. “Finishing school in Zurich, no doubt.”

The Sinn Féin leader wasn’t at all happy with the acting chair’s handling of the session. Later on, he stopped Joan when she was in full flow so Mary Lou could speak.

“You didn’t stop anyone else,” whispered McDonald, loudly.

“I know!” exclaimed Burton as the other woman took up the cudgels on her behalf.

“I most certainly did,” bridled Declan.

“No. You didn’t. I’ve watched very carefully.”

“So did I, thank you,” snapped the chair.

“No, no, I watch . . .” began Mary Lou, as he told her she was wasting her own time.

“I can actually read the clock” she said, witheringly. “Very gifted that way.”

Joan Burton threw her hands up. “Cathaorleach, I think it’s a woman thing, actually. It seems to happen to women more than men.”

Breathnach repeated he was just going by the clock and if people wanted to waste other people’s time, that was fine by him.

“Yes. We CAN read the clock,” dripped Mary Lou. “Thank you. Cathaorleach. I can read the clock. I am numerate, you know.”