The Ceann Comhairle, brave man, hosted members of the Leinster House press gallery to dinner in the Members' Restaurant on Thursday night to mark 100 years of Dáil Éireann and 100 years of press coverage of the goings on therein.
The restaurant staff did a marvellous take on the menu served on the Dáil’s first day in 1919, which was a simple “Clear soup; Roast beef, ham and vegetables; Apple tart and custard”.
This was translated to clear beef soup; ham hock terrine with piccalilli sourdough toast; medallions of Irish beef with Jameson whiskey jus, colcannon mash, Portobello mushroom and roasted pearl onions followed by apple crumble with vanilla ice-cream.
The consommé was served in old-fashioned china cups, which was a nice touch.
"This is probably the most intimidating experience I've had since I gave my wedding speech," Seán Ó Fearghaíl told the assembled hacks. He described the Oireachtas press gallery as "the praetorian guard of the Fourth Estate, ever vigilant and watchful of those of us who have the misfortune to put a political foot wrong in the Dáil or Seanad".
After the official ceremony, all the guests repaired to Fire restaurant next door for a drinks reception. A string quartet was playing
Over 100 journalists. Most of them work outside Leinster House, with a minority permanently based there. Ó Fearghaíl was “genuinely surprised” to discover how many people are members of the gallery. “I’m minded of the number of articles and stories written over the years that there are too many politicians in the Dáil and in the Seanad.
The next time I hear something like that I’m going to remind the public of how many people are actually employed here covering our exploits.”
About 70 journalists joined the Ceann Comhairle and Oireachtas staff for a glass or two of “Chateau Oireachtas” and the diners (all highly allergic to speeches outside of working hours) were delighted that just two short addresses were served on the night. Gallery chairman Fiach Kelly spoke of the “occasionally testy” relationship between the gallery and the House authorities.
He told how journalists covering the 50th anniversary of the Dáil were not happy at where they were located in the Round Room, and the gallery subsequently dispatched a strongly worded letter to the taoiseach, the ceann comhairle, the director of the Government Information Bureau, the daily papers and RTÉ demanding that at such events in the future they be placed "in as prominent a position on the floor of the Mansion House as was the position in 1919".
The gallery was established and held its first meeting in August 1923. Members organised a black-tie dinner dance in the Gresham in 1972 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Chairman Kelly hopes there will be a similar piss-up, sorry, gala occasion to mark the Oireachtas press gallery's centenary in 2023. He hoped the Ceann Comhairle might attend in return.
“Who knows, by that time you may be into your second term,” said Kelly, mischievously.
There was an interesting exchange in the Mansion House on Monday between Sinn Féin whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh and the superintendent of the Oireachtas, Paul Conway.
Conway is the ex-Army officer who oversees the running of the Oireachtas, enforcing the rules and regulations, making sure protocol is observed and keeping an eye on everything from the ushers’ uniforms to who can and who cannot use the lifts. As guests filed into the Round Room for the commemoration to mark the centenary of the First Dáil, we overheard Ó Snodaigh informing Conway that there were too many tricolours on the platform.
The superintendent disagreed. “We have two flags because of the seating layout.” (The website of the Department of the Taoiseach has a whole section devoted to the national flag – how to display it, carry it, fold it and so on.)
The two men held an animated discussion about the military-style protocols around the Tricolour, with Ó Snodaigh holding forth on issues such as the height, prominence and position of the flag. The Dublin South Central TD informed the superintendent, "you're wrong, there is only meant to be one national flag at an event, so people know where to turn to when the National Anthem is played."
Speaking of which, you can't get away with much these days. There was some comment after the event about how the Taoiseach didn't appear to sing a syllable of Amhrán na bhFiann at the close of the event, while all around him were giving it some welly.
Meanwhile, the most moving and insightful contribution on the centenary of Dáil Éireann this week came from Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly, a man who is very fond of wrapping the green flag around himself.
A reader sends this nugget from Daly's Facebook page: "On this the 100th anniversary of the 1st meeting of Dáil Éireann the parliament of the whole island Paddy Power gave me odds of 20/1 on a United Ireland by 2024."
A stirring rendition of “Punctuation Once Again” seems in order.
Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth was hopping mad at the centenary commemoration in the Mansion House, where the lack of a female presence in the front row of her party ranks was very noticeable.
This wasn’t by accident, but very much by design. Before the event, the party organisation sent out an email telling TDs and Senators of the seating arrangements. In fact, the top brass were so anxious to make sure everyone knew where to sit they sent out a second email confirming the plan. They didn’t think to give one of the front row seats to a woman.
“Too many boys to keep happy,” says Smyth.
She was assigned a pew at the top of the third row, next to the platform. But when she arrived, her colleague Seán Haughey was already ensconced in it. She asked him to move and pointed out that the seats had been already assigned.
'Ceann Comhairle, I notice that you like my unusual shirt,' said Mick. 'I never said a word about your shirt'
Haughey refused to budge, telling her he didn't care about any email and he wasn't moving anywhere. The deputy for Cavan/Monaghan then enlisted the help of Michael Moynihan, the party whip, who is in charge of such arrangements. He approached Haughey and asked him to relocate elsewhere, but he too was firmly rebuffed.
Moynihan then suggested she sit in Barry Cowen’s allotted seat in the front row as it didn’t look like he was going to turn up. But, true to form, Cowen rambled in at the last minute. He took one look at the interloper and asked her to move. Which she did, ending up in the very back row with a number of disgruntled colleagues.
“It was very childish behaviour,” she complained afterwards of Haughey. “I’ll tell you one thing: chivalry is certainly dead.”
After the official ceremony, all the guests repaired to Fire restaurant next door for a drinks reception. A string quartet was playing.
"I don't know if they were trying to tell us something about the state of the current Dáil, but when we all arrived in the musicians started playing Abide with Me and then followed that up with Nearer My God To Thee, said a Government backbencher.
There was consternation in Leinster House on Wednesday morning and almost a full-scale lockdown of the building when a child on a school tour went “missing”.
A group of 90 sixth-class pupils from Ratoath in Co Meath were guests of their local Fianna Fáil TD, Thomas Byrne; they went to see the Dáil in session and were given a guided tour of the building.
One of the group was the niece of the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly.
Daly sported a grey long-sleeved T-shirt which featured a picture of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the slogan 'Free Assange'
When he heard she was in Leinster House he nipped down to see her and asked one of the teachers if he could take her to see the ministerial corridor and the Taoiseach’s office in Government buildings.
Jim and Ruby then went off on their own tour. However, due to a communications mix-up, when the other teachers did a head count they found one child missing. The ushers were told immediately and everyone was put on high alert.
As young Ruby was looking around the door of Leo Varadkar’s office, her uncle got an urgent phone from his adviser telling him to return as soon as possible as worry was mounting over the missing child.
She was duly delivered back to her classmates along with profuse apologies from her Uncle Jim. The ushers were stood down.
The award for best-dressed couple in Leinster House this week was won outright by deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, or Click for short.
On Wednesday, Daly sported a grey long-sleeved T-shirt which featured a picture of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the slogan “Free Assange”. If the powers-that-be noticed this blatant transgression of the House rules about displaying slogans in the chamber, they decided to turn a blind eye to it.
The following day, Mick caught the eye with his shocking pink African print tunic, turning the Topical Issues slot positively tropical. He was speaking about funding for the deaf community, whose organisation the Irish Deaf Society is in financial difficulty and may have to cut some vital services due to a lack of long-term structural funding.
He was also very keen to talk about his shirt and, when nobody said anything, he took the matter into his own hands.
“Ceann Comhairle, I notice that you like my unusual shirt,” said Mick.
“I never said a word about your shirt.”
“I just knew,” came the reply.
“I never asked you about your shirt,” laughed Seán Ó Fearghaíl.
"No. I just knew. I was asked to wear it in solidarity with the people of Malawi by the Irish Ambassador to Malawi, Gerry Cunningham, and I'm wearing it today in solidarity with the people of Malawi but also in solidarity with a most special group, the Irish Deaf Society," Mick told him.
Minister of State Catherine Byrne was most taken by Wallace’s outfit. “I think it’s lovely too. I have to be honest with you, I think the colour suits ya, but you always wear bright colours anyway.”
Which is true.