Miriam Lord: Taoiseach full of the joys of spring as Omicron storm passes

Micheál Martin relieved to be bringing good news on Ireland’s new Independence Day

No more misery monologues for the foreseeable.

It’s been one setback after another for Micheál Martin. But now, finally, he’s caught a break. Out through the gap at long, long last.

We thought he was going to cry.

In his first good news address to the nation since taking office in the middle of a pandemic, a mightily relieved Taoiseach stood at the doors of Government Buildings and declared a new Independence Day for Ireland. The timing was felicitous, falling exactly 103 years to the day in 1919 when the first Dáil met and declared the fledgling nation's independence.

“Spring is coming and I don’t know if I have ever looked forward to one as much as I am looking forward to this one,” he said from his familiar spot at the foot of the steps. “We need to see each other again, we need to see each other smile, we need to sing again.”

It must have been such a welcome change from the usual Friday night dampeners with their promises of better things to come sinking in the infectious gloom of further restrictions and impositions. And while Micheál’s deep sigh as he prepared to speak indicated a weight lifting off his shoulders, the strain of trying to keep the show on the road for so long was apparent too.

“You responded, you did what you had to do,” he told the people. “We have weathered the Omicron storm.”

Liberty at last.

“Today is a good day,” declared Micheál.

When his eyes watered when he talked of spring and all the good things to come, he wasn't the only person feeling a little emotional

And the entire country exhaled with him.

Sing, did he say?

He didn’t. Not even a few bars of De Banks.

There was disappointment when he didn’t even throw in a quote from Meat Loaf. (Leo Varadkar would have.)

But it was a minor quibble. And when Micheál’s voice quivered as he spoke of the loved ones who died in the past two, difficult, years, who could blame him? Or when his eyes watered when he talked of spring and all the good things to come, he wasn’t the only person feeling a little emotional.

At the press conference afterwards, the mood had considerably lightened. The announcement made and the reawakening underway.

Tony Holohan said he plans to go to a couple of concerts and GAA matches.

Leo Varadkar has no plans to go clubbing over the weekend but he’ll chance “a quiet pint on Sunday. See how it goes.”

As for work, he’ll be looking forward to meeting all those new members of staff he has only encountered on virtual meetings. “It’s always interesting to find out who’s tall and who’s short.”

The Taoiseach is probably going to head off to Kerry, probably to take in a match in Killarney.

He won’t be going mad either. “I’ll have a pint over the weekend.”

Just to toast Independence Day.

Wicklow’s lesser-spotted Minister

One year on and poor Stephen Donnelly still isn't feeling the love on his own department's Twitter famine, sorry, feed.

Do they not know who he is?

Most disappointing. Not least because yer man Simon Harris, that other Minister from Wicklow, used to get loads of mentions when he was in charge at Health.

Last January, alarm bells went off at the highest level in Baggot Street when it emerged that Simon’s successor was not getting similar recognition. Obviously something needed to be done at the very highest level to address the Minister’s attention deficit problem as quickly as possible. We were, after all, in the middle of a pandemic.

Apparently the fear within Donnelly's inner sanctum was that the Department of Health's Twitter account was more Nphet-centred than Donnelly-driven

Donnelly's terrible predicament came to light in April when our Public Affairs Correspondent Simon Carswell revealed that such was the concern over the shock results of analysis carried out by the Minister's media adviser, Páraic Gallagher, it even reached the desk of secretary general Robert Watt. He wasted no time getting in touch with the department's head of communications, Deirdre Watters.

“The Minister completed an analysis of the department’s Twitter feed. There is no reference to the Minister, as you can see. We need to discuss,” he told Ms Watters in an email dated January 14th. Apparently the fear within Donnelly’s inner sanctum was that the Department of Health’s Twitter account was more Nphet-centred than Donnelly-driven, with far more mentions for Tony Holohan’s public health monitoring team than there were for Donnelly’s doings.

Has this top-level intervention worked at all for the overlooked Minister?

Well, despite all the attention and some awkward questions at the time for Donnelly in a Morning Ireland interview, further analysis by media research company Onclusive (formerly Kantar) shows that matters have not improved for him since then.

We’ve had a look at the stats.

An analysis of tweets on the Twitter accounts of Government departments since the controversy until the end of last year shows that Donnelly remains the Coalition’s lesser-spotted Minister.

He was mentioned in just 11 per cent of the department's tweets between April and December. Despite his department's best efforts, tweeting less overall but doubling the number of times it mentioned him, Donnelly was still bottom of the pile amongst his Cabinet peers. The Department of Finance may have tweeted the least of all the departments but at least it knew how to shine a spotlight, with Paschal Donohoe emerging as the Minister most mentioned in departmental tweets with a 52 per cent strike rate.

For 2021 as a whole, the strongest performer was arguably Simon Harris. With 506 mentions, spread across 200 days, the Department of Further and Higher Education mentioned him more than every other day. Funny that: Harris was the Minister Donnelly was compared against in the original analysis shared within the Department of Health.

When it comes to tweeting, it seems Stephen still has a lot to learn from his constituency rival in Wicklow.

All back to my House

With restrictions lifting , there is no truth in the rumour that Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Kevin "Boxer" Moran are camping outside the gates of Leinster House in anticipation of a full reopening of facilities for former members of the Dáil next week. But, rather like the queues outside department stores before the January sales, visions of the former Independent Alliance amigos storming the members' bar as soon as the doors are opened cannot be discounted.

While the Oireachtas has yet to pronounce on revised arrangements for Leinster House, stools will be back in the Dáil bar on Monday while the catering staff are gearing up for an expected onslaught of first-time TDs and Senators when normal business resumes in the Members' Restaurant.

The Class of 2020 never got the chance to parade proud mammies and grannies around their new place of work, treating them to drinks in the Dáil bar and a slap-up meal in the VIP restaurant. As fully fledged parliamentarians – it’s a major achievement for politicians of any stripe – they haven’t been able to bring family, friends and supporters into Leinster House. It’s a special occasion for the newbies and one they have yet to enjoy.

God be with the days of the mineral and pink schnack for the school pupils and a roast lunch in the self-service canteen for confirmed voters

This also raises the question of vouchers. Many Oireachtas members buy them for meals in the Oireachtas restaurant which they then donate as raffle prizes. An awful lot of “dinner for four with deputy so-and-so in Leinster House” prizes are knocking about the place now and they will have to be honoured.

TDs and Senators are waiting with bated breath for the green light to bring back their beloved school tours and Active Age (voters’) groups. God be with the days of the mineral and pink schnack for the school pupils and a roast lunch in the self-service canteen for confirmed voters.

The transition year students and interns are also itching to get back.

But the reopening of the campus to former members and the general public will see one source of irritation returning to annoy all but one of the main parties.

Tour groups are always sooo excited when they encounter the Healy-Raes and/or Mary Lou McDonald.

It drives the others nuts.

Ireland’s matron saint

The Dáil and Seanad returned from the Christmas and New Year recess this week with the formal announcement from Government of a new public holiday in honour of St Brigid. Not before time – we now have a Biddy’s Day in February to go with a Paddy’s Day in March.

Welcoming the news, Fianna Fáil Senator Fiona O'Loughlin called it "a great recognition for our matron saint of this country".

She said Brigid’s values of equality, 1,500 years later, are still strong. “She was the very first feminist in this country and cared deeply for those who were downtrodden by society. She looked after both women and men equally and cared deeply for the environment, for the farming community and for the animal kingdom.”

Fiona mentioned that Kildare has a special relationship with Brigid and said that the first thing she did when elected mayor of the county "was to put a bog oak St Brigid's cross in the chamber, where it still is and of which I am very proud. So it's very much appreciated by the people of Kildare and, I have no doubt, by the people of Ireland."

Remember that this woman, she gouged out her eyes to make herself ugly because she didn't want unwanted attention from men

They probably appreciated the announcement too.

But Senator O'Loughlin had competition from her party colleague Erin McGreehan, who welcomed the news as not just "a day of celebration for mná na hÉireann" but also one for the Wee County. St Brigid, she reminded the Seanad, was a Louth woman, born over the road in Faughart.

“Remember that this woman, she gouged out her eyes to make herself ugly because she didn’t want unwanted attention from men. So that on the day that we remember St Brigid and we revel in her strength and her mightiness and how proud we are to have her as our patron saint, remember what she did to get rid of unwanted attention from men,” said Erin.

“I applaud her, although I don’t agree with it. But that’s what she did in the fifth century. So g’wan, Bríd!”