Miriam Lord: The boss Ross gathers moss with albatross
Boredom prompts Winston Churchtown to compose doggerel about Fianna Fáil counterpart
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Shane Ross: well-meaning efforts at sparkling banter. Photograph: Maxwell’s
Winston Churchtown’s two-day appearance before the Oireachtas Committee on Un-Olympian Activities was a tour de force.
He would be absolutely unanimous with himself on that score.
But it was nothing compared with the Minister for Sport’s tour-de-farce in front of the Oireachtas Golf Society on the intervening night, when he regaled political colleagues and invited guests with a questionable piece of doggerel he had composed earlier because he was “so bored” at the meeting convened to examine a report he had commissioned.
Definitely not a personal best for Shane Ross.
The Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport was discussing the results of Judge Carroll Moran’s inquiry into last year’s Olympic Games ticket-touting fiasco.
Ross, aka Lord Winston Churchtown of Dublin Rathdown, was the man who had asked him to compile it.
Yesterday morning, Winston was in fine fettle following his impromptu performance at the president’s prize dinner in Wicklow’s Powerscourt Golf Club. Committee members who questioned him included TD Robert Troy, who is not only his Fianna Fáil shadow but also vice-captain of the Oireachtas Golf Society.
The two men have had some lively exchanges in the Dáil over the past year.
On Thursday, Troy, along with his party colleague Kevin O’Keefe, had been (very lightly) grilling the Minister before the session adjourned. He continued where he left off yesterday, resisting what must have been a strong urge to start with a barbed: “I do hope we’re not going to bore you today, Minister.”
After the first meeting, Ross and Troy made their way to the afters of the golf outing, where country music impresario and former Fianna Fáil senator Donie Cassidy had pulled out all the stops to make his president’s prize an event to remember.
The Minister for Sport was among Cassidy’s VIP guests, along with a number of ambassadors, some leading businesspeople and the society’s favourite golfing European commissioner Big Phil Hogan.
For the record, Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen won first prize. (His brother Brian also competed on the day.) Donie duly presented his trophy. Then the Minister for Sport was asked to present the runner-up prize to Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes.
Winston Churchtown bounded up to the microphone and began with some comments about Westmeath politicians being the bane of his life – for years he had to put up with Donie Cassidy in the Seanad and now he has Robert Troy shouting at him in the Dáil about his drink-driving legislation.
He declared he spent the day being “persecuted” at the Oireachtas committee and eventually got “so bored” he decided to write a poem about Troy .
“The glasses were hanging down on the string and suddenly they were up on his nose and he whipped out a handful of notes and started to read,” says a former TD who attended. “He stuttered through it, going on about how Robert likes a few jars and how he is batting for the Vintners’ Federation against his [Ross’s] drink-driving legislation. It was terrible.”
At one stage in his recitation, the Minister paused and left out some lines saying: “I can’t read this out.”
It appears his performance “went down like a lead balloon”.
The Fianna Fáilers present were particularly annoyed by his comments about Robert Troy, who is a very moderate drinker.
“I’ve been at a few of those dinners and I’ve never seen such a negative reaction. There was a deafening silence – you’re not supposed to make political points at social events like this,” said another guest, who added the poem “had about four verses and, to be fair to him, rhymed in a lot of places”.
In his well-meaning efforts at sparkling banter, Winston Churchtown made a second clumsy attempt at humour.
This time, he directed his remarks at retired judge Pat McCartan, who was a TD for the Workers’ Party in a former life. Winston declared he was delighted to see Pat as he is one of the good judges and there aren’t too many of them around.
Eyebrows hit the ceiling when he joked that, thanks to the new measures he is bringing in, we will soon have a lot more good judges.
That’ll please their lordships.
Winston’s failed comedy routine may have been the subject of much discussion outside the committee room yesterday, but inside it his double-hander with Fianna Fáil’s Kevin O’Keefe was hilarious for the second day in a row.
The TD for Cork East has a gorgeous, but very strong, Cork accent which can prove impenetrable to the inexperienced ear. It soon became clear that the Dublin Rathdown deputy – plummy-toned and public-school educated – was having severe difficulty understanding him.
As Kevin asked his questions, Winston stared across in sheer wonderment, slowly cocking his head from side to side, like one dog picking up the whine of another in the television background noise. Sometimes, when making lengthy points at incredible speed, O’Keefe sounded as if he was speaking while gargling a glass of water.
On the opposite side, Winston Churchtown would start his eager terrier head movements, before pulling anguished facial expressions while leaning forward as far as he could.
And still, he looked baffled.
So the glasses would come off, in case he might hear better. Then back on again, then the head would swivel this way and that and the face would scrunch up even more.
“Eh, yah. I’m sorry. Yah. Could you repeat that?”
A joy to behold.
Not to mention a little diversion from the business at hand – the tangled web surrounding the story of those black-market tickets in Rio and how the Olympic Council of Ireland conducted its business during the tenure of its former president, Pat Hickey.
Fine Gael senator Frank Feighan thinks there is a movie in the whole saga. “This would make a great film,” he said. “It’s been going on for 17 or 18 years.”
Solidarity TD Mick Barry offered a few suggestions for a title.
Blame it on Rio, or The Godfather, or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
But who would play Winston Churchtown?