Miriam Lord: Thin-skinned Taoiseach’s stand-up gags fall flat

Varadkar makes lame jokes about Oliver Callan as Michael Collins lip syncs to Abba

A clumsy attempt at comedy by Leo Varadkar on Thursday night had guests at a special dinner in Dublin wondering if comedian Oliver Callan's well-aimed barbs are getting to our thin-skinned Taoiseach.

Varadkar was guest of honour at a dinner in north Dublin to mark the 25th anniversary of Fingal County Council. As its most successful alumnus, he was the main speaker. The Taoiseach opened his address by blowing the big surprise of the night and revealing the identity of the after-dinner entertainer – Oliver Callan – who he then proceeded to slag off in no uncertain terms.

This seemed to be Leo’s take on an American “roast” where an honoured guest is jokingly insulted to demonstrate to everybody what a great guy (or gal) he really is. However, in the Taoiseach’s version, the roastee wasn’t even in the building when he performed his scripted put-downs.

Unfortunately, the brave Fine Gael leader had to leave the function just before Callan came on to perform his routine.


Guests at the function in Malahide's Grand Hotel included councillors past and present, among them politicians who moved on from local politics to the Oireachtas.

“It was weird speech,” said one of the attendees of the Taoiseach’s effort. “The tone was all wrong and it went down badly with quite a few people in the audience.”

There was a feeling his address was unnecessarily political as he talked up Fine Gael's achievements in the Fingal area and name-checked representatives from his own party going back for years. Thus, there was a mention for Deputy Alan Farrell, but none for the likes of Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly or Fianna Fáil's Darragh O'Brien who were seated at the same table along with FF Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee. This was seen as very bad form.

Wrong chord

"On a side note, I felt Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's party political speech at the dinner struck the wrong chord for the evening. Someone is definitely in general election mode!" Labour councillor Duncan Smith wrote afterwards in a Facebook post.

The prickly Oliver Callan element took everyone by surprise.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this,” Varadkar told his audience before going on to reveal who was booked to do the after-dinner entertainment. The organisers were less than pleased, but Leo had to let the cat out of the bag in order to commence sniping at the popular impressionist.

Leo pointed out how Callan goes on about him "wearing Canali suits, being driven around in a 5 series BMW and apparently quaffing champagne at Fine Gael meetings – if only!"

There was a trickle of laughter.

"But thankfully, despite all the time he spends on Callan's Kicks, Oliver is able to find enough time to do a lot of other things as well, including articles for The Irish Times, a regular column in the Sun and, of course, doing lucrative voiceovers ads for the Sunday Business Post and other successful enterprises like Aldi.

“So I guess capitalism isn’t so bad if the cheque is big enough.”

Ooof! Leo got a big laugh here, but the laughter quickly gave way to a chorus of tut-tutting and groans.

“But, em, in all seriousness, I do enjoy his work. It does, always, make me think and laugh. Whenever I hear him doing a voiceover ad for a supermarket it never fails to make me think and when I read his journalism it never fails to make me laugh.

“Sorry – the other way around. My apologies!”

Absent satirist

More uncertain laughter, not least because Callan wasn’t in the room and couldn’t respond. That would have been properly entertaining.

The Taoiseach finished his waspish routine with an effort to curry some favour with the absent satirist.

“But to be completely honest, there’s only one thing that can puncture the self-satisfaction rating of any politician and that, of course, is not being in an episode of Callan’s Kicks. Because if you’re not being lampooned by Oliver you haven’t reached the top tier of Irish politics – or so I told Helen McEntee when I consoled her last Friday in the car when she realised she’s now a regular feature on that particular programme.”

Laugh? They did their best.

“He was very, very cutting. There was a few intakes of breath when he did the Oliver Callan stuff. It was kinda childish, to be honest with you,” said our informant.

Perhaps Leo was letting off some steam. We hear he wasn’t in the best of form around Government Buildings last week. It might Brexit-induced stress. His staff have been looking rather strained in recent days.

A Fine Gael staffer offered us an explanation: “He’s been bollocking everyone out of it all week.”

From procurement to European Parliament

Alice Mary Higgins is set to announce she is running for a seat in the European Parliament.

Senator Higgins, the eldest child of President Michael D, has been playing her cards very close to her chest but word in the Seanad is that she is definitely going to throw her hat in the ring and seek a place in the Dublin constituency.

She was more concerned with the passage of her Public Procurement Bill which she launched in the Upper House on Wednesday when we cornered her in the corridor to ascertain her intentions. Two Fianna Fáil Senators shouted "Is she telling you all about the campaign for Europe?" as they passed by.

Alice Mary’s Contract Preparation and Award Criteria Bill will be debated in the Seanad on Wednesday. The draft legislation proposes significant changes to public spending laws, putting a stop to the practice of only awarding contracts to the lowest bidder without giving proper regard to considerations such as quality and environmental impact.

Public procurement is a hot topic at the moment with the furore over the tender price for the national children’s hospital, where building costs have spiralled. The Bill aims to overhaul a bid system which “effectively rewards the companies that are cutting corners”. The lowest bid may still be the preferred option, but not before other criteria are factored into the decision.

Once the legislation is on its way, Alice Mary will turn her full attention to the European elections at the end of May. As a former activist and campaigner with Trócaire, Older and Bolder and the National Womens' Council, she already knows her way around Brussels.

She quit her role on the executive of the European Women’s Lobby when she won a seat in Seanad Éireann. In the Dáil, where she is leader of the Civil Engagement Group (as opposed to the uncivilised engagers in some parts of the House), she has focused a lot on European issues in the data, equality and environment areas.

Not exactly great for getting headlines but it’s obviously a Higgins thing.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)

Lip-sync shows are the new Strictly Ballroom when it comes to charity fundraisers these days. Perhaps it’s because learning to move and mime to a backing track is less time-consuming and far easier on the joints than having to memorise the Argentinian Tango.

Fine Gael Senator Michelle Mulherin caused a stir a few years ago with her raunchy performance of Shania Twain's Man! I Feel Like a Woman.

But Michelle is in danger of losing her lip-sync crown to sultry Agnetha Collins from Sweden via Schull who will be performing a medley of Abba songs for her adoring fans in Bandon on Saturday night.

Agnetha's alter ego is Michael Collins, Rural Independents Group TD for Cork South West. He is back by popular command for his latest gig which is in aid of the Jack and Friends Autism Support Centre in the Bandon. There might be a few tickets left for the Lip-Synch Battle but they are selling out fast.

Michael’s Abba tribute group made its debut during a St Patrick’s weekend fundraiser, performing for two nights in a row with a host of other tribute acts from the town.

Hi! I’m Agnetha

“I’m Agnetha, as you can tell from my beautiful blonde hair and my nephew Cian is Frida,” he tells us. “Benny, the fella with the moustache is my daughter Maria and my parliamentary assistant Catherine McCarthy is Bjorn.”

The TD – who got into an almighty spat with Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed over the Fisheries Bill in the Dáil on Thursday during which both Corkmen invoked the name of Michael Collins (the other one) – hired his lovely "rigout" from a fancy dress shop in Clonakilty.

“I like Abba’s music. We decided to dress the women as the men and the men as the women to distract the audience because we’re not that good. We didn’t really have much time to practise.”

He introduces their act, performed against a backdrop of the Swedish flag, in a Swedish accent.

Sadly, his tribute band didn’t win the lip-synch battle on their first outing, despite his lurid pink tights and sheer, alarmingly snug-fitting top. Michael’s hosiery was also a bit on the small side. In the later part of the medley, the crotch was down around his knees and he could hardly walk, never mind dance.

“There was a bit of panic at the last minute before we went on. They were trying to sew me into the tights. Oh Jesus, there were pins and needles everywhere. But it was all for a good cause.”

West Cork vs Trump

Michael Collins’s pink tights aren’t the only big news story in west Cork this week.

Just as the the Skibereen Eagle famously had its eye on Russia and the Tsar, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Fianna Fáil's TD in Cork South West, has been keeping an eye on Donald Trump and the White House.

Margaret, who is her party’s disability spokeswoman, was shocked to learn that Trump’s administration planned to cut billions of dollars in funding from the Special Olympics movement in the States.

She issued an outraged press release, blasting Trump’s “shameful cuts” as “a cruel and unnecessary targeting of those with disabilities and special needs”. She also tweeted her displeasure.

Within a day, doubtless upon hearing the verdict from west Cork, the Donald had reversed the decision.

Margaret is delighted.