Miriam Lord unveils her political winners, losers and total eejits of 2018
Journalist John Waters takes the Sex Pistols gong for services to swearing
Eejits of the Year
This award is claimed outright by a very special group of men and women who exist in a peculiar political limbo reserved for creatures known as Ministers of State.
These poor souls yearn for full Cabinet status and live in constant hope that somebody in the Taoiseach’s first XIV will resign, get sacked or run over on Kildare Street by the 67 bus – sooner rather than later.
A delegation of Ministers of State from outside the greater Dublin area met Minister of Finance Paschal Donohoe this month and pleaded with him for more expenses as the cost of accommodation in the capital these days is astronomical.
Under existing rules, a Minister of State receives a €94,535 salary as a TD and a ministerial payment of up to €35,319, pushing their earning power up to €129,854. They do not enjoy the same expenses regime as backbench TDs, and this rankles.
Unfortunately, news of their tête-à-tête leaked and all the juniors got for their trouble was an overwhelming wave of derision from inside and outside Leinster House. Paschal sent them away with a flea in their ear.
St Patty’s Day Award for Transatlantic Foot in Mouth
This one goes to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who, having survived a toe-curling meeting with a bored-looking Donald Trump in the Oval Office, set off for Capitol Hill for the traditional Speaker’s lunch and lost the run of himself during a speech in front of the president and members of Congress.
Launching into an anecdote about a conversation he had when minister for tourism with then businessman Trump, Leo told how the man who would become president asked if he could do anything about the proposed building of wind farms near his newly purchased Doonbeg golf resort in Co Clare.
He said he rang Clare County Council on his behalf.
“I tried to do what I could do. The planning permission was declined . . . The president has very kindly given me credit for that. I have to say it probably would have been refused anyway,” he added, modestly.
And a trip which should have been a success ended up with Leo insisting he did not try to influence the planning process while, back home, Opposition TDs bellowed for an inquiry.
Three Wise Women Award
This award goes to Helen McEntee, Mairéad McGuinness and Verona Murphy who, on the Brexit front, have been playing a blinder in Europe, and more particularly, in the UK.
McEntee, the Minister of State for Europe, has been growing in stature in Brussels as she bats for Ireland in negotiations and at media briefings. She is a very able stand-in for Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney when he can’t attend meetings. She has also handled media situations with bullish UK Brexiteers with understated authority.
MEP McGuinness has been a rock of sense in a sea of confusion, misinformation and meat-headed ignorance, calmly stating the case for Ireland and the European Union as Brexiteering MPs and Anglocentric journalists wilfully try to misinterpret her plainly-put statements of truth. Her stock in Europe has never been so high.
Wexford woman Murphy, head of the Irish Road Haulage Association, has become a much sought-after commentator about Brexit and its effects on business. Her impressive grasp of her brief and knowledge of the transport sector has left many Leave cheerleaders floundering. So it comes as no surprise to hear that the trucking expert, who puts the articulate into articulated, is currently being courted by the Fine Gael with a view to her running for the Dáil in the next election.
Just one other thing. Is it absolutely necessary for Leo Varadkar to have Helen McEntee standing silently at his side during every photo-op in Brussels and at every impromptu doorstep interview? Is her seat in Meath so vulnerable that he has to do the Sinn Féin trick of pushing candidates into every TV shot and camera frame?
Nelson Mandela Award
This goes to Michael Lowry after his Long Walk to Freedom in June when he emerged from Dublin Circuit Criminal Court with a “fantastic result” after “22 years of turmoil”.
The Independent TD for Tipperary and former minister for communications, who was excoriated by the Moriarty tribunal for his involvement when minister in the awarding of the State’s second mobile phone licence to Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone consortium, left court in “a free man” with nothing but four convictions for tax offences against himself and his refrigeration company along with an overall €25,000 fine and a trifling three-year disqualification from acting as a company director.
Sex Pistols Award for Services to Swearing
The runner-up in this category is Shane Ross, who had a run in with his constant tormentor Mattie McGrath in the Dáil canteen after McGrath had been giving him a tough time over his proposed drink-driving law.
Mattie was having lunch with his daughter when Ross, aka Winston Churchtown, came tearing around the corner, shouting the odds.
“You’re a bollocks. You’re a f***ing bollocks,” Winston told a startled McGrath in the course of an expletive-laden tirade. Winston then disappeared around the corner, only to re-emerge and start the name calling again.
But the winner is journalist and anti-abortion activist John Waters, who took the hump during a podcast with Eamon Dunphy and stormed out of the studio.
“Aaah, don’t go!” pleaded Dunphy as his guest departed having been asked to define when life begins.
“This isn’t a fair interview! You’re a bollocks! You’re a f***ing bollocks! You can f*** off, Eamon! . . . Talk to Una Mullally. F*** off.”
Senator of the Year
This goes to Ivana Bacik for her tireless work, stretching back to her student days, on the abortion campaign. And for her great energy in promoting Votáil 100, the centenary of womens’ suffrage.
Heckler of the Year
The winner here is Daily Mail journalist Joanna Bell, who was ejected from the Irish embassy in London last week for her drunken heckling of Ambassador Adrian O’Neill during a reception. Bell, originally from Dundalk, interrupted him as he spoke about the possibility of a second Brexit referendum.
Afterwards, she contritely revealed that “a good lunch with an eccentric aristocrat” was the reason for her “excessive robustness.”
The eccentric aristocrat, by the way, is the Hon David Roper-Curzon, who is set to be Lord Teynham when his 90-year-old father dies.
As she was being escorted down the stairs, Bell shouted: “This is because I am pro-Brexit.” Also on the stairs, but heading in the opposite direction, were Jeffrey and Mary Archer.
Mrs Archer shouted after her: “I’m a Brexiteer and I’m not being asked to leave. This is about manners, not politics.”
And then Jeffrey cried: “And I’m a Remainer!”
Services to Religion
No. Not the Pope. Francis delighted his many followers when he visited in September, but what was supposed to be the highlight of his trip – Mass in the Phoenix Park – was something of a damp squib due to rain and a low turnout.
The award goes to Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan, who was the subject of one of the most unexpected political stories of the year when she was forced to go public and deny that she had celebrated Mass in her local parish church when the priest failed to turn up one Saturday evening.
What actually happened is that she led a prayer service with fellow parishioners in the absence of a priest so that the congregation were able to worship, albeit in a different way, having made their way to church.
And she got a rap on the knuckles from Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, for her trouble.
Committee Performer of the Year
Committees are often overlooked, but certain TDs and senators put in a lot of hours and hard work at this unglamorous end of politics. The Public Accounts Committee is a different animal. It gets a lot of attention and, consequently, it is often used by grandstanding TDs to draw attention to themselves.
Catherine Connolly, Independent TD for Galway, has been an outstanding performer at the PAC. She is calm, measured and incisive. She asks her questions and she gets her answers. Job done.
If only others – yes, Marc MacSharry, we’re looking at you – could do the same.
Give it a Rest Award
This one is being shared by Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins and the Healy-Rae brothers. Rarely a day goes by in the Dáil without one of the four kicking up a stink about how rural Ireland is on its last legs, dying on its feet with its people broken and beaten down by “them above in Dublin”. They paint a pitiful situation of life beyond the Pale. If you were to spend too long listening to their bellyaching, you’d begin to wonder why anyone at all wants to live in rural Ireland.
There is good and bad in rural and urban living. This forever complaining quartet, despite what its members might believe, doesn’t have the monopoly on bad luck stories in the Dáil Éireann.
Long-suffering Politician of the Year
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan is still marooned in the Seanad, months into the Upper House’s consideration of the Judicial Appointments Bill. Senators, particularly those with legal backgrounds, are holding up the progress of the Bill by tabling countless amendments and talking for Ireland.
They are ably marshalled by senior counsel Michael McDowell, who is having a filibustering field day and enjoying every minute of it. He hasn’t looked so happy in years. What could make him happier? Word is that he would love a Dáil comeback.
Meanwhile, Charlie must endure the meanderings with fortitude. It’s Winston Churchtown’s pet project, but he doesn’t have to listen to the senators droning on. Charlie has clocked up almost 70 hours of duty – it’s like he’s doing community service in the Seanad. The debate has reached section 38 of the Bill, and there are more than 60 to consider. And all the while the amendments fly in.
Best Presidential Candidate Who Didn’t Get a Nomination
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Best Presidential Dogs and Campaign Secret Weapons
Bród and Síoda.
Best Presidential Candidate
By popular acclaim, and a landslide victory, Michael D Higgins.
Most Underwhelming Set of Expenses Figures Finally Published to Fulfil an Election Promise
Michael D Higgins.
Minister of the Year
This goes to Simon Harris for his achievement in leading a difficult abortion referendum campaign from the front, steering it to an overwhelming vote by the people to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and overseeing the introduction of legislation to allow the provision of abortion services in Ireland. He was present in the Seanad on the night of December 13th, along with those who campaigned for decades for Irish women to have autonomy over their own bodies, when all stages of the Bill passed.
Double Act of the Year
The winners are Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Despite being rivals for the party leadership last year, the two have worked together very well on the Brexit issue. They have presented a united front and remained steadfastly on message. Their sure-footedness and grasp of the issues is in marked contrast to the Brexit shambles lurching between crisis and farce across the water.
Politician of the Year
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is the clear winner. From his surprising Dáil announcement in January that he was not only supporting the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment but was also in favour of the introduction of abortion within a 12-week time limit, to his decision to continue supporting the Government next year so it can be free to concentrate on Brexit issues, Micheál has put in a strong and principled performance in the thankless and difficult role of leader of the Opposition. He is also saddled with a parliamentary party team which is far from united, with some actively working to undermine his leadership.
It may be that he knows he doesn’t have the numbers to come out on top if an election is called in the next 12 months, so stalling in the “national interest” isn’t such a bad idea. And while his decision to support the recommendations of both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas committee on abortion was deeply opposed and resented by a large rump in the party, he emerged as the one most in tune with the will of the people.
The decision to continue the confidence-and-supply arrangement with Fine Gael may backfire on him, and is very unpopular with many activists, but the public may take a different view and reward him for taking a noble stand at a time when Ireland faces potential grave national crisis.