Miriam Lord: Zappone corners Bill Gates to defend Ireland’s honour

Minister tells Microsoft man in Addis Ababa that Ireland’s aid funding has not ‘plateaued’

‘I’m from Seattle!’ Katherine Zappone cried to stop Bill Gates in his tracks

‘I’m from Seattle!’ Katherine Zappone cried to stop Bill Gates in his tracks


There’s Katherine Zappone, jetting away to Africa last weekend to rub shoulders with billionaire philanthropists. It’s all foreign jaunts and glamorous soirées for Ministers these days.

Or maybe not.

The Minister for Children was in Addis Ababa for all of 18 hours last Saturday morning/Sunday night, and in the course of her short sojourn in the Ethiopian capital she managed to corner Bill Gates for a photograph in a hotel kitchen while filling him in on Ireland’s increased contribution to a global healthcare fund.

Zappone was attending the 32nd Assembly Summit of the African Union, where she announced a 50 per cent increase in Ireland’s annual contribution to the Global Fund, an international organisation dedicated to the eradication of Aids, TB and malaria epidemics around the world.

The keynote speaker at the event was Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose foundation is one of the main supporters of the fund. In the course of his speech Gates said there were countries that could provide more funding to combat these diseases, but their commitments had “plateaued”.

After his speech, as he was ushered through a back door, Zappone decided she was going to defend Ireland’s record and set off up the hall after him.

She beetled into the hotel kitchens and made a beeline for the billionaire, whose minders quickly surrounded him and kept moving.

However, in much the same way people in the crowd at last year’s St Patrick’s Day parade in New York shouted “Castleknock!” when the Taoiseach passed, stopping him in his tracks, Zappone cried “I’m from Seattle!” and got the same reaction from Gates.

Introducing herself, she informed him “Ireland has not plateaued” and outlined details of the funding increase. There followed a photograph to mark the occasion, which the Minister duly tweeted.

Putting it up to Senate non-voters

Most of us have no say in who does or who does not sit in Seanad Éireann.

The majority of senators are installed by a small group of national and local politicians in a complicated party political carve-up of seats. While these politicians like to argue they represent the wider electorate that voted them into office, a citizen’s right to choose does not come to mind when contemplating the occupants of the Upper House.

Another group of 11 senators is chosen by the Taoiseach and whoever is propping up the government and needs to kept sweet. And then there are the six university senators – two small batches chosen by the graduates of favoured third-level institutions.

These voters are a very privileged bunch, not only because they have a voice in Seanad elections but also because they are the only Irish citizens who have the right to vote in an election here while living abroad.

The successful six in 2016, from a crowded field, were Trinity’s David Norris (poll topper), Ivana Bacik and Lynn Ruane and NUI’s Rónán Mullen (poll topper), Michael McDowell and Alice Mary Higgins.

It is often the case, when a university senator does or says something that becomes a matter of public discussion or controversy, that fulminating graduates take to social media and the popular print exhorting like-minded degree-holders to claim their vote and have their say on the Seanad.

The Taoiseach will be in Chicago this year, and Billy is hoping Leo might throw his head around the door of one of his establishments when he hits town

Yet the amount of graduates who quietly vote still seems outweighed by the amount of graduates who don’t and then noisily complain after the event. So well done to Senator Billy Lawless, who has issued a timely reminder that the deadline to register for a vote in the next Seanad elections is just over a week away (February 26th).

Lawless, a former president of the Licensed Vintners Federation, left Galway for Chicago in 1998. He now heads a successful restaurant chain in the American city. Enda Kenny appointed him to the Seanad in 2016, where he has been a strong voice for the Irish diaspora. Billy is co-founder of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition and vice-president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“Since my appointment I’ve been concentrating on including our Irish diaspora in the affairs of Ireland. One of the most important ways that many of our men and women living abroad can do that is to exercise their democratic right to vote in the upcoming Seanad elections,” he says.

“I’m a huge believer in our constitutional right to vote, and we should use it. There are a lot of UCG votes in my family, and everyone has registered from here in Chicago.” Billy says he doesn’t intend to seek a second term in the Seanad and he won’t be looking for a university seat. He just wants graduates to register.

“When you look at the number of people who vote in contrast to the huge numbers who graduate every year, it’s nothing. I’m trying to raise awareness, that’s all. Vote, for God’s sake, vote!”

On the business front, as vice-president of the Irish Fellowship Club, he’s getting geared up for the big St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Windy City next month.

The Taoiseach will be in Chicago this year, and Billy is hoping Leo might throw his head around the door of one of his establishments when he hits town.

In the meantime, the Senator wants to remind the diaspora, in particular, that the voter registration process is simple and straightforward.

Go to nui.ie/elections/seanad-register to download and complete the registration form. It must be signed and a scanned copy sent to records@nui.ie before February 26th.

For TCD graduates, the registration form can be downloaded from tcd.ie.

Triumph for Generic Senator Man

Generic Senator Man. We all know him. That pleasant Whatsisname guy in the suit you don’t really notice because he doesn’t say or do very much and is regularly confused with all the other generic political party senator men scrolling through their mobile phones in a near-deserted chamber on a listless afternoon while some minister of state drones on about amendments to amendments because the canteen doesn’t start serving tea until 5pm.

They are big noises in their local constituency organisations, and some have clout in their parliamentary parties depending on whose ear they have at senior level. But they aren’t terribly well known outside of that.

One of them made a big play for national attention on Thursday. Tim Lombard from Minane Bridge in Cork (he is close to Tánaiste Simon Coveney) issued a major press release through the party press office along with a mortifyingly fablis video, which was posted on Twitter.

“Put the Phone Away on Valentine’s Day” was the headline on the release, in which he outed himself as the man “behind a campaign asking people to desist from using their smartphones when socialising with friends and family”. Clearly, though, this unwelcome use of technology does not extend to Seanad proceedings, as Tim was spotted engrossed in his smartphone in the chamber on Thursday afternoon.

It’s quite a lengthy press release. “Since I first mooted the idea of phone-free pubs and restaurants in recent weeks, I have received an overwhelmingly positive response,” says Tim, as he asks why people should allow “a modern invention detract from love, friendship and company?” Not when they could just join Fine Gael and get the same result.

“I am currently working on legislation that will require smartphone manufacturers to inform users about the amount of time they spend on their phones each day,” he declares, encouraging people to put away their mobiles away on Valentine’s Day so that “your loved one doesn’t end up on a date with a phone”.

Then there’s the video with a tantalising “Roses are red, violets are blue … ” tagline and it has Tim looking like a startled vampire in front of a blood-red curtain in a darkened room with candles burning and a strange figure emitting a luminous green glow gesticulating in the background.

He monotonously intones his mobile phone advice to the camera as a piano plinkety-plinks the Transylvanian gloom. His effort is well-received on social media. “Roses are red, violets are blue, no one knows who Tim Lombard is and neither will you,” says a very fair Derek Mooney (a former adviser to Willie O’Dea). Independent Senator Lynn Ruane is also very kind. “Roses are red, our Seanad seats are blue, you sit right in front of me and I can’t wait to take the piss outta you,” she writes. A triumph for Tim. Generic senator men take heart.

The wild Wallace way

The contribution of the week in Dáil Éireann was won hands down by Wexford’s Mick Wallace, who delivered a tour de force during Thursday afternoon’s debate on the Ticket Touting Bill.

In a wide-ranging, exuberant and intoxicating speech, he regaled the few TDs present with ripping yarns from his years as a globetrotting soccer fan. At the end of more than 15 entertaining minutes, Wallace stuck to his contention that, while the legislation aimed at curbing the activities of ticket touts may be well-intentioned, it will be very difficult to enforce.

He spoke as somebody who has been to nine World Cups and nine European Championships and who “seriously doesn’t like paying over the odds for a ticket”. The builder-turned-TD revealed he usually travelled without tickets, preferring to buy them outside the stadium when he got there.

There was the time he went with “four other fellas” to see Sampdoria play Barcelona at Wembley. Mick supplied a lot a detail about the match before explaining he did the bartering for the tickets because he is good at it, but they were confiscated by a policeman. “Oh, Jesus, I wasn’t impressed.”

They hadn’t the money to buy any more. They were sleeping in a Hiace van, and because it was May and a warm night, they decided to put their runners under the van because of the smell.

But one of the lads didn’t want to part with his trainers and lay on top of them.

The smell was so bad that somebody threw the trainers out the back door of the Hiace when he went asleep. In the morning they had vanished and he had to go home in his bare feet. Eugene White was the chap’s name.

Anyway, to get back to the policeman who wouldn’t give back the tickets. “ ‘C’mon,’ I sez, ‘C’mon now. We’re just over from Ireland for the match. Please give them back to me’,” pleaded Mick. “So I had to cry to get my tickets back. Oh, I cried my eyes out.

“But at least he gave them back to me, so it worked anyway.” He then sashayed in to another long story about Fifa tickets being sold by members of Fifa to American touts. How do you combat that?

On to All-Ireland finals and the price of drink in Temple Bar and how Mick himself enjoys a drink most days and how it’s half the price to see Bruce Springsteen in Italy’s San Siro stadium compared with prices for his Dublin concerts.

Wallace’s contribution is all cleaned up on the official record. You’ll have to watch the video for the full value.

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