Miriam Lord: Zappone’s LGBTI speech makes for interesting Roman holiday

Minister, who has Italian heritage, will travel to Vatican for St Patrick’s eve reception

Katherine Zappone described recent attempts to exclude former president Mary McAleese from an associated event in the Vatican along with “the airbrushing out of images of LGBTI families from certain church literature related to this event” as “a source of serious concern”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Katherine Zappone described recent attempts to exclude former president Mary McAleese from an associated event in the Vatican along with “the airbrushing out of images of LGBTI families from certain church literature related to this event” as “a source of serious concern”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Rome’s unusual cold snap should be well gone by the time St Patrick’s Day rolls around in a couple of weeks, but we trust there won’t be a frosty atmosphere between any of the guests when the Irish Ambassador to the Holy See welcomes Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to the annual Vatican bash.

Zappone bagged Italy in this year’s round of St Patrick’s week ministerial trips abroad – a most interesting destination, as it turns out, in light of the speech she delivered yesterday at the Copenhagen Conference on Private and Family Life for LGBTI People.

But at least she should in excellent spirits by the time she gets to the Holy See thanks to one special engagement on her tour of duty which should prove very memorable. Katherine will be guest of honour on the reviewing platform at the first ever St Patrick’s Day parade in the small hill town of Gildone in southern Italy, known for its sheep, cheese and olives.

Nestling in the province of Campobasso and boasting a population of 900 people, Gildone is the homeplace of her great grandparents, Angelo and Maria, who emigrated to America around the turn of the last century. Actor Robert de Niro’s people also came from the town as did the ancestors of singer Ariana Grande.

Mayor Nicola Vecchiullo is throwing a full civic reception in her honour and will award her the equivalent of the freedom of the town.

After the parade and big welcome back to her Italian equivalent of The Auld Sod, Zappone heads to the Vatican for the St Patrick’s eve reception, where, no doubt, some of the attendees will be very familiar with the contents of her speech in Copenhagen.

She talked about the controversy surrounding The World Meeting of Families, a major Catholic Church event in Dublin next August which Pope Francis is set to attend, saying she hopes the occasion “will not be used as a platform for remarks which exclude, isolate or hurt any family”.

The Minister described recent attempts to exclude former president Mary McAleese from an associated event in the Vatican along with “the airbrushing out of images of LGBTI families from certain church literature related to this event” as “a source of serious concern”.

Perhaps the Minister might get a chance to have a chat with Cardinal Kevin Farrell if he among the invites to the reception in the Holy See on the eve of St Patrick’s Day. Cardinal Farrell, originally from Drimnagh, is the most senior Irish churchman at the Vatican and one of the principal organisers of the World Meeting of Families. It has been suggested he may have played a significant role in the removal of five photographs of same-sex couples from preparatory booklets for the event sent to Irish parishes before Christmas.

By the way, Mary McAleese will be in Rome that week. She is addressing the International Women’s Day conference on Thursday. So there is every chance she will be at the Irish soirée the following night.

And who knows, maybe there might be an exceptional meeting of minds over the shamrock ....

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Blurring the lines

There are a lot of politicians feeling very sore after the Government’s very expensive roll-out of newspaper puff pieces extolling the virtues of Fine Gael government.

And the National Plan too.

It’s not just Opposition TDs who are up in arms over the publication spree, which shovelled much-needed funds to newspapers along with worrying attempts to blur the lines between objective news copy and rather hamfisted propaganda.

After initially trying to brazen it out, the Taoiseach conceded on Thursday night the framing of some of the paid-for content on the National Development plan fell short of acceptable standards. He has ordered a general review of the communications unit in his department and the protocols involved in purchasing advertising/advertorial space.

But the fallout has reached the Cabinet. Minister for Communications Denis Naughten is said to be hopping mad over a two-page spread in his local paper, The Roscommon Herald, which features two Fine Gael senators (and election candidates) from the area and not a single mention of that county’s only Minister.

The presence of Senators Maura Hopkins (Ballaghaderreen) and Frankie Feighan (Boyle) did not go unnoticed by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who drew attention to the Roscommon candidates’ starring role on two occasions in the Dáil during the week. But he overlooked the absence of Minister Naughten, who is a former member of Fine Gael but now an Independent TD.

Had he stayed with the mother ship, would he have made the cut?

The line that these advertorials should only include photographs of Government Ministers involved in the projects rings very hollow down Roscommon way. Naughten was closely involved in drafting a number of sections including those on climate action, housing, flooding and the midlands region. Broadband is another big area for Denis and while it was the first item mentioned in the Roscommon Herald article, the Minister didn’t get a look in.

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Minister toughs it out in North America

So how did you get on in d’mergency?

The Brent Geese on the Northside didn’t look best pleased, having flown to Dublin from Greenland for a spot of R&R only to find themselves in the middle of a snowstorm with temperatures plummeting.

It must have been the equivalent of going on holiday to the Canaries only for it to rain all week.

The Minister for Agriculture thought we were all wimpy snowflakes over here, what with him toughing it out in North America.

Michael Creed tweeted from Canada “Just in case anyone thinks I’m escaping the cold and #TheBeastFromTheEast here in Ottawa – they just call it Wednesday.” He also tweeted a smiling picture of himself wearing no top coat and standing beside what looked like a frozen river.

We are delighted to note that The Beast has now softened the Minister’s cough considerably. He is on a five-day trade mission to Canada and the USA and was due to finish up yesterday with a series of meetings in Washington.

However, due to the bad weather his flight was diverted and he got stuck in Atlanta – where they just called it Friday.

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Metamanindestrete Syndrome

Enda Kenny followed in Bertie Ahern’s footsteps by regularly delighting the nation with heart-warming vignettes involving deeply grateful Joe and Josephine Soaps who kept belting over to him in public places to share insightful titbits about their modest lives along with a deep understanding of government policy.

It may be early day’s in Leo Varadkar’s reign but there are already some disturbing indications that he too may be succumbing to the dreaded Metamanindestrete Syndrome.

Here’s the Taoiseach during Leaders’ Questions on Tuesday when trying to explain, in the middle of a communications cock-up, why good communication is important.

“It is my view, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that good communications is a virtue. It is right and proper that the Government should be able to inform the public what it’s doing, what’s happening, how public money is being spent and how it’s acting in their interest” he told Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin.

“I often meet people who say to me that the Government isn’t communicating right, it isn’t getting its message across and I believe we need to do more in that field to make sure that people are fully aware of what government is doing.”

People are blue in the face telling him to get the communications right, apparently.

Then the following day, pulled up by Opposition leaders for his “thin-skinned” reaction to criticism surrounding the launch and subsequent promotion of his “prize project” – the National Development Plan, Leo had this to say: “When it comes to criticism, I’ve no problem with criticism. We’re all in the business of politics and part of politics is taking criticism, responding to it and acting on it when it is valid, sucking it up on occasions and also pushing back when it’s not fair or not valid – and I’ve no difficulty replying to questions. I do my best every day here to reply to questions.”

People have been noticing this.

“I met somebody last night who mentioned the fact that they were surprised that I do answer so many questions so frankly.”

The Taoiseach will have to watch himself. Before he knows it, dudes holding two bottles of craft beer will be wandering up to him in pubs to discuss the National Framework Policy...