Barbecue season again as RTÉ arrives for round-two grilling


SKETCH:SUMMER ARRIVED in Leinster House yesterday.

Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan took his Del Monte jacket out of mothballs to mark the occasion.

Buckets and spades were back on the agenda during Leaders’ Questions as thoughts turned to the possibility of Ireland needing a second bailout and the banks heading towards another substantial digout.

Judging by the very sparse attendance in the chamber, most deputies appeared to have already decamped to the seaside.

But to be fair to them, those who weren’t otherwise occupied at committee hearings were caught up in a rolling series of referendum meetings, briefings, counter-briefings and photo ops.

We were surprised to see Mary Lou McDonald filling in for Gerry Adams. How did Sinn Féin’s deputy leader find the time? She hasn’t refused a microphone since the referendum campaign began.

Just as well the warm weather is upon us. It’s a rare day now when an e-mail doesn’t come in with the news that Mary Lou “will be available on the plinth” to comment on the fiscal treaty. Can they not find somewhere indoors for her to hold forth?

Simon Coveney took to the plinth in the afternoon and called on Sinn Féin “to stop misleading people and be honest with voters about Ireland’s ability to access emergency funding after 2013”. Mr Coveney, who is Fine Gael’s campaign director, chose an odd time to make his statement, clashing with Leaders’ Questions.

On the other hand, at least he could be certain that the indefatigable Deputy McDonald was otherwisely engaged.

Over on the Merrion Square side of Leinster House, Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan and Labour’s Derek Nolan had organised a “Wisdom Meets Youth” photocall, where former Taoiseach John Bruton, along with former ministers Nora Owen, Liz McManus and Barry Desmond joined a group of young TDs and Senators in calling for a Yes vote.

Members of the United Left Alliance took their campaign for a No vote to the Labour headquarters on Ely Place and held a press conference outside it. The weather held up beautifully for the photos.

Earlier in the day, six members of the technical group who are not squatting on the fence reiterated their call for a No vote at a press conference in Buswells Hotel.

Fine Gael’s Mary Mitchell O’Connor got in ahead of the posse by holding a breakfast meeting at seven in the morning in the Hibernian Club on St Stephen’s Green. She was joined by more than 100 women from across politics, business and civic society, all of whom favour ratification of the treaty.

Enda Kenny, enemy of the late sleeper, arrived bright and early to give the keynote speech and pour the tea for Mary’s guests.

Today, dog owners against austerity are joining paws on Kildare Street and urging voters to cock a leg against Europe; a cross-party group of Dáil bar regulars have organised a closing time calling for a lurch towards stability and a splinter group from the fence-sitters will pose with a giant tweezers to signify their personal discomfort over the referendum.

The temperature is rising and it’s all kicking off around Leinster House. Back indoors yesterday, they were roasting in committee room number three.

It had little to do with the sunshine, but there was no mistaking the beginning of the barbecue season when RTÉ’s top brass arrived for round two of their grilling by members of the communications committee.

By the end of the session with RTÉ board chairman Tom Savage and director general Noel Curran, the combined ranks of the politicians stopped just short of shouting: “Stick a fork in ‘em, they’re done!” The purpose of the committee hearing was to investigate the circumstances surrounding the transmission of Prime Time’s Mission to Prey documentary and examine what steps can be taken by RTÉ to prevent such defamatory programmes being aired again.

Labour Senator John Whelan turned up the heat on Savage with a searing attack on his suitability to continue as chairman of the board of directors.

In the course of a riveting contribution, Whelan told Savage to “come down from your ivory tower and take us seriously: show us some respect”. The Senator accused him of “a most glaring conflict of interest” and cited his involvement with his wife Terry Prone in a company which “specialises in political PR and spin doctoring on public affairs”.

Tom Savage strenuously rejected his accusations. “I spent eight years in the priesthood. I am not simply a spin doctor, a political hack,” he said, adding that he deeply resented and repudiated the senator’s insinuation that he ever acted “against the canons of ethical behaviour”.

“Groupthink” was trotted out again, as they flipped the Montrose mandarins over the coals. Maybe concerned parliamentarians, in between calling for resignations should establish an anti-groupthink group. And, in the meantime, the rest of us can enjoy the sunshine.