Miriam Lord: Ban on bar disclosure is elephant in room

Senators maintain collective amnesia over ‘stand-up row’ in the Leinster House pub

Former minister for health Dr James Reilly. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Former minister for health Dr James Reilly. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

“I remind Senator Reilly that what happens in the bar remains in the bar.”

Words guaranteed to grab attention on a slow day around Leinster House. What was the Seanad’s acting chairman talking about?

Diarmuid Wilson’s intervention during yesterday’s debate on the setting up of a citizens’ assembly came after James Reilly referred to Senators’ hotly held opinions for and against the proposal.

In particular, a number of Independent Senators were very annoyed about the amount of time allocated to speak on the matter.

They included Alice Mary Higgins of the National University panel. At lunchtime, word filtered from the closed world of the Members’ Bar that Higgins had been involved in a heated exchange with Fine Gael’s leader in the Seanad, Jerry Buttimer.

“A stand-up row” is how it was described by one observer, who subsequently fell off the radar. Soon afterwards, the debate resumed, with former minister for health Reilly taking the floor.

“I will be interested to hear what those who speak after me have to say. I may have overheard heated conversations among some of them in the Members’ Bar this morning when people were having coffee . . .”

At which point, Wilson jumped in to remind his fellow Senator that “what happens in the bar remains in the bar”.

“I know,” replied Reilly. Good man yourself, James.

“I am merely anticipating that the argument that will be made by some of those who speak after me, in setting out why they oppose this motion, will differ completely from the type of argument that might be made by Senator Mullen, ” he explained.

There seem to have been very few people in the bar for coffee at the time. We called Jerry, who declared the whole thing was exaggerated and repeated “my lips are sealed”. We failed to contact Alice Mary.

People we were told had witnessed the row said they didn’t see anything and they suggested others to ring, who also saw nothing.

What happens in the bar . . . Which reminds us – Opposition deputies in the same bar on Tuesday morning were most alarmed to witness what appeared to be a vicious escalation in the internal bickering among some members of Fine Gael.

It looked like the party had to set up a field hospital away from the highly charged confines of their Leinster House offices.

As the TDs looked on, Kate O’Connell, newly elected TD for Dublin Bay South, carefully applied a bandage to a colleague’s neck. What next, they wondered? Who next?

But there wasn’t all out warfare in Fine Gael. Kate, who is a pharmacist, had noticed the small surgical dressing on Eoghan Murphy’s neck.

The Minister of State, who shares the same constituency, recently underwent a very minor surgical procedure.

“That’s not done right,” she informed him, before proceeding to redo the affected area in front of everyone.

With all this talk of discord in the ranks of Fine Gael it was nice to learn of such a touching display of constituency togetherness.

It led some politicians to wonder if Murphy’s erstwhile Dublin Bay South running mate, Lucinda Creighton, would have done the same.

Raising a Gunpowder Gin to the countess

One table is all it takes to accommodate their female counterparts. Over the past century in Ireland, just 17 women have achieved cabinet status.

Two of them (Countess Markievicz and, much later on, Eileen Desmond) are dead.

All but one of the remaining 15 travelled to Lissadell House in Sligo last night for a special event to mark the 1916 centenary and the 89th anniversary of the countess’s death.

Lawyers Constance Cassidy and her husband, Eddie Walsh, who have breathed new life into the childhood home of the 1916 revolutionary, welcomed their distinguished guests with a drinks reception in the long gallery, from where they could fully appreciate the words of WB Yeats: “The light of evening, Lissadell, Great windows open to the south . . . ”

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin was served as guests pondered the countess’s advice to aspiring lady rebels: “Dress suitably in short skirts and sitting boots, leave your jewels and gold wands in the bank, and buy a revolver.”

After the smoke cleared a little, Markievicz became minister for labour in the first Dáil in 1919. Ireland had to wait 60 years for the next female member of cabinet, when Fianna Fáil’s Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed minister for the Gaeltacht.

Last night’s menu included Sligo beef and local seafood, served with vegetables from the walled garden. And the cordite theme continued with a palate-cleansing Gunpowder Gin and Tonic sorbet.

A bus was laid on to take the gin-sodden ministers to Mullaghmore’s Pier Hotel. MGQ was conveyed upstairs to a suite known as the Duchess’s Boudoir. Actually, none of them went overboard on the gin, we’re sad to say.

Geoghegan-Quinn’s overnight stay added a neat historical twist to the occasion. The first woman appointed to government in Ireland since Countess Markievicz also became the first female minister to stay in Lissadell since Countess Markievicz.

The others on the high-powered guest list were Gemma Hussey, Nora Owen, Mary O’Rourke, Mary Harney, Niamh Bhreathnach, Síle de Valera, Mary Coughlan, Mary Hanafin, Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, Jan O’Sullivan, Mary Mitchell- O’Connor and Katherine Zappone.

Joan Burton couldn’t attend as she is out of the country at the moment.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall last night!

Not that kind of destiny

This small – publicly at least – group is unhappy with the lack of information from Taoiseach Enda Kenny about when he intends to step down.

The majority of parliamentary party members have been trying to steady the ship, conscious that Fianna Fáil is waiting in the wings to take them out.

But the officer corps in the Soliders of Destiny are in no hurry to do this. They have a cunning plan. And for it to work, Fianna Fáil need to keep Kenny at the helm of the party they are enabling to stay in power.

Promising young backbencher Lisa Chambers told The Irish Times political podcast this week that if Enda resigned the leadership Fianna Fáil would have to revisit their confidence and supply agreement with his minority administration.

She made her comments after days of FG backbench sniping to the media about the Taoiseach’s recent performances and after Kerry TD Brendan Griffin went on radio saying he should go at the end of summer.

He caused consternation. And the reaction wasn’t confined to Fianna Fáil. On Tuesday night, Griffin went out for a few pints with some colleagues.

A number of Fianna Fáil TDs, Michael McGrath and Timmy Dooley among them, happened into the same watering-hole.

Griffin might, perhaps, have been hoping to get some respite from the political storm. Instead, he got a thorough barracking from Dooley, who thundered: “What the hell are you at?” (Or words to that effect.)

Strong words were exchanged. It seems Fine Gael’s adversity is not always Fianna Fáil’s opportunity. Strange times.

We hear a smiling Griffin, by the way, was seen exiting the ministerial corridor a couple of days ago in the presence of one of the Taoiseach’s staff. Have they patched things up?

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