Miriam Lord: Enda Kenny has a go in a driverless car

Taoiseach revels in the role of backseat driver, as new Ministers push forward

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor at the launch of Google’s new data centre in Clondalkin.  Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor at the launch of Google’s new data centre in Clondalkin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw


Driverless cars. Have you ever wondered what it must be like to travel in one?

Wonder no more, because the Taoiseach described the experience in some detail when he was in Clondalkin on Thursday for the opening of Google’s new data centre.

“I have had engagements with Google in America. Now, I don’t know whether any of you have ever sat in the back of a car with no driver and it suddenly takes off. Well, I have,” said Enda, sounding very pleased with himself as his confused audience tried to figure out if he was talking about a car or a helicopter.

“And the little thing on the top that twirls around – so many revolutions per second – and all the sensors on this thing, [and] to have this back out of a car park space, drive out of a car park on to a freeway in California, go down four or five miles, cross a few lanes, go under bridges, stop at traffic lights and all the rest of it, come back and arrive in the same way and get out of this thing having had no driver – believe me, it’s an experience.”

Then Enda recalled asking Ronan Harris, Google’s man in Ireland, “What’s going to happen next?” And Ronan told him: “Well, in five years, if you buy a new car, it will deliver itself.”

The Taoiseach wasn’t entirely convinced. “Now, with some of the drivers, with respect, that I see down in various parts of the country, even Google would be challenged.”

That’s easy for him to say, when he has people paid to drive him everywhere.

Tánaiste and local TD Frances Fitzgerald was also at the event, along with Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

“Minister Mary” as Enda called her, was most taken by the idea of a driverless car. Back in 2011, on her first day as a TD, she made an unorthodox exit from Leinster House by driving down the plinth.

“Taoiseach, you’re talking about a driverless car. I think I’m one of those people that need to order one immediately,” she remarked.

It’s been a hectic few weeks for Mitchell O’Connor. Not only did she become a Minister, she also became a grandmother for the first time.

Her son Conor and his wife Maeve have been keeping her supplied with photographs of little Esmé. Mary says she’s only seen her “once, for 20 minutes, in the whole month”.

Mattie McGrath selflessly puts himself forward for cushy job

Three cheers for Mattie McGrath, who, in a selfless act of noble public service, has put himself forward as “a compromise candidate” for the post of leas-cheann comhairle.

Three months after Fianna Fáil’s Sean Ó Fearghaíl was elected Ceann Comhairle, the Dáil has yet to appoint his second-in-command.

Two Dáil veterans – Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan and Fianna Fáil’s Pat The Cope Gallagher – are seeking the job and neither party is willing to give way to the other.

The leas-cheann comhairle is seen as a plum job in Leinster House because it isn’t too demanding and nobody takes a blind bit of notice of the incumbent. (Fianna Fáil’s Michael Kitt, who retired this year, was the last person to hold the office.)

So why would anyone want the job? For starters, the lucky winner can hire two drivers to ferry him or her around.

They work one week on and one week off. Then there’s the special allowance on top of the basic TD’s salary of €87,258. It’s a tasty €37,381.

On Thursday, Mattie wrote to his Dáil colleagues seeking their support. “In view of the fact that we have yet to successfully elect a member to the office of leas-cheann comhairle, I am signalling my intention to place myself forward once again as a compromise candidate.

“We can all appreciate that the continued vacancy of this office is not only undesirable but that it will work to undermine the spirit of genuine reform that has characterised the proceedings of this the 32nd Dáil.

“It must also be said that the office of the Ceann Comhairle is deserving of more immediate support, which in the absence of a leas-cheann comhairle, it is not receiving. In light of that, I would appreciate if you would support my nomination as a compromise candidate.”

There is still no word about when the House will have another bash at electing a deputy chair. It’s not on the Order Paper for next week, but it could be added.

“It’s not fair on the Ceann Comhairle either,” says Mattie. “Constitutionally, this should be done and dusted. If it wasn’t people filling in as temporary chairs, he’d never be able to leave the chamber and go anywhere.”

McGrath has already promised to support the Government if he gets the position and it is looking increasingly likely that an Independent will get the nod. However, while McGrath is the front-runner, Galway’s Noel Grealish might just pip him at the post.

Meanwhile, the Seanad elected a Leas-Chathaoirleach on Wednesday with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of talking. Fine Gael’s Paul Coghlan beat Sinn Féin’s Marie Devine, Labour’s Denis Landy and Independent Gerard Craughwell and was overcome when the result was announced.

He kept breaking down during his acceptance speech and his colleagues were no help, falling around the place laughing as the popular Killarney man struggled to get out the words.

Shane Ross drops by the old House – but no transports of joy for Terry Leyden

Were Enda Kenny and Alan Kelly talking rubbish when they were spotted having sneaky pints on Friday last week in the clubby confines of the Merrion Hotel bar?

Former Labour environment minister Kelly introduced the waste collection charging regime that has caused so much political trouble this week.

It beggars belief that the new Government, still reeling from the water debacle that caused so much damage to Kenny’s previous administration, didn’t see the wheelie bin controversy coming.

Or maybe the two were simply mending fences after a difficult election.

These days it’s all about consensus, consultation and setting up committees around a chilled-out Leinster House.

In the Seanad, they can’t stop congratulating themselves and every Minister who comes to speak to them.

Shane Ross, the Winston Churchtown of Dublin South, was in familiar surroundings on Thursday when he dropped in to talk about transport matters.

Ross graciously fibbed that he misses the Upper House. Winston is gloriously happy as a senior Minister.

In fact, if he were any happier, he’d be Finian McGrath, who is still the happiest man in Leinster House and still spending an inordinate amount of time just sitting in the chamber and taking in the view from the Government benches.

Most of the Senators were very nice to their former member. And, in turn, he was very nice to them.

“I welcome Minister Ross. It is particularly significant that he is a former member of this House, but the issue I am bringing up today is more significant,” said Limerick’s Kieran O’Donnell, a former member of the Other House.

He wanted to talk about upgrading the N20 to a motorway.

“It’s nice to be back, although it doesn’t seem like six years,” remarked Lord Churchtown. The surroundings haven’t changed very much, although the occupants have.”

“Not all of them” said Fianna Fáil’s Terry Leyden, who is part of the fixtures and fittings at this stage.

“Well, nearly all of them, although I must add that I have always been much fonder of the surroundings than the occupants,” replied the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, casting an eye in Terry’s direction.

“That’s mutual,” sniffed Leyden.

The Cathaoirleach began buttering up the visitor. “If you’re being totally honest, you miss the place.”

“Oh, that’s right,” dripped Winston. “I congratulate the members on being elected. It is a great honour. It will be a great Seanad.”

But where will it sit once all the building work begins?

Deciding whether to take in some unruly lodgers from the Seanad may be one of the first decisions faced by the new board of the National Museum of Ireland. Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys announced the new appointments yesterday: 10 women and six men in the line-up.

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