Miriam Lord: Fine Gael members driven away by legal threat

Dara Murphy ally prompts walk-out by threatening to sue Senator Burke for slander

Minister of State  Dara Murphy: he beat Senator Colm Burke by a narrow margin (188 votes to 172) at the recent convention. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister of State Dara Murphy: he beat Senator Colm Burke by a narrow margin (188 votes to 172) at the recent convention. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Over a dozen long-serving Fine Gael members walked out of a constituency meeting in Cork North Central last week when a supporter of Dara Murphy, Minister of State with Responsibility for European Affairs and Data Protection, threatened to sue Senator Colm Burke for slander.

Murphy, who hit the headlines last month after he was driven to Dublin Airport in a Garda patrol car when his vehicle broke down on the motorway, is at the centre of a local row over candidate selection.

Murphy beat the Senator by a narrow margin (188 votes to 172) at the recent convention.

Supporters of Burke immediately called for their man to be added to the ticket, given the closeness of the result and his geographical base.

They say a strategy report on the constituency recommended two candidates run.

A leaked opinion poll carried out by a rival party had the two politicians neck and neck.

But on selection night a directive from headquarters stipulated only one was to be chosen.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to the Montenotte Hotel, and a meeting of the Cork North Central organisation to discuss election funding. About 45 party members attended.

The subject of Burke’s candidacy was not on the agenda, but his supporters wanted to raise it.

We hear there were “heated exchanges”. Allegations came from both sides of candidates packing the convention with fairweather delegates.

And the Burke camp made it clear they were unhappy with how the selection process had been handled.

Apparently, “the ferocity of the exchanges was such” that a key member of the Murphy faction told Burke he would see him in court if he didn’t retract some statements.

Murphy watched as Burke, along with former minister of state Bernard Allen and a number of constituency activists, exited the scene faster than a squad car conveying a junior minister to the airport.

“It was the threat to sue that really drove them mad and sparked the walkout,” says one observer. “What was the point in sticking around if their views weren’t going to be heard?”

We hear headquarters are dismissing the walkout as a preplanned publicity stunt.

However, seeing as the incident happened well over a week ago and has yet to hit the pages of the Irish Examiner (née Cork), that particular theory doesn’t really hold water.

At least Sinn Féin will be happy to hear of Fine Gael’s difficulties in the constituency.

It might just divert attention from the long-running saga of disharmony in their ranks.

Politicians over the Moone to meet O’Dowd

It was the usual sleepy budget day we’ve come to expect in Leinster House.

Slow in the bar, quiet around the corridors and comatose in the chamber.

Perhaps it was a combination of the Coalition’s first “post-austerity” budget and its backbenchers’ relief at not having to justify another round of retrenchment, but the bar and restaurant suddenly came alive as budget night wore on.

There was a giddiness about the place, helped by the presence of some celebrity names in the House.

Politicians love having their photographs taken, and they positively adore having them taken with someone who might be remotely famous.

Pity Chris O’Dowd so, the affable actor from Boyle who has gone on to stellar heights in Hollywood.

O’Dowd was in Leinster House as guest of Senator Catherine Noone and her boyfriend, Barry Flanagan, who has known O’Dowd since their days in UCD dramsoc.

They were joined for dinner in the Members’ Restaurant by Deirdre O’Kane, O’Dowd’s Moone Boy sitcom co-star, and co-writer Paul Murphy.

Also in the group was Fair City cast member Dagmar Döring and LA-based Irish actor Amy Shiels.

O’Dowd is home from the US to promote his latest movie, the Lance Armstrong biopic The Program. He plays journalist David Walsh, who exposed the cyclist as a drugs cheat.

Having a real live Hollywood star on the premises made a lot of folks frisky on Wednesday night.

The first person to spot O’Dowd was Labour’s Kathleen Lynch, who flew across the room and launched herself at the Roscommon man.

He’s obviously very patient, because for the rest of the night he was plagued with requests for photos and selfies.

Among the roll call of the shameless was Tánaiste Joan Burton (who hasn’t been so skittish since the evening Dublin footballer Bernard Brogan paid a visit).

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and Deputy Olivia Mitchell were like two schoolgirls, posing for their picture with the movie star.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly barrelled over for a snap. And junior minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin , who has a weakness for posting selfies of himself on social media every five minutes, rushed out an emergency tweet on the spot.

Not all heads were turned, however.

One female diner, upon being introduced to the actor, asked: “Are you Fergus O’Dowd’s son?”

“No, I’m Moone Boy,” chuckled O’Dowd.

“And I’m little Miss Sunshine, ” came the tart reply.

Journalists weren’t much better. One male hack spent Thursday proudly showing off the selfie he took of “meself and Chris O’Dowd in the jacks”.

The actor and his friends later took themselves down the road to Enda’s local, The Ginger Man.

The place was already bursting with politicians. The Taoiseach was having a swift post-budget pint when a horde of journalists crashed through the doors.

Enda beat a sensible retreat to his nearby apartment, but not before he made his peace with departing Irish Examiner political correspondent Shaun Connolly, who returns to his native London this week to cover the House of Lords for the Press Association.

Over the past decade, the acerbic Connolly has been one of Enda’s chief tormentors at press conferences, and the Taoiseach was truly sincere in wishing Shaun the very best as he departs these shores.

Meanwhile, back in Leinster House, impressionist Oliver Callan was in for his dinner in the company of Ann Strain, former chief FG fundraiser, and businesswoman and former model Patricia Devine.

There was a constant stream of politicians over to their table, including one of Oliver’s main characters, Michael Ring.

Michael Noonan, just back from his Prime Time appearance, stopped by for a brief chat (probably talking about milluns and billuns) en route to the bar.

Alan Kelly was in the bar too, but funnily enough, he and Noonan didn’t get to talk to each other.

Back in the restaurant, the Minister for Arts, Heather Humphreys, was having dinner with actor Colin Farrell’s brother Eamon and his husband Stephen.

At another table, Mary Mitchell O’Connor was hosting the British ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, who told Oliver that he’s a big fan of Callan’s Kicks.

His Excellency was supposed to be the guest of Sligo- based Senator Imelda Henry, who is just back from a trip to Mexico. But she was indisposed and Mitchell O’Connor stepped in at the last minute.

It is expressly forbidden, by the way, to take photographs inside Leinster House without prior permission.

It’s all a question of ministerial handlers

As we are fairly long in the tooth we’ve been to quite a few post-budget/talk to your Minister for Finance radio phone-ins over the years.

And it was always the case that a plethora of officials would station themselves in a room next to the studio, vetting the questions and digging out the information needed to answer them.

Before ipads and laptops, these men and women would stand over fax machines and printers as they spewed out long pages of information and then run in to their ministerial bosses with easy to read summaries.

Young colour writers dispatched to RTÉ would invariably mention the departmental staff beavering away behind the scenes. It explained to listeners how one man could sound so very authoritative on all sorts of questions.

So it’s interesting to see this week that the practice continues. Ellen Coyne of the Times (Irish Edition) wrote a smashing account of sitting unnoticed in the room with the handlers and number crunchers until she was rumbled and thrown out.

Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath was outraged to discover that Ministers Noonan’s and Howlin’s people had sight of the questions in advance.

“Perhaps naively, I always believed that this annual phone-in was a genuine, spontaneous engagement between the people and the Ministers in which anything about the budget could be asked” he said, shocked. But the Sean O’Rourke show wasn’t Noonan’s only Q&A of the day. He did a live one on Facebook. It was deeply dull, with a lot of posters complaining that he was only answering the nice questions. But there were one or two good ones.

“Donkey Votes” asked: “Why can’t you get a nice red briefcase to announce the budget? Like that chap Osborne over in England. ”

Noonan replied: “I have a nice brown leather briefcase but I don’t use it on budget day. – MN.”

And our favourite from Leon Hennessy: “Who does your hair?”

Baldy – “Hello Leon Hennessy– a lady barber in Limerick. I could give you a reference – MN”

A Jim Meehan chimed in: “Begod an answer. Allah be praised.”

 

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