The Dáil visitors’ bar was doing a roaring trade on Wednesday morning. And no, it wasn’t TDs and Senators gasping for a hair of the dog ahead of the day’s exertions. They can do that in the privacy of the members’ bolthole. (Although, contrary to popular belief, most of them are petrified to be seen in the vicinity of strong drink in Leinster House for fear of a public flogging.)
Fine Gael TD Gabrielle McFadden – known to all in Longford-Westmeath as Gab – was hosting the first of what she hopes will be a weekly Ciorcal Comhrá in Leinster House.
A good smattering of TDs and Senators from all parties joined Gab during their morning coffee break to shoot the breeze through Irish. And although it was late notice, a number of Leinster House staff also took the chance to exercise their Irish at Gab’s conversation circle.
Deputy McFadden, who was elected to the Dáil in May following the death of her sister Nicky, admits she hasn’t got the gift of the gab when it comes to speaking her native language. She decided to set up the Ciorcal Comhrá because she was impressed by how Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh revived his rusty Irish speaking skills when he got the job last year.
“Everyone has some Irish from their schooldays, it’s just a case of using and building on that” says Gab, who was moved to take action when she saw her daughter Katie (19), who is a fluent Irish speaker, having a conversation with McHugh in Leinster House.
“I was jealous,” she says.
Wednesday’s inaugural 10.30am session was a great success, with people who have only a faltering cúpla focal taking to the training slopes alongside their more proficient colleagues.
Needless to say, there is always a political element in Leinster House.
Gab says her daughter gave her a sticker for her car, which says: “Gaeltacht beag an carr seo” [this car is a little Gaeltacht].
“People kept calling me a Shinner and I didn’t like that. Sinn Féin has kinda taken the language over in the Dáil. I want to take it back off them, because it belongs to all of us,” she says.
And for their part, Sinn Féin can’t but be delighted that, thanks to their efforts, more people are now speaking Irish in the corridors of power.
Or, at least, in the bar.
Willie Walsh maintains holding pattern over Shannon
There was a sense of unfinished business about Willie Walsh’s much anticipated appearance before the Oireachtas transport committee on Thursday.
It's a decade since Walsh quit as boss of Aer Lingus and a decade since he last appeared before the committee. This time he was in front of the committee as chief executive of IAG, one of the world's largest airline groups. He had his eye on Aer Lingus back then, and he's at it again.
In 2004, he was part of an unsuccessful bid to take over the airline in a management buyout. Bertie Ahern’s government was having none of it.
Without specifically naming Walsh, Ahern accused the management team of attempting to “steal State assets and shaft members of staff”.
The IAG boss pointed out in an RTÉ interview that Bertie retracted his statement a few days later in the Dáil, this time naming him in the process. Soon after, Walsh left Dublin to head up British Airways.
Fast forward to Thursday and Willie. But never mind any deal he has on the table. What about the future of Shannon and Cork airports? That was foremost in the minds of those committee members from the Munster region.
Fianna Fáil's Timmy Dooley was determined to find out where Shannon Airport figures in Walsh's plans. He tried as hard as he could but couldn't get a definitive answer. Finally, he gave up and took to the tweet machine.
Then Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan pushed for an answer. Willie Walsh looked to his adviser and quickly decided he might answer after all.
His response had a number of committee members chuckling to themselves.
“I nearly burst out laughing – it looked ferociously obvious to me,” said one.
When he was done questioning, O’Donovan took to Twitter: “Willie Walsh tells me he is open to considering guarantees for Shannon and Cork.” Limerick and Clare media please note.
McGrath in firing line over guns
On Thursday morning, members of the Dáil’s justice and defence committee took themselves off to Garda headquarters to look at their forensic labs. Then they repaired to a firing range in Kildare to play soldiers. Or Garda emergency response unit officers.
Independent TD Finian McGrath decided not to go.
Probably a wise move.
Finian found himself in the firing line this week when he asked for stricter control of firearms. The Dublin Bay North deputy was speaking following committee hearings about the issuing of licences.
“My concern is the accessibility of firearms in some quarters, particularly where handguns and pump- action shotguns are concerned. I was told by the Garda that there are 150,000 unlicensed firearms in the country. My worry is that people leave them lying around in sheds and suchlike, which is extremely dangerous.”
However, Finian wasn’t prepared for the reaction to his comments.
“I’m still reeling from the onslaught,” he said yesterday. “I never realised the gun lobby is so strong here.”
He said he has no problems with members of sporting clubs or people who use guns for their work.
“I just want tougher regulations.”
As part of their trip, those committee members who travelled also met private gun owners.
“On balance , I thought it best not to go,” said a queasy Finian.
Mathews shows irritations the red card for St Valentine’s Day
It's Valentine's Day. And what was that old charmer Peter Mathews doing in Leinster House yesterday to mark this romantic weekend? He was handing out little slips of paper with love hearts in the corners bearing the words: "St Valentine's Veto Voucher".
We called Peter to find out more but he wasn’t really in the mood to talk. This is because this column hasn’t been taking him seriously as he tries valiantly to draw attention to the suffocating whip system in the Dáil, the stranglehold Europe has on our economy and the 40,000 distressed mortgage holders in the country.
He’s rather annoyed, if truth be told.
But what about the “veto vouchers?”
Peter reluctantly explained they are just “a frivolity” in the scheme of things.
But we like frivolity, Peter.
So. “Instead of sending cards or giving gifts to people, a person might give one to somebody.”
(For the weekend that’s in it, when Peter says give one to somebody, he means them give a voucher.)
“This can be produced at any stage by the recipient when the person who gave it is irritating or annoying or doing something they don’t want them to do.
“Then the person is under the obligation to honour it. You can carry it on your person like a donor card.”
In other words, once served with a voucher, you must immediately cease annoying your beloved.
Can you buy these vouchers in a card shop? Lots of people might like the idea of whipping it out for a loved one when the occasion demands.
As a nation, we could send one to Angela Merkel or Mario Draghi.
We’re not sure where you can get them.
“Unless you know, don’t speculate,” replies the former FG now Independent TD for Dublin South, who is far from loved up with most of the media these days.
He has a lot to say, but is finding it difficult to get a hearing when political discourse is dominated by the big parties.
But it’s good to see he still retains his sense of humour through it all.
A St Valentine’s Day veto voucher.
Cheaper than a dozen roses. Although that saving might be wiped out by the cost of the subsequent visit to the emergency department.
TDs hope to avoid apocalypse now in Dáil over six-day Vietnam visit
Details of the annual St Patrick’s Day political airlift have yet to be announced, although we know Seán Sherlock is not going to Vietnam.
The Minister of State in the Department of Foreign Affairs will be off to Addis Ababa, where the Government is involved in a lot of aid projects. Trade links are also growing between Ireland and Ethiopia with a direct flight between the two countries set to commence in June.
While Seán isn't going to southeast Asia, he recently invited members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee to sign up for a fact-finding trip to Vietnam. Three TDs – committee chairman John McGuinness, Fine Gael's Paul Connaughton and Labour's Derek Nolan – are the lucky travellers flying out on March 7th.
Or maybe not so lucky. “There’s no votes in Vietnam,” said one committee member when asked about the trip. Another wondered if they couldn’t find out over the internet about the excellent work being done in the region by Irish Aid.
There’s a packed schedule for their six-day visit. The TDs arrive in Hanoi on March 8th and have a day to rest in the Hanoi Hilton before dinner with the Irish Ambassador.
On Monday they fly to Dong Ha City for a busy two days of briefings and visits to various projects. They fly to Ho Chin Minh City on Tuesday night, returning to Hanoi on Wednesday night. After another day of trade, cultural and aid-agency meetings, the group has a free day on Friday before flying home at midnight.
For Connaughton and Nolan this will be their first major trip abroad since they entered the Dáil. Nolan explained why the PAC was asked to go to Vietnam: “I think the people in Irish Aid are very conscious that people can see where their money is going. They want scrutiny.”
The TDs will be hoping there won’t be an apocalypse now in Leinster House when their colleagues hear they are about to hit the Ho Chi Minh Trail.