Miriam Lord's Week


Sparkling news for Creighton; Gilmore puts on the glitz; Feargal Quinn may be a Super Mayor; FG tries to zap FF rivals and Conor Lenihan gets stuck in a lift

IT’S BEEN nearly three months since Fianna Fáil advertised for a director of communications. That would have been a plum job a decade or so ago. Not many bites for the position now.

During a parliamentary party meeting a number of weeks ago, when speakers criticised the Fianna Fáil communications strategy and the Taoiseach’s failure to get a message across, Brian Cowen said that the appointment of a new communications director was imminent.

“Most of us came away with the impression that the announcement would be made in a day or two. But nothing happened. There’s a lot of speculation going on now about whether they can find anyone to take up the job,” said a backbencher yesterday.

We understand the position was offered to Martin Whelan, the highly regarded head of policy and research with the Construction Industry Federation, and its former director of communications. Whelan, a skilled communicator, would have been an excellent acquisition for Fianna Fáil, but we hear he declined.

A number of party insiders had applied for the position but were unsuccessful. “They got their PFO letters over the last two weeks, but maybe that position will have to be reviewed,” speculates our backbencher. Eh, what does “PFO” mean? “Please eff off,” according to our deputy. An outside agency is handling the recruitment process and party sources indicate that the position is to be “finalised” shortly. However, no indication is available as to when an appointment will be made.

In the interim, party general secretary Seán Dorgan is holding the fort. Applications closed on February 26th, but if you feel you can “combine an understanding of both politics and the media with team leadership and management skills”, maybe give it a whirl.

Lucinda’s engagement a New York fairytale

The ring is an antique diamond cluster and Senator Bradford popped the question in Central Park during a romantic weekend in New York.

News of the engagement of Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton to party colleague Senator Paul Bradford hasn’t come as a big surprise, as the political pair have been an item for the last three years.

“I suppose it wasn’t completely out of the blue, I kind of expected it,” Lucinda tells us. “We were supposed to go to New York for my 30th birthday in January, but we couldn’t find the time until the May bank holiday. It was lovely, Paul proposed in Central Park – he didn’t go down on one knee because he’s not your traditional type. Anyway, he has bad knees.” The couple, who met when Paul was running for the Seanad in 2007, haven’t set a wedding date yet, but Lucinda insists that whatever they do will be “low key”.

That’ll be a first for the high-profile and outspoken TD for Dublin South East.

Paul (46) is a former FG TD for Cork East and will be hoping to make a return to the Dáil after the next general election. A precedent has already been set in the Dáil: Olwyn Enright was a FG TD for Laois–Offaly when she married colleague and then Donegal-based senator, Joe McHugh. Olwyn retained her seat in the next election and Joe was returned to the Dáil by the voters in Donegal North-East.

Party leader Enda Kenny, who has clashed more than once with his spokeswoman on European affairs, has sent his best wishes.

“I wish Lucinda and Paul every congratulations on their engagement. I am delighted they have gotten engaged and wish them every happiness now and in the future.”

Gilmore goes to the ball while Ryan gets jiggy

The Labour Party was en fete last night, celebrating party leader Eamon Gilmore’s 21 years in the Dáil. This milestone also coincided with the party’s annual “Rose Ball” – a glittering social event not to be confused with those Rose Ball pretenders in Monte Carlo and Tralee.

Tickets were a recession-defying €150 each, while the dress code printed on the ticket advised “cocktail attire”. The ball was held in The Radisson Blu Hotel in Dublin’s Golden Lane, with after-dinner entertainment provided by comedian Dermot Carmody and a band called the Swinging Blue Cats.

Meanwhile, the Green Party says that it’s possible to have a good time without breaking the bank. Eamon Ryan tweets that he’s looking forward to going to the party’s annual “Céilí Mór” tonight in The Ballsbridge Inn (formerly Jurys Hotel).

Music is by Matt Cunningham with sets by Mary Brogan. (We presume that’s set dancing, and not hairstyles for mature ladies.) Admission is a whooping €12, and you might get to do the Walls of Limerick with Eamon Ryan into the bargain. Mind you, for €150 you could do The Black Bottom with the other Eamon.

Smart money on Quinn as mayoral candidate

As the Government resists all requests to hold any sort of election or referendum, there are whispers that an agreed candidate might solve the thorny problem of finding a directly elected Lord Mayor of Dublin.

The name emerging is that of Senator Feargal Quinn, an independent politician and successful businessman who commands respect from all sides in Leinster House.

As one might imagine, an agreed candidate scenario would suit Fianna Fáil. An election wouldn’t be needed, so they wouldn’t have to keep dodging it. Even if there were an election, they would lose it. And they can’t afford to fight a campaign.

Interestingly, a senior Fine Gael TD tells us “there’s no real interest in the party in the job. It’s expected Gay Mitchell [MEP] might run, but nobody’s that bothered as the job has no real power. We wouldn’t be sure how the public would vote, although we would expect to win, although you never know.

“The reality is: none of the parties want a mayoral election as they don’t want to spend any money on it before a general election.” And what about Labour? Ruairí Quinn has been mentioned in dispatches, but Ruairí would be nursing hopes of a senior ministerial position if the party gets back into power.

Feargal Quinn, on the other hand, is his cousin. And then there’s the Greens, pushing for the election, but with little money and not a hope of winning and Paul Gogarty eager to be loosed from the traps. Senator Feargal Quinn. Honest grocer, respected Dubliner. It might just work. At least that’s the whisper in Fianna Fáil – and maybe beyond.

Fine Gael video game fails to push FF’s buttons

Despite the best efforts of this column, we haven’t been able to get any Fianna Fáiler to go ballistic over Fine Gael’s thwacky new online game called Whack-a-dodo! We even left a message with Senator Terry Leyden, who is against people who incite other people to violence. He didn’t get back to us. Preparing his outraged speech for the Seanad on Tuesday, we hope.

In the game, you use your virtual mallet to bash little heads that pop up out of holes in the ground, just like in the mole-bashing arcade game. You can beat Brian Cowen, Mary Coughlan and Bertie Ahern over the head and they make noises when hit.

“Digout!” squeaks the Bert. “Ah S***!” exclaims Sweary Mary. “I make no apology!” says Biffo. Seanie Fitz manages a posh “eugh!”, Fingers drawls “Lovely jubbly” and former financial regulator Patrick Neary snores in surprise.

All in the name of Fine Gael’s New Era jobs policy, and in an attempt to attract a younger audience. All a bit undignified though. Fianna Fáil is remaining remarkably quiet.

We managed to get a comment from Conor Lenihan, (more about him later.) “Further juvenilia from Fine Gael,” he sniffed.

Lenihan experiences ups and downs of public life

Three years after the Army had to go in and rescue half the Cabinet, the ministerial lift is acting up again.

History repeated itself on Thursday when the lift in Government Buildings ground to a halt, leaving junior Minister Conor Lenihan and a political deputation from the Border counties to sweat it out until the military arrived. It was a very humid day, and it didn’t help that six people had crammed into a lift designed to take four.

“The inside of the lift was all steamed up – condensation was running down the sides,” recalls Labour Senator Dominic Hannigan, who was trapped along with Fianna Fáil TDs Rory O’Hanlon and Margaret Conlon, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin of Sinn Féin and a government official.

“The lift just stopped. We pressed a couple of buttons, but nothing happened. So we tried our mobile phones, but nobody could get a signal. We pressed another emergency button and a voice told us that they would get the Army.” He says the perspiring group didn’t talk much while they waited and the temperature soared.

“We rang again. Then we managed to prise open the door. We got a bit of a shock though, because we were met by a brick wall.” Eventually, the Army arrived with a wrench and opened the door on the other side of the lift. The politicians found themselves in the basement.

Conor Lenihan described the experience as “warm and clammy” but said no one panicked. As for their rescuers — “the lads had to come over the roof of Government Buildings and climb down the lift shaft”. Ironically, the meeting was to discuss the effect that the new Garda Tetra communications system is having on television signals in certain areas of Cavan, Monaghan and Meath.

“And we couldn’t get any signal in the bowels of Government Buildings either,” sighed Dominic. “Anyway, we should have taken the stairs, although we worked out that although there was six of us, we were a good 150kg below the weight limit.”

Plenty of larks at launch of hedge school festival

The Larkin Hedge School festival of Irish music, song, dance, literature and journalism takes place on June 11th and 12th in Liberty Hall.

“Begrudgers, politics and prose” is the intriguing title of one of the workshops where Dónall ó Braonáin of RnaG – with a nod to Brendán O’hEithir’s The Begrudgers Guide to Irish Politics – promises to explore “the dark arts of cynicism, begrudgery, bile and spite in political reportage in Ireland.” At the programme launch on Wednesday by Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, former Irish Print Union president Vincent Caprani stole the show with readings from his now out of print Vulgar Verse Variations, Rowdy Rhymes Rec-im-itations.

Caprani wrote the epic Gough’s Statue, which is often wrongly attributed to Brendan Behan. The poem is about the destruction of the statue of Lord Gough [it rhymes with cough] in the Phoenix Park in 1957. Vinny explained that during the Troubles he had stopped reading the full poem. “It was insensitive when the same people took to blowing up people instead of statues.” However, thanks to the peace dividend, he was able to favour his audience with a full reading. Here’s one of the milder extracts: “There are strange things done from twelve to one In the Hollow at Phaynix Park, There’s maidens mobbed and gentlemen robbed In the bushes after dark; But the strangest of all within human recall Concerns the statue of Gough, ‘Twas a terrible fact, and a most wicked act, For his bollix they tried to blow off!”

There was also music from Gerry O’Connor, Mick O’Connor, Peter Browne and singer Noel O’Grady. On the Liffey boardwalk outside Liberty Hall, there were appreciative cheers from the loitering youths as sean nós dancer Sibéal Davitt high-kicked for the cameras under the watchful eye of set dancing master Johnny Morrissey.

Speeches were light, although Séamus Dooley, who is chairman of this year’s hedge school when not Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, took a crack at the Farmleigh Global Forum and Dermot Desmond’s call to “monetise” Irish culture.

“Those who wish to monetise Irish culture know more about hedge funds than hedge schools. If promoting Irish culture can help in our economic recovery that is to be welcomed, but our music and culture has an intrinsic value which cannot be judged solely in economic terms.” Dooley wondered how the market would “value” Chief O’Neill’s melodies, the music of Willie Clancy or Junior Crehan. He then suggested a reworked Farmleigh version of the Yeats poem invoked by Mary Robinson at her inauguration: “I am of Ireland come monetise with me in Ireland.”

Cross-party strategy to cope with visitors

The visitors continue to pile into Leinster House. Such is the demand from schools and groups from around the country it seems some TDs have adopted an all-party strategy to cope with all the constituents looking for a guided tour. We bumped into Fianna Fáil’s Charlie O’Connor in the bar as the staff distributed bottles of Coca-Cola to a large party of schoolchildren. “They your lot?” “No. My crowd are in the back,” replied Charlie, pointing in the direction of a giggling throng of ladies and his Fine Gael rival in Dublin South-West, Brian Hayes.

“Myself and Brian are sharing a group of ICA women today.” There’s no answer to that. The same Charlie is certainly quick off the mark. He dashed off a letter of congratulations to William Hague on the day he was appointed British foreign secretary.

“The relationship between our two countries has undergone an extraordinary transformation in recent years. We have seen a clear shift, rooted in partnership: as friends and neighbours, EU members, intimately linked economies, both of which face a range of shared challenges,” wrote Hague in reply, adding he wished the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly well in its work. No mention of when the Queen will visit Tallaght. Charlie will have to write another letter.

Within an ass’s roar of closing down the Dáil

Fast Mover of the Week Award goes to Government Chief Whip John Curran, who told the House on Tuesday: “The subcommittee on Dáil reform last met on January 27th. I believe it has had eight meetings in total. I acknowledge I am the chairman. I may well call a meeting of it.” For God’s sake, John, don’t strain yourself.

The Say it Ain’t So award for quote of the week goes to Cork’s Noel O’Flynn (FF), who was in the chair on Wednesday during a noisy outbreak of name-calling involving Dick Roche and Bernard Durcan. “Minister Roche, all types of asses -eh, as you describe them — are unparliamentary.” What are we to make of Deputy O’Flynn’s ruling? All types of asses are unparliamentary? Sure they’d have to close the place down.