Miriam Lord's Week


Dáil desperados; royal row; political cabaret; contrite Cassidy; driven mad

Fianna Fáilers clutch at straws in Dáil bar

THERE’S A lot of clutching of straws going on in the Dáil bar at the moment, and it’s not just by schoolkids enjoying “the free minerals” routinely laid on by sponsoring TDs. Fianna Fáil backs are to the wall, while Opposition deputies shudder at the prospect of having to tackle an economic mess not of their making.

A crazy idea has taken hold in their fevered minds: postpone the general election and let the FF/Green administration continue in power to implement the four-year austerity plan. This would please jittery Government deputies, many of whom are conceding they haven’t a prayer of holding their seats. Some are pinning their slim chances of survival on the Coalition running its full course, by which time they hope their budgetary plan will have delivered the necessary savings and sparked a recovery. Presumably, they also hope the electorate has no memory.

But the sums don’t add up.

Even if, with the help of God and a large policeman, Biffo manages to nurse his limping administration along for the full five years, this still only brings him to 2012. The hair shirt plan runs until 2014. Which is where, as the Dáil bar straw-clutchers will tell you, Bunreacht na hÉireann comes in. Article 16:5 states: “The same Dáil Éireann shall not continue for a longer period than seven years from the date of its first meeting: a shorter period may be fixed by law.” The existing law specifies the maximum term is five years.

As one wistful backbencher told us: “We could extend this term by two years by simply changing the law. We’d have the numbers to do it. There wouldn’t be any need for a referendum or anything. That would bring us up to 2014, and we could be out of the worst by then. If things are getting better, people might think: ‘better the divil you know’. That’s what they thought the last time.”

Our deluded deputy reckons the Opposition would kick up an almighty fuss, while secretly relieved to be off the slash’n’burn hook. “This is a time of national crisis. We need stability. I’m hearing the Government will try sell this to the backbenchers.” And we’re hearing nothing of the sort. Clutching at straws.

Ring and Leo rile the republicans

Fine Gael’s Michael Ring raised a laugh during Wednesday’s debate on the economy when his thoughts turned to a possible visit here next year by the Queen of England.

“Although we have our independence now, perhaps we should hand the country back to the queen and apologise for the mess we have made of it. When Britain was running the country, at least it didn’t leave us in such a mess or in the hock we are in now.” It was just a light-hearted aside, or so he thought, but his remarks prompted a rush of intemperate responses from outraged republicans.

“It was foul stuff that came in. Shockin’. I didn’t want the girls in the office to see it,” says Michael, who refuses to elaborate any further on the content of the various communications, except to confirm that they comprised a blend of foul language, name-calling and threats. The only word we managed to drag out of him was a strangulated “blueshirt”.

The Mayo deputy was unsettled by the comments. “They crossed the line with some of the things they wrote. Have they no sense of humour?”

Eh, no.

Michael’s colleague Leo Varadkar also provoked their ire with his show-stopping performance in the Dáil on Thursday. As he neared the end of his contribution, Leo went for a headline-grabbing finish. Bankers have done more damage to Ireland than the IRA ever did, and they should be treated like subversives and arrested, declared Leo.

And what have ordinary decent subversives ever done to be compared to bankers? Talk about an insult!

The livid green-flag brigade stopped berating Michael Ring about the queen and set about abusing Varadkar instead. They haven’t gone away, you know, and they won’t be happy to hear that the deputy for Dublin West is getting a favourable response from the public.

“It’s amazing,” he told us yesterday. “Apart from the few republican calls, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Of all the things I’ve said over the years, this had attracted the biggest response. I must have struck a chord.”

It’s the Mandy and Miriam show

Peter Mandelson, so called-Prince of Darkness, is in town this witching weekend for tonight’s Leviathan political cabaret at the National Concert Hall.

Mandelson will be interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan about his part in the New Labour project, among other things.

The second half of the show sees David McWilliams chairing a debate on the subject New Ireland, New Politics with Minister Eamon Ryan, Senator Paschal Donohoe, Elaine Byrne, Andrea Pappin and Fianna Fáil’s John McGuinness – the man some in the party see as their Prince of Darkness.

McGuinness and Mandelson have met before, it transpires. Back in 2008, when John was junior minister for trade and commerce, they faced off against one another during tense WTO talks in Brussels. “I bring greetings from the IFA,” said McGuinness when the two met. He recounts the episode in his forthcoming book The House Always Wins: Time to Turn the Tables, which he launches next Saturday in Kilkenny.

Leviathan kicks off at 7.30pm, and Mandelson will be signing copies of his memoir, The Third Man, from 6.45pm.

He at least could have told ’em to get wellies

An eagle-eyed reader in Dublin 8 e-mails to draw our attention to this week’s property supplement, and in particular, an article headed: “Built in the boom, priced for the slump.” He writes: “Didn’t I have a look at the front page and there, on the Drumcondra riverside where I always thought Bertie Ahern’s headquarters was perched, is a luxury apartment development, now being flogged off cheap as the developer has gone bust.

“If you look really closely at the picture you can just about make out St Lukes, a good 200 yards up the road, away from the river, just opposite the Permanent TSB, one of the places where Bertie was known to bank.

“Now, could I be right in remembering that St Lukes was in such perilous condition that a special account, ‘the ‘B/T’ account’, had to be established as a ‘sinking fund’? I seem to recall that Bertie’s modest mud and wattle structure was perched above the raging Tolka torrents. Every day, this powerful river tore great swathes of earth from its sides, threatening the very existence of the then Taoiseach’s office. The ‘B/T’ account was established – not as a slush fund for people who might have been called Bertie and Tim – but as a sinking fund to ensure that remedial works could be carried out on St Lukes in a desperate attempt to hold back the forces of nature.

“Is it not the duty of the local Dublin Central TD to inform prospective apartment buyers of the mortal threat the Tolka represents? At the very least he could tell them where to get some nice wellies.”

Donie’s €65,000 mea culpa

Donie Cassidy is very agitated. He says the words came out all wrong. He had a terrible weekend, and things got worse on Monday and Tuesday. He mixed up his concerns about people finding it difficult to make ends meet with the simple fact that Senators have paid up when requested and taken their pay cuts. He never meant to imply that his colleagues couldn’t get by on €65,000 a year.

There was a degree of public annoyance with Donie, it has to be said. So by the time the Upper House resumed on Wednesday, the Seanad leader was ready with an apology, and he didn’t hold back. “I assure the House it was never my intention to do anything other than to highlight the difficulty being experienced by everyone. I apologise to Members, to the people of Ireland and everyone concerned for any offence caused by anything I said. It was never my intention to hurt anyone,” he began in the course of a lengthy mea culpa.

“What I was saying was that Senators have all played a part and that we had taken the levy and wage reductions and would, in the national interest, continue to play our part. That was the intent of my reply. I know that people are hurt, but that was never my intention.” He sounded on the verge of tears. “Anyone who knows me and my background, knows I am not someone who was reared with a silver spoon,” said the Castlepollard impresario. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Hanafin doles it out on ‘Morning Ireland’

What do you make of this contribution from Mary Hanafin on Morning Ireland? She was being asked about the public reaction to the sight of all those ministerial cars gliding through the gates of Farmleigh on Monday. People are saying it shows a Government that is out of touch, suggested presenter Aoife Kavanagh.

“I don’t believe we are out of touch. All forms of life experiences are around that Cabinet table,” replied Mary, what with their own “life experiences” and “what they know from constituents”. Aoife sounded sceptical. “But there are very few people who have to survive on €200 a week, or who ever had to, sitting around the Cabinet table.”

Au contraire, insisted the unflappable Ms H. “Well” said she, “some people there have had.” Oh, yes. “Some people there have had to [get by on the dole].” But who? Cowen, Coughlan, Lenihan, Harney, Martin, Ahern, Dempsey. . . Maybe she means one of the Greens. Eamon Ryan used to own a bicycle shop.

All sorts in the line of duty for Garda drivers

All this talk of the ministerial fleet brings to mind those stories of Garda drivers having to fetch and carry for some of their more demanding charges. The correct way to collect dry cleaning or undertake a round trip for the clean clothes the Minister forgot to pack may not feature on the curriculum in Templemore, but it has been known to happen.

“Send the driver,” is not an uncommon phrase when a sense of entitlement takes hold. Then there are the incidents of the Garda driver forced to sit in the State car outside some godforsaken rural pub for half the night, so the Minister can put on a big show for the locals.

A story did the rounds in the aftermath of the infamous Galway think-in about a certain Fianna Fáil backbencher who was in the Taoiseach’s company sometime after midnight. It was very late and he was feeling peckish, as you do.

“Will you send the driver down the town to get chips?” he asked Cowen.

We would dismiss this story as a complete fabrication except for the alleged identity of the backbencher and what is supposed to have been the Taoiseach’s reply. “You don’t need any chips. Look at the belly on ya.”

No time like Reilly time when it’s a marathon

Great work by all the TDs and Senators who completed the Dublin City marathon on Monday. But all week, mystery surrounded the participation of Fine Gael’s health spokesman, James Reilly. When asked about his finishing time, he said he didn’t know it.

Suspicion mounted that he didn’t run it.

Mind you, he was walking with a limp.

“Nobody who runs a marathon doesn’t know what time they ran it in. Everyone looks up at the clock and can tell you 20 years later what time they did,” snorted a political rival.

The best he could tell Irish Timesreporter Ronan McGreevy was that he ran it in “well under six hours”. His time didn’t appear to be on the marathon website.

Dr Jim is anxious to put the record straight. He says his time wasn’t electronically recorded due to a fault in the system, and seven other runners had the same problem.

“I don’t have an official time. I ran the first 10 miles and walked most of the rest of the way with a very nice gentleman, the Rev Glen Jordan, from Belfast. The clock said 3.47pm when I crossed the line, but my time would be slightly less than six hours 47 minutes because I didn’t start at 9am. The commentator called out my name when I finished. ” And the limp? Metatarsalgia, or something.