Miriam Lord's Week


Dáil takes it nice and easy; no sticky end for jam-loving Bruton; Gilmore enjoys being in poll position; Kathleen Lynch on song

AN ACTION-packed column this week. No, really. Exhausted. Totally exhausted.

A half-day on Wednesday. Early start on Thursday (10.30am) and a late finish (officially) at 3.30pm, although personally, I am still recovering from severe bruising sustained in the rush to get out of Leinster House at lunchtime.

This was the week that wasn’t and it made a mockery of what passes for our national parliament. The government pretended that a normal sitting was taking place while cynically stifling all discussion and questions on issues of vital interest to the electorate.

There may have been all sorts of stuff going on. Only it didn’t happen in the Dáil. The lights were on but nobody was home. As for the Seanad – it was closed. Few noticed.

Smart move by Biffo and his compadres. If they hadn’t put a lid on parliamentary discourse this week, heaven only knows how much lower they might have sunk in yesterday’s opinion poll.

Happy Gilmore back in the swing of things

Which leads us nicely onto Happy Gilmore, walking around with tweeting cartoon birdies twirling around his head, still slightly concussed after he was struck by a huge 8 per cent swing on Thursday night.

Eamon was Mr 32 Per Cent yesterday, and loving it. As the artistes formerly know as The Two Main Parties reeled from the results of the latest Irish Timesopinion poll, Labour’s leader was celebrating.

In first place, top position, the most popular party in the country for the first time in its long history.

That’s some achievement, and he knew it. At his first party conference in charge, Labour Youth waved placards bearing the slogan “Gilmore for Taoiseach” and everyone smiled indulgently at the innocence of the young.

It doesn’t look such a fanciful proposition now.

Eamon came out onto the plinth in the morning to discuss the figures, doing his best to stop smiling. He did a lengthy question and answer session, on his own, with no gurning party colleagues craning their necks beside him. The party leader, the Labour people, the journalists, pretended not to be shocked.

It was all very serious and statesmanlike.

As he walked back into Leinster House, we sidled over.

“Well. Are you happy?” You could have tied his smile into a knot on the top of his head and secured it with his ears.

“AM I WHAT?” We hear he went mad when he heard the news on Thursday and poured himself a large Black Bush.

One of his back-room team appeared to be crying. “Hay fever” she insisted.

“It’s a three-horse race” whinnied Joan of Arkle, kicking up her heels before she went into the finance committee meeting.

FG brainbox ties the knot with rugby legend

No sign of Enda Kenny around the place, though. Probably just as well, because as much as people were talking about Labour’s stunning breakthrough, they were talking about the Fine Gael leader’s disastrous showing.

Enda was in Cork, where he joined former leader Liam Cosgrave and a host of FG luminaries at a ceremony to grant Peter Barry the freedom of the city.

Because he was otherwise engaged in the Real Capital, Enda couldn’t make the other big FG social event of the day.

Jennifer Carroll, the party’s legal adviser, tied the knot yesterday with Irish rugby legend Hugo MacNeill. The happy couple married in Trinity College chapel and the reception was held afterwards at their Killiney pad.

Charlie Flanagan, the party’s justice spokesman, was among the guests at the black-tie party, while Richard Bruton nipped along to the afters after putting in a day’s work on the finance committee.

Jennifer and Hugo held a pre-wedding barbecue last week for those Fine Gael staff members who couldn’t make yesterday’s ceremony because they are currently in the middle of the Focus Ireland Four Peaks Challenge.

Over three days, three teams of FG parliamentary assistants, research and press office staff are attempting to conquer Lugnaquilla in Leinster, Carrauntoohil in Munster, Mweelrea in Connaught and Slieve Donard in Ulster.

“We’ve done a fair bit of training, so I’m confident we’ll complete the challenge. Although I’m a bit worried that our first stop for refreshments was in Inchicore.

“On the plus side, we’ve successfully accomplished the four beers challenge. I saw Heineken, Sol, Miller and Corona being snuck into rucksacks,” party press director Ciarán Conlon tells us.

The Secret Life of Irish Politicians #327

Richard Bruton makes jam. All the time. There’s nothing about pectin you can tell Baby Bruton.

The man who could be the next leader of Fine Gael looked visibly shaken when we told him we knew his secret.

“Oh God, I’m ruined now,” he cried.

He explained everything. “Raspberry jam and marmalade are the things I do most. The marmalade has to be made from proper Seville oranges, mind, none of your canned stuff.”

So the marmalade season must be almost here now? “Oh no, I make it all the time. I buy the oranges fresh and freeze them for when I need to make a new batch.” Do you grow your own raspberries “No, I buy the frozen raspberries.” If Enda were a jam, what flavour would he be? Richard wasn’t saying.

Neither are we. Too easy.

The Secret Life of Irish Politicians #184

Labour’s Kathleen Lynch is a karaoke queen. She doesn’t warble, she judges.

In fact, at the start of September, flame-haired Kathleen is off to Moscow to be a judge in the world karaoke championships. (We are not making this up.)

“The finals are usually held in Henola in Finland, so Russia is a big change for us this year,” the Cork North Central deputy tells us. She got into karaoke through friends in Cork who hold the Irish franchise for the contest and she regularly judges at the heats.

“I can’t sing a note but I know what’s nice. We look for someone who sounds as close as possible to the original artist, but who can also put on a show. You can be the best singer in the world but a terrible performer. It’s about the full package.” She says she loves to hear people singing Celine Dion numbers, and the theme from Titanicis a particular favourite.

“The opinion poll augurs very well for a Labour-led government. I will be looking for Arts and Culture, on account of my experience,” says the irrepressible Kathleen.

‘Mail’ man speaks in tongues to Biffo

Things seemed to be going well from Brian Cowen, until the opinion poll. The general consensus (whatever that is) seemed to be that he had turned the corner and was beginning the fight back.

As Thursday’s shock new order proved, you never know what’s around the corner. In Biffo’s case, it was the Labour bogeyman.

When Wednesday’s press conference on the banking reports was coming to a close, the man from the Irish Mailnipped in with a question as Gaeilge. Rather unexpected, given his publication’s provenance.

“Taoiseach, an bhfuil tú sásta dul os cionn an coiste fiosrúcháin?” Biffo did a double-take. “Gabh mo leithscéal?” The man from the Mailtried again: “An bhfuil tú sásta dul os cionn an coiste fiosrúcháin?” With the Taoiseach still looking surprised, government press secretary and native Irish speaker Eoghan Ó Neachtain ventured a loud prompt from the wings: “Os comhair!”

Biffo heard him and replied “Ma thugann siad cuireadh dom” (If they invite me).

As for the man from the Irish Mail, he had been asking the Taoiseach if he would be happy to “go on top” of the inquiry.

But not a bad attempt though.

Confidence the key for busy Cowen

It’s been a busy few days for Biffo. Interviews all over the place. He paid a visit to Today FM’s Matt Cooper on Thursday evening to talk about the banking reports.

On his way out, he met some staff members in the left. “How’s it goin’ lads. Busy day, was it?” “Ah, busy enough day all right. What about yourself?” And the Taoiseach let out a big sigh and smiled ruefully. “Busy era. Busy era.” He was in good form yesterday in Scarriff, Co Clare, where, among other things, he launched a new tourist website for the Shannon region.

John Quinlivan of Shannon Development, who was master of ceremonies at the event, called his CEO Vincent Cunnane to the platform to “give a vote of thanks to the Taoiseach”. Whereupon, with exquisite timing, Biffo boomed: “I’ll take a vote of confidence instead!” There wasn’t a dry seat in the house.

Hanway raises the bar once more

Next Friday will be a sad day for all those who toil around Leinster House when Suzanne Hanway bids goodbye to the Dáil bar after eight years at the pumps.

We can only guess at the secrets Sue will take with her – she may pull a great pint but, damn her, she never let anything leak.

Sue is leaving for the UK, where she has been accepted for a prestigious make-up artists course. Who knows, her new career might lead her back to Leinster House. There’s always a need for those skilled enough to lard the right amount of Polyfilla onto political faces.

“I loved my time here, and I’ve discovered that politicians aren’t as bad as people like to make out. I’ve found them a decent bunch and I’ll miss them and all the staff who drop in here for a drink at the end of the working day.”

Golfing legislators owed an apology

A thousand apologies to keen golfers Frank Fahy and Paddy Bourke. Unlike Donie Cassidy, they did not lay down their putters for the motherland in Turkey last weekend.

Due to a mix-up in our provisional, continuity and official lists of starters, we inadvertently placed Frank and Paddy in the frame for the tasty five-day trip to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Turkish parliament.

Highlight of the official programme was a golf tournament organised for parliamentarians from around the globe, with Donie and deputies Noel Grealish and Phil Hogan proudly wearing the green plus-fours.

News of the trip caused some annoyance among their colleagues back home, and in particular among members of the Seanad.

They argued they wanted to hold a sitting alongside the Dáil this week, but house leader Cassidy insisted they stick with their plan to take it off.

However, the fact that almost all of them knew nothing about this little foreign jaunt until they read about it in the newspaper is what really had them spitting mad.

The controversial long weekend began on an explosive note for the travelling party when their plane lost a wheel on landing at Istanbul airport.

Stung by criticism of the timing of this trip to Turkey, Senator Cassidy pointed out that he had given up his “whole bloody weekend in the name of Ireland”. It’s a terrible thought, but had the pilot not controlled the plane, Donie may have given up a lot more, prematurely joining the pantheon of great Irish patriots by making the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

But back to Deputy Fahey and Senator Bourke, who have been most gracious about our error. “Much worse has been written about me” sniffs Frank.

“Just put in my picture,” suggests Paddy, who used to play hurling for Mayo.

The play is the thing for embattled hacks

It wasn’t just Leaving Cert English students who were under pressure for time on Wednesday.

Political and financial correspondents were locked into a room in Government Buildings for 90 minutes on Wednesday afternoon so they could familiarise themselves with the strictly embargoed banking inquiry reports before the Taoiseach’s press conference.

Tension rose as the incarcerated hacks waited for the reports to arrive and silence settled upon the room when the much-awaited documents were brought in and handed out.

As one, the correspondents turned over the covers and began to scan the contents. Not a word was spoken.

Then a voice rose up. “It’s Macbeth lads. We’re OK.”