Miriam Lord's Week


Fine Gael meeting; Ciarán Cannon in FG; Green candidates in Brussels; Hanafin on runway; Martin Brady’s contribution; Members’ Bar picture; A Cabinet calendar; The Cowen paintings

IS ENDA Kenny beginning to feel the strain? Reports have reached us of a very fractious Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday night. It went on for hours, and by all accounts, there was skin and hair flying.

At one stage in the proceedings, a highly insulted Deputy Lucinda Creighton gathered up her bags and stormed from the packed room, visibly upset. We understand that Deputy Creighton took grave offence at cryptic comments that party leader Kenny made about her in the course of the meeting.

The incident involving Lucinda followed an angry contribution from Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames, who was hopping mad because she was not allowed appear on last week’s Late Late Showdiscussion about the Seanad.

This decision infuriated the Galway-based Senator, who said she was in discussion with the producers and had been ready to appear. The Late Latewanted a female Senator on the panel to provide gender balance, but the FG leader in the Seanad, Frances Fitzgerald, had a prior engagement. Fidelma, understandably, felt she rather fitted the bill.

However, FG advisers wanted to push their Dublin Central byelection candidate, Paschal Donohoe. RTÉ said they didn’t want him, so Fine Gael boycotted the show. On Tuesday, Healy-Eames poured scorn on the party’s media strategy, reserving much of her fury for communications director Ciarán Conlon. Her view was supported by Deputy Creighton.

Some parliamentary party members say the presence of Conlon – there to give a presentation on communications – was one reason for the fraught atmosphere.

Like their Fianna Fáil counterparts, there is a view among many elected representatives that salaried media advisers have far too much influence on party policy and party leadership.

The meeting took place against the background of Naja Regan’s High Court challenge against a party decision not to allow her contest the local elections in Dún Laoghaire. The issue has since been settled, but at the meeting it was simmering away among certain members who resent what they see as disproportionate power wielded by HQ and advisers.

Back to Lucinda. The meeting discussed the Sunday Independentand the sort of hot and cold coverage the paper gives to Fine Gael. Kenny recounted his treatment in print by Sindo editor Aengus Fanning after the pair happened to meet at a pavement cafe in Ballsbridge two years ago.

While Fanning was scathing in his criticism of the Fine Gael leader, his paper was quite kind to the soon-to-be Deputy Creighton, who had been canvassing with Enda at the time.

The incident was discussed. Kenny was not too happy with Lucinda’s criticism of Conlon’s approach to handling the media. “And I had to defend you in the Sunday Independent,” he announced to the deputy.

She asked him a number of times what he meant, he didn’t elaborate, and so she walked out, but not before declaring his comments were “patronising”. He tried to call her back, but Lucinda was not for turning.

Things calmed down again, but not for long – for another row was about to break out.

This has been described by one bemused witness as “a west of Ireland thing”. There were sharp exchanges between Enda and Ulick Burke, his TD for Galway East. Ulick felt he wasn’t consulted sufficiently on the arrangements to announce former PD leader Ciarán Cannon’s new membership. He made his annoyance known.

But Enda, just as annoyed as his deputy, told him: “I went out on a f****** limb for you!” He was referring to something that happened during the last election.

“It was a hell of a meeting – like a family at war,” one exhilarated parliamentary party member told us. “There are fellas and girls working for us who think they’re in The West Wing. They need a good rocket every now and then.” Meanwhile, one of Lucinda’s female colleagues stood up some time after she had left and expressed her disquiet at what had happened. She hoped matters could be set right between Deputy Creighton and her leader.

As it stands, there seems no chance of that happening just yet. Relations are said to be very frosty between Enda and his deputy for Dublin South East.

As for that cryptic comment, we understand that Enda maintains he had to defend his deputy to a Sindojournalist after he allegedly made disparaging comments about why a young, blonde and female deputy might possibly get more coverage in his Sunday organ than a middle-aged male politician.

‘They’ll ate him alive’

And what about Senator Ciarán Cannon, ex PD, now FG? As he posed for photographs on the plinth on Tuesday with his new Blueshirt chums, he spoke about dynamism and inspiration and how he hopes his work with the party will fill people with hope.

He’s in a very small and crowded space known as Galway East. On either side of him as he spoke, keeping a close eye on their new colleague, were deputies Paul Connaughton and Ulick Burke. “They’ll ate him alive!” snorted a veteran FG deputy, as he surveyed the scene.

Which begs the question: now that they have Boom Boom Cannon on the books, what will Fine Gael do with him? He’ll need more than gunpowder to shift Messrs Connaughton and Burke from a general election ticket.

A few old hands are wondering whether the party intends to test Cannon’s mettle – and loyalty – by running him as a second candidate in Ireland North West. He could act as a sweeper, cannon fodder, for sitting MEP Jim Higgins.

Bitter-sweet occasion

The three Green MEP candidates travelled to Brussels yesterday for the official launch of the European Greens’ EU-wide European election campaign. Deirdre de Burca (Dublin), Senator Dan Boyle (South) and Stephen Agnew (Northern Ireland) will join about 1,000 colleagues from across Europe at the congress, which will be held in the European parliament.

It will be a bitter-sweet occasion for Dan. This is because the event will feature the first public performance of the winning entry in this year’s Greenvision Song Contest.

Dan’s catchy effort – The Next Generation– didn’t win. By a long shot. Never mind.

Minister for Food Trevor Sargent remains at home. He’ll be in Dublin’s Botanic Gardens tomorrow at 12.30 to launch a campaign encouraging allotments and community gardening. He is also launching the Green candidate for Glasnevin in the local elections.

Trevor will be demonstrating how to cultivate a square foot garden. On his website, Trevor (what does a junior minister earn again?) tells us how to propagate everlasting cabbage.

He proudly tells us that celebrity chef Richard Corrigan recently visited his kitchen garden and “left with a basket of freshly picked leeks and other fine vegetables”. That must have been before they left for Europe.

Panic-stricken crowd

Minister for Social Welfare Mary Hanafin joined rugby pundit George Hook on the runway in the Killiney Castle Hotel last Saturday night, when they modelled in a charity fashion show for Cuala GAA club. Hook, who is “training” one of the Dalkey club’s teams as part of the Celebrity BainisteoirTV show, did a shimmy on the catwalk before peeling off his top and throwing it into a panic-stricken audience.

Hanafin followed a number of models from the Assets agency, who strutted their stuff in next season’s fashion. There was a gasp of disbelief from the ladies and gents of South County Dublin when local deputy Mary sashayed out wearing . . . a tracksuit.

Having been surgically separated from her high heels, Mary stepped out in her Reeboks.

Now that the rot has set in, don’t be surprised if she turns up to the Dáil this week in pyjamas.

No more free holidays

What are we to make of this contribution from Martin Brady in the Seanad on Wednesday? Brady was speaking on the Electoral (amendment) Bill, which was completing its final stages through the Upper Chamber.

The Bill, with other measures, will see spending limits imposed on local election candidates.

“Regarding a level playing pitch, perhaps in future we could examine the way Seanad elections are conducted with a view to putting expenditure limits on those too, because it is difficult to compete in some cases,” said the accordion-playing former deputy for Dublin North East.

“Perhaps we should ban free holidays and the like.

“There are many areas we could examine in this regard because that is not a level playing pitch. One could be slaughtered with one swipe on that, as it were. That is something we should examine.” Free holidays? And the like? Sure beats the traditional bottle of whiskey, or, in the case of Donie Cassidy, complimentary Country’n’Irish CDs.

Tell us more, Martin.

Don’t look up, Brian

In the Members’ Bar in Leinster House – the inner sanctum, open only to serving and past members of the Oireachtas, politicians can escape pressures of the public life.

Ensconced inside the easy twilight of its walls, they can forget the issues of the day and concentrate on watching football matches and drinking pints.

After another trying day, the Taoiseach likes nothing better than to sup a slow pint with his buddies in the Members’ Bar.

If he managed to get in for an hour this week, we hope he didn’t notice the black and white photograph that adorns the wall above his favourite spot.

It’s one of only a few framed photos in the bar, and it features members of the Oireachtas golf society on a day out. There are five men in the frame, and all but one are long gone from the world of politics.

Had Biffo glanced up, he would have seen the late Colm Hilliard, Hugh Byrne, Tom Enright and Senator Donie Cassidy beaming into the camera. In the middle of them, with the biggest smile of all, one Michael “Fingers” Fingleton.

What caricatures?

But Brian Cowen doesn’t want to be thinking of pictures after the week he’s had. Portraitgate exploded on Tuesday night after RTÉ apologised for featuring images of a very unflattering caricature of the Taoiseach that was stuck on a wall in the National Gallery when nobody was looking.

But here’s an interesting thing. The incident happened a few weeks ago. It came to public attention when it was featured, with photographs, in the Sunday Tribune. The following night, RTÉ news ran the story.

The next day, Tuesday, was a sitting day in the Dáil. Lots of activity around the place, lots of journalists about, lots of TDs. Here’s the funny thing: nobody was talking about the caricatures. In Leinster House, if there is a controversy brewing or indignation on the rise, it flies around the place in record time.

That night in the bar, the talk was of lots of things. But not of those rude paintings of Biff in the Buff. Then, at the end of the nine o’clock news, that apology was read out. Mobile phones beeped throughout the House.

Portraitgate had became a talking point. Certain people decided it was time to be offended. Strange, the way things happen. Maybe some good can come out of the mess. Look at all the publicity two paintings of a half-naked politician can command. As the week went on, people were clamouring to buy the offending artwork. Websites were doing a steady trade in Biff-in-the-Buff T-shirts.

Why not do a Cabinet calendar? A multiannual one, featuring ministers gazing coyly into the distance, dignity preserved by artfully positioned props.

The Dublin Fire Brigade make thousands every year from their calendar. A Cabinet calendar – it would go global – could solve our money problems in a jiffy.

No Portraitgate here

There was a big meeting in Hugh Lynch’s pub in Tullamore during the week to discuss the town’s planned community arts centre. €2 million has been earmarked by Government to fund the project, but it has yet to get off the ground.

The meeting was attended by the chairman of Offaly County Council, Barry Cowen (de brudder) and Biffo’s right hand woman, Sinead Dooley. They both gave their backing for a visual and performing arts centre for Offaly.

About 150 attended. Speakers bemoaned the lack of a proper art gallery in the county. A number of artists were in attendance.

But nobody mentioned the war. Anyone who dared mention Portraitgate – even if the meeting was all about cherishing the arts – risked getting lynched.