MIRIAM LORD'S WEEK

 

On a wing and a prayer; Paisley sticks to the day job; dinner time for FF bigwigs; Charlie McCreevy sounds off; coffee breaks in Brussels; FG rivalry in Dún Laoghaire

YOU HAVE to admire Ryanair's Michael O'Leary. Yesterday, he sent a letter to every member of the Cabinet, asking to meet each one of them personally to discuss his Aer Lingus takeover plan.

Sometime next week would be great, suggested the Squire of Gigginstown.

Sadly, the word escaping from ministerial offices is that Michael may have to wait. It sounds like most of the recipients have little intention of throwing open their doors to Michael just yet. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how many, if any, agree to his request.

He hasn't had many good words to say about government ministers over the years.

Maybe O'Leary might consider a little goodwill gesture as a token of his new-found respect for our political leaders.

A new jet, for example, might open a few doors.

Not least because two Ministers in the last fortnight have had hairy experiences aboard the government jet.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has been a martyr to the "irregular hydraulic indications" of late. The most recent one happened two weeks ago, when he and the jet sat on the runway in Tbilisi for seven hours after a hydraulic leak was detected as the aircraft was taxiing on the runway.

On Thursday, the jet went wallop again. Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith, trying to escape from vicious flocks of sheep outside his Kildare Street headquarters, made a break for Brussels. But having boarded the government jet in Baldonnel, he was put off it because of another breakdown and had to make alternative arrangements.

Paisley's jungle dilemma

Times have certainly changed for journalists in Northern Ireland, where the days of highly charged political coverage have vanished to be replaced by a more soft-focused approach.

UTV's Ken Reid, a veteran of the heady days of the peace process, found himself interviewing MLA Ian Paisley jnr in Stormont's Great Hall earlier this week. And what was the topic under discussion with the DUP man? The decommissioning body? Policing? Sinn Féin? No. Ken was there to hear big Ian's boy send a message of support to young Eoghan Quigg, the 16-year-old singer from Derry who has made the final four in the X-Factor, ITV's Saturday night talent show.

But being a newsman to his fingertips, Ken also remembered hearing rumours around UTV about a possible reality television break for Ian jnr. Just as their interview was ending, Ken asked the MLA for North Antrim if he had been approached to appear on I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. Ian jnr. confirmed that he had been asked, but he turned down the offer, "for a number of reasons." He told Ken he was mindful of the George Galloway factor — a reference to the former Labour MP's mortifying stint on Celebrity Big Brother.

But back to Ian jnr, who said he hasn't seen much of jungle-based show. "I hardly ever watch it but the bits that I have seen I wished I hadn't. But no, they did make me a serious offer to come and participate, but I'm a politician, keep me in here." Here's a thought? Which of our politicians deserve a stint in the jungle?

FF's food for thought

Big night for Fianna Fáil last night, when nearly 2,000 Soldiers of Destiny paid €100 a ticket to attend the annual Cairde Fáil dinner in the Citywest Hotel in Dublin. Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who must have been exhausted following his visits to four European cities in two days, arrived from Brussels to host the event.

Guests of honour at the top table were Declan Kidney, Ireland rugby coach, Aoife Kelly, the reigning Rose of Tralee, Brian Cody, the Kilkenny hurling manager and Michaela Morkan, Offaly's first camogie all-star.

Despite the recession, the event was a sell-out, with many disappointed supporters hoping they might make it off the waiting list for cancellations.

However, anything Biffo does, Bertie does too.

There is another big Fianna Fáil social event happening this weekend. Bertie Ahern's legendary fundraising machine is holding its annual constituency fundraiser at Clontarf Castle. The glitzy do has raised a huge amount of money for the Ahern operation down through the years, and was organised by Celia Larkin with great success when she ran the Bertie show.

Many supporters are calling tonight's bash the last hurrah, heralding the end of a tradition in Drumcondra.

There were fears that tickets might not move as fast as usual, now the Bert is gone from power. But it's a full house for him too.

McCreevy speaks out

Pity poor Brian Cowen, Micheál Martin and Dick Roche as they travel around Europe trying to mend fences, not knowing the day nor the hour when loose horse Charlie McCreevy will gallop up and kick them all down.

We hear that McCreevy's opinions on the Lisbon Treaty referendum, as expressed in the current edition of Hot Press, have not gone down well with the Eurocrats in Brussels. But then, Charlie's tendency to speak as he finds, along with his habit of sloping off to race meetings, hasn't always endeared him to his continental colleagues.

Some senior politicians here are privately of the view that McCreevy would be better off keeping his opinions to himself at this sensitive phase in Ireland's relationship with the EU. As the trio of Cowen, Martin and Roche press on with their post-referendum firefighting and try to keep their euro partners onside, Charlie is rejecting any claims that Ireland could be "isolated" following last June's rejection of the treaty. The urgent actions of his former Government colleagues tell a different story.

He also argued if the only answer was Yes, there was no point in putting the Lisbon question to any other country. Declan Ganley won the contest because the public listened to him instead of the political establishment. The result, said McCreevy, has to be respected.

His comments have provoked a weary "what's new?" reaction among Irish Eurocrats, but the commissioner - who may be feeling a little overlooked by commission president Barroso at the moment - isn't in the least bit bothered.

EU smells the coffee

Perhaps Charlie's undiplomatic comments are down to the standard of coffee served in the Berlaymont building. An intriguing story has surfaced about the espresso machines installed last January in the commissioners' private offices.

The €6,000 machines were to spare the top brass and their aides from having to mix with less important bureaucrats in the works canteen. However, one Austrian official became concerned about the metallic tang from the coffee and sent samples back home for testing. The results suggested that the EU's finest were being slowly poisoned, with findings that a cup of coffee contained 175 times the recommended intake of nickel and doses of lead that were 16 per cent too high.

The machines have been mothballed, and staff have been sent a note advising them of the symptoms of high nickel doses. These include skin problems and gastrointestinal disorders, particularly for people with allergic tendencies.

A commission spokesman said: "How many ministers do you know who queue in the main cafeteria and is that a good use of their time? The commissioner is not sitting there all day drinking coffee, it is served to visitors . . . I would suggest it is a sensible use of public money because we do not want to have commissioners wasting time in queues."

He added: "The company [Cimbali] is saying that the tests were not carried out in the right conditions so they want to carry out their own tests"

Biffo's healthy glow

Speaking of poisoning, an interesting e-mail arrives from a reader who has lived abroad for 40 years, but keeps in touch with Irish news via The Irish Times website. This gentleman, who we suspect may be nuclear scientist or some similar class of boffin, is fascinated by Brian Cowen and his level of performance since becoming Taoiseach.

"As a research student, I worked without regard for life or limb with silver-110 in his current office location. Can this inadvertent irradiation explain his current problems?" asks our correspondent, tongue firmly in cheek.

Right enough, Brian Cowen currently toils in Government Buildings on Merrion Street, formerly the Royal College of Science.

Could this possibly be true? Might this explain his lacklustre leadership? If this is correct, a nuclear-charged Biffo may well have superhuman powers. Maybe his sluggishness in the Dáil chamber is down to the fact that he is out all night fighting evil.

Our correspondent may be on to something. It'll be case proven when the Taoiseach begins to glow to dark.

Return to sender

Sometimes you'd have to worry that some people in Leinster House don't have a lot of sense when it comes to dealing with money. This is a bit of a concern at the moment, given the parlous state of the nation's finances and the ongoing saga of the banks bailout.

Earlier this week, the following e-mail landed in certain inboxes: "The ICT Unit has become aware that over 200 Oireachtas computer users have received an e-mail memo during the last hour inviting them to confirm details of their bank account, and warning that their account may be locked if they don't do so. THIS IS A HOAX and should be ignored. Irish banks never issue unsolicited bulk mail memos to customers or potential customers. Always ignore such memos."

Brian Lenihan please note. This is not the way to start clawing back the deficit.

Young, gifted and FG

All is not well in Kingstown and its fragrant little satellite villages. While Fine Gael has chosen its local election candidates for most areas of Dublin, the selection process has stalled in Dún Laoghaire.

A convention was due to take place two weeks ago in Killiney, but it was cancelled at short notice. This happened after the party's three sitting councillors wrote to the FG executive council declaring their "unanimous view" that they should be the only candidates selected to run in the ward.

This was seen as an attempt to fend off an expected challenge from 25 -year-old Naja Regan, daughter of the high-profile Senator Eugene Regan. Backed by the powerful Monkstown branch, Naja ticks two important requirements for headquarters: she is young, and female. However, with just six seats up for grabs, the sitting tenants in this Blueshirt heartland are less than delighted at the arrival of young Regan.

No date has been set for a rescheduled convention, but it is expected to take place early in the new year. However, the Regan camp piled on the pressure this week when the Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown constituency organisation passed a resolution that four candidates be allowed contest the local election. The meeting, which took place in the Kingston Hotel, was attended by the three sitting councillors - John Bailey, former Dublin County Board Chairman and unsuccessful general election candidate; PD defector Mary Mitchell-O'Connor; and Tom O'Higgins, who took over Eugene Regan's seat when he was elected to the Seanad.

Naja Regan's supporters say her presence would add balance to the ticket, as she comes from the northern end of the ward while the other three are based at the Dalkey/Killiney end.

However, while the three existing councillors agreed to the resolution on Wednesday night, all is not well beneath the surface. "There are some people a little browned off that a Senator is throwing his weight around. There is a constituency power-play going on," one member told us yesterday.

Meanwhile, the ultimate decision on the number of nominees rests with the Executive Council.

Billy the Kid

Belated congratulations to Minister of State Billy Kelleher, who became a daddy for the third time three weeks ago when his wife Liza gave birth to Billy jnr in Cork University Hospital.

Billy is a brother for Rebecca (3) and Isabel (1) and his proud dad says "he's a very easy baby." He weighed in at 7lbs 11ozs and with a big shock of black hair. "Sure I only called him Billy because we won't have to change the headings on the Dáil notepaper," quipped Kelleher, obviously hoping "Little Billy" will follow in his footsteps. "I'm going to stand him early for the council."

Axe and you shall receive

We're very fond of Fine Gael's James Bannon, who sits dormant on the backbenches for most of the time but is prone to Krakatoan eruptions when his indignation is fired up. The Longford/Westmeath deputy has an important role. He asks his fair share of what columnist Frank McNally once dubbed the Dáil's "Cinderella" questions. This is where TDs rise before the order of business and ask the Ceann Comhairle to "consider a matter of urgent national importance, namely..." This gives deputies a chance to get various issues on the record, although the Ceann Comhairle never allows the question. But there remains the fantasy that one day, as in Cinderella, a TD will ask a question and the chair will agree it fits. It's never happened yet.

When James takes his turn, he invariably has his colleagues in stitches. We've now discovered why.

Bannon, in his midlands accent, begins his questions by saying "I want to axe the Taoiseach..." or "I want to axe the Tánaiste..." or "I want to axe the Minister..." One senior FG frontbencher told us: "Jesus Christ, the last thing we went to do is axe them. Keep them there. Let them deal with their own mess. James is on his own with this one."