Miriam Lord’s Week: Desperately seeking pop-up Dáil site

Clerys could be an option – on slow days, mannequins would come and fill the chamber

“There are escalators inside for Enda to make Donald Trump-style entrances down into the chamber (formerly the Cosmetics Hall and Karen Millen).” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“There are escalators inside for Enda to make Donald Trump-style entrances down into the chamber (formerly the Cosmetics Hall and Karen Millen).” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Leinster House is falling down

Falling down, falling down

Leinster House is falling down

Where will the Dáil go?

The renovation work has to be done. But so has the business of legislating – and there’s been precious little of it so far this year. In the national interest, the Dáil can’t go into recess for three months.

Nothing for it but to fold the tent and move the entire circus. But to where?

Duffy’s Big Top seems the obvious choice. Everyone would fit in with the high-wire acts and tightrope walkers, verbal acrobats and clowns and exhibitionists who ride two horses at the same time.

Location is the snag. The parties will argue for too long over the high moral ground.

What about the old House of Lords in College Green? It’s only a short walk from Leinster House and a suitably grand venue for politicians with notions.

An excellent idea, with a most attractive selling point. The building houses the National Wax Museum – a popular attraction with locals and tourists who want to visit the Chamber of Horrors and look at lifelike wax effigies of people they really should recognise.

If the Dáil and Seanad were to move there, the displays could be left in place and everyone would be able to slope off for three months after all.

Timeshare in Stormont

One major drawback. The same level of engagement and animation would be required of Deputies and Senators upon their return to Leinster House.

Timeshare in Stormont, anyone? In the interest of cross-Border relations, the Dáil could sit there when the Northern Assembly is not in session. Marlene would also be on hand to show our Fianna Fáil-supported Fine Gael minority-led Government (not to mention those who grandiosely refuse to compromise on power) that anything is possible in politics.

Marlene, by the way, is the wonderful new nickname for the Assembly’s Deputy First and First Ministers – Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin and Arlene Foster of the DUP.

Horse trading

Other possible locations? Tattersalls in Meath, where the horse-trading could continue in comfort. Lack of pedigree is a definite problem here, so the more down-market Smithfield might be more appropriate.

With the year that’s in it, the Dáil could decamp to the GPO and the Seanad could have a stall in Moore Street. Or maybe Nama should step up to the mark and find a hall in its vast portfolio. Or a ghost estate – no shortage of them.

And there’s always Abbeville, the Gandon-designed mansion which was home to Charlie Haughey. It even has a bar.

But there is one option which outshines them all in terms of location, facilities, prestige, history and relevance. Clerys department store: a landmark building on the capital’s main thoroughfare, directly opposite the GPO. And it’s vacant.

People from all around the country knew and loved Clerys. There are restaurants inside, with great potential to establish a pop-up Dáil bar or two. Better still, Clerys is in Dublin’s north inner city and would make a convenient base for all those senior politicians who promised this week that they will be making regular visits to disadvantaged parts of the neighbourhood in order to “stand” with the residents.

And it’s near Croke Park too, for those other important regular visits to GAA matches and Bruce Springsteen concerts.

There are escalators inside for Enda to make Donald Trump-style entrances down into the chamber (formerly the Cosmetics Hall and Karen Millen) and elevators to get stuck inside. The ministers could hang out in Santa’s grotto and hand out grants. There is a grand staircase to impress visiting dignitaries.

Mannequins

On slow days, the mannequins would be taken out of storage and used to fill the chamber for the cameras.

Best of all, out the side door and across the road in North Earl Street is Boyers department Store. Also vacant. They could shove the Senators into Boyers and create an Upper House.

North Earl Street boasts a bronze statue of James Joyce, which would keep David Norris happy and also prove that this new Government really cares about The Arts, no matter what people might think.

And when the work is completed back in Kildare Street, the TDs and Senators, having passed improved workers’ rights legislation, should refuse to budge until the long-serving Clerys workers are treated with a modicum of respect and given decent recompense by the property speculators who bought the store in June last year and saw them legally turfed out of their jobs without a minute’s notice.

ENDA DIGS OUT THE SCHTARS ’N’ SHTRIPES FOR BRUCE

It’s all go for Enda Kenny this weekend. He tore the sleeves off his plaid shirt, ironed a lovely crease into his good jeans, tied on a schtars ‘n’ shtripes bandana and went to Croke Park last night for the Bruce Springsteen concert. Workin’ on a Dream, baby!

But what about My Hometown, Enda?

While the Taoiseach was singing Born to Run in Croker, a large gathering back in Mayo was enjoying a different concert. It’s reported there were some raised eyebrows in the vicinity of Charlestown and beyond when they heard their Local Hero would not be attendance at the Knock Airport 30th Anniversary Celebration gala dinner and concert.

Instead, Enda decided to forsake the “foggy boggy” airport” in his home country in favour of Springsteen’s The River Tour above in Dublin. “We were a bit surprised to hear he wouldn’t be coming to Knock” one local told us. “You’d have thought he’d be all over it like cream cheese.”

Never mind. Michael Ring stepped in and made did the honours. He was On Fire, by all accounts. But then, the Ringer is Tougher Than the Rest, which is just as well as Enda landed two senators on his Mayo patch yesterday – former TDs Michelle Mulherrin and John O’Mahony.

Enda will be singing Glory Days if Connacht beat Leinster in the Guinness Pro12 final over in Edinburgh today. And he’s in London tomorrow for the Connacht Senior Championship quarter-final between London and Mayo at Ruislip. Step one on Mayo’s latest quest for The Promised Land. As Bruce, or Enda might say: Dream Baby Dream!

RUMBLINGS THAT RANELAGH WAS EN FÊTE FOR BIRTHDAY BOY

It was a big day for Senators yesterday. The Taoiseach got around to naming his 11 nominees, at long last completing the line-up for the 25th Seanad.

He also named the date for the first sitting of the new Upper House – it’ll be Wednesday week. A blessed relief for those already elected, who won’t start getting paid until the Seanad convenes.

Some of the brand new intake, with time on their hands as Enda was making up his mind about how dull he wanted his list of 11 to be (very), have been familiarising themselves with Leinster House and its facilities. One or two of them will fit in very well with life in Kildare Street.

Apparently they are already grumbling about the size of their offices and seeking better quarters. Good luck with that, the place is stuffed as it is. Not that they’ll be in situ for very long before they have to move. Maybe the accommodation will come up to their high standards when the renovation of Leinster House is finished.

It was a big day in particular for one Senator who has returned to Leinster House after a brief hiatus.

Ranelagh was en fête last night for Michael McDowell’s birthday. A big one, we hear. If he worked in RTÉ he’d have to retire, but if he wants to join Shane Ross on the Luas Green Line into town he’ll have to pay for another year.

Tootling about the place

Sir Winston Churchtown, on the other hand, has the free travel since before he became Minster for Transport. He’s entitled to a driver now, but for the moment, he’s still tootling about the place in a VW Golf.

But back to McDowell, who, like the queen, has two birthdays. The occasion was celebrated last night with a big bash in the back garden of his Dublin home. His actual birthday is tomorrow. The weather held up for the birth- day boy and the marquee didn’t blow away, despite the senior counsels holding forth inside it.

On the invitation, guests were asked to attend in “best party dress”. We contacted the birthday boy’s old buddy, journalist Sam Smyth, to see what he would be wearing. “I’ve a lovely off the shoulder number,” he revealed.

GOVERNMENT PRESS SECRETARY TO SOLDIER ON BUT OTHERS MAY GO RADIO GA GA

After the formation of the new Government there was speculation that Government press secretary Feargal Purcell might be moving on. But the former Army officer is going nowhere.

“I’m going to stay the course and stick with it. There’s a job of work to be done yet,” he tells us.

However, there’s been a changing of the guard in Merrion Street with the departure of deputy Government press secretary Paul O’Brien, who was a Labour appointment. The former Irish Examiner political editor has moved on to a new role in the Central Bank.

Word is that media lawyer Tony Williams, a former PD councillor who worked on campaigns with Shane Ross and acted as an adviser to the Independent Alliance during the programme for government negotiations, is strongly in the running for the job.

His duties would also stretch to the non-alliance members of Government, although they would also have their personal media advisers.

He can hack it

The affable Williams doesn’t fit the usual profile of poacher turned gamekeeper journalist. However, he is well used to dealing with hacks as he was the Indo’s libel lawyer for many years and no stranger to difficult conversations with reporters about what they can and cannot commit to print.

And speaking of former Government press secretaries, one of the most successful of the breed, Eoghan Ó Neachtain, is rumoured to be considering a move to Newstalk as one of their main presenters.

The former Army commandant, who would be familiar to viewers of TG4’s rugby coverage as a resident pitchside pundit, had a long stint in Government Buildings with Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and, briefly, Enda Kenny.

He went from Bord Gáis’s Ervia and the fledgling Irish Water to the private sector and is currently Heneghan PR’s director of public affairs. There are changes afoot at Newstalk and man’s man Ó Neachtain may just be the voice for the station which could be rechristened Testosteronetalk, if they decide to rebrand.

“We have been identifying some new talent and they will be names that you will know. We have been in the studio with them and we’ve been working with a shortlist of people,” chief executive Tim Collins told The Irish Times this week.

Farewell, alarm clock

Perhaps Big Eoghan might suit the Breakfast slot. Ivan Yates is bowing out in July to take a year out to travel around America with his wife. Chris Donoghue, the other half of Newstalk’s successful Breakfast double act, is also giving up the early mornings.

His contract with the Denis O’Brien-owned station runs until August next year, but his contract to do the Breakfast programme ran out in December.

“Everyone in Newstalk is excited by this new chapter, and personally, I can’t wait to turn off my alarm clock,” he tells us.

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