Miriam Lord’s Week: FF gets the broadband back together

Katherine Zappone says yes to the dress as Mattie McGrath plays the self-blame game

Can’t wait to see Katherine Zappone’s frock when she hits the red carpet at the Ifta awards.

Hollywood Boulevard meets Dawson Street. It'll be wall-to-wall glam in the Mansion House.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, while not personally up for a gong, will be rooting for The 34th: The Story of Marriage Equality in Ireland, which is shortlisted in the best documentary category.

Produced and directed by Linda Cullen and Vanessa Gildea, the film starts with the love story of Katherine and her late spouse, Ann Louise Gilligan, and ends with the passing of the 34th Constitutional Amendment allowing for same-sex marriage.


To mark the occasion, Katherine has gone all out and commissioned a one-off designer gown. There is talk of black satin and a smattering of semi-precious stones.

But wait. Hold the outrage!

The designer is Mark Zappone, a well-known Seattle-based costumier and couturier, who has specialised in the ballet industry for 30 years.

He’s the brother.

Mark has designed for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and the New York City Ballet and spent time in Europe with the Monte Carlo Ballet and the Moulin Rouge in Paris. He now has his own studio in Washington, where he designed his big sister's red carpet gown "as a labour of love".

As for the gúna itself: “It’s satin and velvet black, with sparkling stones at the neck – red for ruby, which is Ann Louise’s birthstone, and yellow for Topaz, which is mine,” says Katherine, who will be wearing black in solidarity with the #TimesUp campaign against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The movement was set up in response to a wave of sexual harassment allegations in the movie industry, particularly against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. At the Golden Globes in Los Angeles last month, all the major stars wore black, while most of the A-listers attending the Baftas in London next Sunday are expected to follow suit.

It's sure to be a similar story at the Iftas, although we're not sure if the new Minister for Culture, Josepha Madigan, who is due to present an award at the event on Thursday night, will be making a sartorial stand.

The Irish Times “reached out” to Josepha’s spokesman for a comment yesterday.

But he hadn’t reached back by the time this column went to bed.

Fianna Fáil is back to the future on broadband

An unwelcome side effect of “new politics” for the Government is the fact that it keeps losing votes. Short of calling a general election and hoping the numbers stack up more favourably this time, there isn’t much they can do about it.

Fianna Fáil's support may be keeping Fine Gael in power, but that doesn't mean the Soldiers of Destiny can't aim a few kicks at the Government from time to time. On Thursday, as expected, the Government's attempt to block Fianna Fáil's proposal for a review of the tendering process for the National Broadband Plan was defeated.

But to add insult to Blueshirt injury, Fianna Fáil TDs then accepted a Sinn Féin amendment that the review should also look at the possibility of taking the telecoms system back into State ownership.

Government TDs were particularly miffed by this as Fianna Fáil was the party which privatised the network in the first place.

Sinn Féin’s amendment was “recognising that the effects of the decision to privatise the State company Telecom Éireann in the past has had a negative impact on citizens and telecommunications services, and that State ownership would have facilitated a less complex and possibly less expensive rollout of broadband”.

To which Fianna Fáil in effect said: “Hear! Hear!”

Almost 20 per cent of the Fianna Fáil Dáil contingent tried to whitewash from memory their role in this. Unbelievable

Martin Heydon, chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, was out in jig time to remind Micheál Martin's troops of their pivotal part in bringing about the broadband fiasco which the Dáil debated at length this week.

“The hypocrisy of Fianna Fáil escalated to new heights today as the party attempted to airbrush from history their role in selling off Telecom Éireann,” he thundered.

"Unbelievable," spluttered the TD for Kildare South. "Fianna Fáil – led by former minister Micheál Martin – joined in supporting Sinn Féin to condemn a decision they made."

He pointed out that nine out of the 44 TDs who voted for the amendment were members of the 1999 Fianna Fáil government that sold off the State's shares in Telecom Eireann.

“Almost 20 per cent of the Fianna Fáil Dáil contingent tried to whitewash from memory their role in this. Unbelievable.”

The party's Back to the Future moment was a source of great amusement around Leinster House, with one Government backbencher wondering whether Micheál would drive around Cork in a DeLorean car and another christening him "Marty McFly".

Mattie McGrath goes tits up

To be fair to Fianna Fáil on the subject of the Telecom Éireann sell-off, perhaps the party is now recognising the error of its ways.

Maybe voting for the Sinn Féin clause on renationalisation was a quiet acceptance of a major mistake.

On Wednesday night, as the Dáil discussed the withdrawal of Eir from the broadband tendering process, TDs from parties other than Fianna Fáil queued up to attack the 1999 decision to privatise.

However, one TD who was around at the time ‘fessed up about his part in bringing it about.

Mattie McGrath was a Fianna Fáil TD before he departed in high dudgeon, and with exquisite timing, just before his former colleagues were savaged in the 2011 general election.

As I said, roll out, roll out, roll out – like the Rolling Stones – roll on, roll on Monday

He declared at the outset of a lengthy and wide-ranging contribution: "It beggars belief that in 2018 now that we can't deliver this broadband to almost every house anyway, and that we have to be, again in rural Ireland, left behind, on the hind tit, like I said one time to Pat Rabbitte here.

“I said, ‘What about Mrs Murphy’s cow – not only she’d lost the two front tits, she got caught on wire and she was left with a dudeen of a tit, she’d nothing’ – that’s where we are in rural Ireland now.”

Mattie, like everyone else, was sick of hearing about the latest big plan to introduce broadband across the country.

“As I said, roll out, roll out, roll out – like the Rolling Stones – roll on, roll on Monday; it is just not happening. The rich pickings have been taken.

“All the companies throughout the years got rich pickings and milked them for what they were worth and left the shores. And, as I said, when I was a backbencher supporting a government too – that’s what I learned. I learned and I’ve been burned so many times on this issue, so we all have a share of blame to take, including myself, but it’s just not good enough.”

Healy-Raes prove that family matters

Not for the first time, Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry was at the receiving end of an ear-bashing from his party leader this week after an intemperate outburst in parliament.

MacSharry’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party colleagues weren’t very impressed either by his antics in the Dáil on Wednesday, when he started roaring and shouting about the speaking order for TDs who want to question the Taoiseach.

The view among his fellow TDs and Senators was that the outburst was an embarrassment to the party.

Of course, Marc has form. When he was a senator in 2013, he wasn’t very pleased with Enda Kenny’s support for abolishing the Seanad. So he had one of his episodes.

He repeatedly described the then taoiseach as a clown and told the Fine Gael cathaoirleach he had “allowed the taoiseach to urinate on this House and its members over the years”. Despite attempts to get him to calm down and stop talking, MacSharry bellowed until he ran out of steam.

Micheál Martin read him the riot act afterwards, as did his Seanad leader, Darragh O'Brien, with Pat McPartland, the party's deputy general secretary and communications chief, steaming in for good measure.

A somewhat chastened MacSharry did the rounds on radio, explaining he got caught up in “the charged scenario of political debate” and had resorted to using language which was “evocative” and “highly metaphorical”.

A theory has emerged to explain why Michael and Danny Healy-Rae reacted in such an over the top fashion to MacSharry's melodramatics – they were entitled to be taken aback

After this week’s ridiculous outburst, when he railed against the Healy-Rae brothers for hogging speaking time and they responded with ridiculous fury, he apparently wrote them a note explaining it wasn’t personal and his comments were in protest at the system for selecting speakers.

Meanwhile, Danny Healy-Rae told Sligo's Ocean FM that he has "the height of respect" for MacSharry.

A theory has emerged to explain why Michael and Danny Healy-Rae reacted in such an over the top fashion to MacSharry’s melodramatics – they were entitled to be taken aback, given that they were acting within the rules, but the vehemence of the response was extreme.

It seems that Marc's father, former Fianna Fáil minister and EU commissioner Ray MacSharry, was around when Jackie Healy-Rae failed to get a nomination at the 1997 selection convention. Jackie then appealed to FF headquarters to be added to the ticket, but they refused him. MacSharry snr, a bit like Phil Hogan in Fine Gael, had a big say in candidate selection.

But would the brothers still be annoyed about that? Wasn’t losing the Fianna Fáil connection the best thing that ever happened to the Healy-Raes, who now have the sort of dynasty in Kerry which Fianna Fáil can only dream about?

FF members are out for the countess

There was a full house in the Rotunda's Pillar Room on Thursday night when more than 300 members of Fianna Fáil, mostly women, gathered to mark the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage and commemorate the memory of party member Constance Markievicz.

The event, organised by the Fianna Fáil Women's Network, was addressed by party leader Micheál Martin, while former RTÉ newsreader Anne Doyle was MC for the night.

Galway West TD Éamon "Young Dev" Ó Cuív was one of the speakers, along with special guest Constance Cassidy, owner of Lissadell House in Co Sligo, the former family home of Countess Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth.

A number of politicians dressed in period costume – including TDs Fiona O'Loughlin, Anne Rabbitte, and Niamh Smyth and Senators Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Catherine Ardagh, and Jennifer Murnane O'Connor – performed readings that went down a storm.

Constance Cassidy gave a very informative and entertaining speech on the Gore-Booth sisters – committed suffragist Eva and Easter Rising veteran Constance, who became the first women elected to the British parliament.

Cassidy noted that, 100 years on from women receiving the right to vote, women in Ireland were still fighting for their rights. She paused, then pointedly thanked Micheál Martin for outlining his position on repealing the Eighth Amendment, commending him for his recent “insightful” Dáil speech on the abortion issue. This was met with loud and sustained applause from the floor.

Deputy Ó Cuív, who does not share his leader's view, studied his shoes while former TD Mary Hanafin, sitting two seats away from Martin in the front row, kept her arms tightly folded.