Miriam Lord: Totes awk as Leo and Eoghan drop in for chat in Dublin school
Taoiseach exits Dáil for festive season as Wallace raises Irish Ferries announcement
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Defence Forces chief of staff vice-admiral Mark Mellett with Ringsend College students at the launch of the Global Schools programme on Wednesday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
It’s the last day of the Dáil session and Leo Varadkar is looking forward to taking some time off. He starts the morning with a visit to a secondary school in Ringsend.
In the year since he became Taoiseach, his ability to indulge in small talk has improved in leaps and bounds. But there is still some way to go.
He asks a group of students about their exams.
“How-how-how are they goin’? I remember doing Christmas exams.”
“But, em . . . and you finish then on Friday?”
A few politely mumble. “Yeah.”
“Same,” nods the Taoiseach, on their level now. “Same here.”
All set for Funderland, no doubt.
Another awkward pause.
And then the Taoiseach is, like: “So, em, looking forward to it. Hope you are too.”
And they’re, like, nothing.
Mercifully, a teacher intervenes. “That’s great, thanks very much.”
You would think Leo might have left well enough alone at this point. But no. He’s totally smashing this small-talk thing.
He says a few words about international relations (because he is launching the Government’s Global Schools programme) and then looks over to where his buddy, the Minister for Housing, is seated. Ringsend College is in Eoghan Murphy’s Dublin Bay South constituency.
“Do you recognise Eoghan?” the Taoiseach smilingly asks the students, because he’s one of their mates now.
Tumbleweed time. Totes awk.
“He’s, eh, he’s your local TD,” perseveres Leo, grinning. Unlike Eoghan, who is glowering.
Whatever about the students, or mortified Murph, the Taoiseach appears to be enjoying himself.
“Do you know the names of any of the other TDs in the area?” he wonders.
Not a word.
“They’re very shy,” interjects the kindly teacher. But Leo doesn’t get the hint.
“Somebody must know.”
Not a clue. More silence.
“So we’ll take a question from Abbie?” suggests the teacher, valiantly trying to move things along.
But Leo, in the discomfited presence of his dudemeister Murph, can’t resist. “That wouldn’t happen in Blanchardstown.”
Strained laughter followed by another awkward pause.
So the teacher – she deserves a medal – swoops in.
“So, em, Abbie is just here. . .”
Finally, he stops.
But before Leo could escape for his hols, he had to put in one more stint at Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil. It was a relatively low-key session, with the Ceann Comhairle dispensing Christmas good wishes and the party leaders following suit.
But we had no novelty Christmas tie this year from Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, disappointing all the kiddies around the country who tuned into RTÉ to see what tune it would play this year. They all looked a bit tired on the Sinn Féin benches, probably because they had their Christmas drinks the night before.
In an historic first, the Shinners invited members of the media to enjoy a drink with them in the Dáil bar before they left for their knees-up. This was hailed as a milestone in the progression of the party.
Wallace was very full of the Christmas cheer
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil treated the hacks to more free drink upstairs in McGrattan’s bar near Government Buildings. Micheál Martin described it as “a very agreeable night” in the course of his Christmas felicitations to the chamber.
Before the event, it was rumoured that the Fianna Fáil leader exhorted some of his more difficult charges to attend the drinks and talk to the members of the press because it would be a nice change for him to see them conversing before his eyes as opposed to behind his back, as they usually do.
We hear an anti-abortion Fine Gael Senator stumbled upon the gathering by accident, and was momentarily confused. “This isn’t the Oireachtas Human Dignity Group,” he was heard to utter, before leaving for another part of the pub where members of the cross-party group – founders include Senator Rónán Mullen – were letting their hair down.
A great night was had by all, but group members Mattie McGrath and fellow TDs Carol Nolan and Michael Collins were up bright and early so they could take part in a plan to occupy the Baggot Street offices of KBC bank in protest over the eviction of people from a house in Co Roscommon last week. The three, who were part of a wider protest, said they were also concerned with the way the bank deals with people in mortgage arrears.
Meanwhile, back in the chamber in the post-luncheon period, the Dáil was hearing statements on the European Council meeting earlier this month. They were well under way when Mick Wallace arrived to speak. He was very full of the Christmas cheer.
“Good to see you here, Taoiseach. Don’t normally see you here for Euro statements, you usually abscond the place before then.”
Leo was gathering up his files. It was past three and he had been in the chamber since midday.
Mick didn’t want him to go just as he was about to talk about Brexit and the announcement by Irish Ferries that the company is “unlikely” to continue sailings between Rosslare and France next year.
He pleaded with the Taoiseach.
“What, are you going already, are ya? Ah, come on. Eh, com’ere, sit down for a minute, come on, come on, sit down!”
“I did stay here for everyone who was here for my contribution,” said the Taoiseach, on his feet.
“Please. Wha? It won’t kill ya to sit down,” wheedled Mick.
“Merry Christmas,” smiled Leo, skipping the joint.
“What are you like? Em, oh, God help us,” spluttered Mick.
“Anyway, listen. . .” And the TD for Wexford, wherein resides the port of Rosslare, got on with his speech and then vanished too.
Later in the evening, the Taoiseach invited his Cabinet to join him for mulled wine and mince pies in Government Buildings.
We don’t know if the Ministers of State were invited along too. If so, the guests will have wished Kilkenny’s John Paul Phelan all the best for his big day – the Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform is getting married on Friday.
Dáil Éireann returns on January 15th.