TDs learn not to distract revitalised Taoiseach


MIRIAM LORD'S WEEK:Happier days for an energised leader; a ‘moral’ victory and a mathematical defeat; moans and groans in corridors of power; some handy tips for George Lee; and a whirlwind tour of a legendary drinking hole

BRIAN COWEN is like a new man since he returned, flushed with success, from the European Council meeting in Brussels.

In the last week in particular, the Taoiseach has appeared more dynamic in his public and Dáil performances.

The Government has decided to adopt a more aggressive approach to dealing with the Opposition. The Taoiseach is to be more up-front and visible to voters. As the party slid to one of its worst performances ever in the recent elections, there were complaints about poor communications at leadership level and a view that the party seemed rudderless and drifting.

Recently though, Brian Cowen has appeared less swift to anger during Dáil exchanges. On Wednesday, even Opposition deputies were impressed by his passionate and articulate defence of the Lisbon Treaty.

He brought the FF parliamentary party meeting to an abrupt end on Tuesday night by barking at startled deputies that he doesn’t want them coming in week after week pestering him about various issues.

Biffo “exploded” when North Dublin’s Michael Kennedy brought up pharmacy licences during Any Other Business. He snapped that he doesn’t want to hear people coming in and raising distractions, when he has only one goal in mind and that is to get the country back on track. “And that’s that.”

Some deputies were quite impressed by this new sign of life.

Meanwhile, there have also been a few sightings of the Taoiseach in the canteen at lunchtime. In fact, he was there yesterday, another indication of the attempt at a more relaxed approach.

He did fine interview with Sean O’Rourke on yesterday’s News at One, standing up to Sean’s trademark robust questioning and putting in a confident and authoritative performance on the economy. One observer described his vigorous defence of the Government as similar to his interview with O’Rourke just before the last general election, when “he ate Richard Bruton for starters”.

But there’s more. He’ll be turning up for the final Questions and Answersprogramme on Monday night. And he’s back again in RTÉ next Saturday, when he will be a guest on the final transmission of Rodney Rice’s Saturday Viewradio show. Rodney is retiring after a long and distinguished broadcasting career.

Disgruntled Fianna Fáilers let their true feelings show

However, just in case it might seem that all is sweetnesss and light in Fianna Fáil, we hear that former junior minister Maire Hoctor is not a happy parliamentary bunny at the moment.

There was talk of a heated exchange of words between Deputy Hoctor and a senior party figure in Leinster House on Wednesday, resulting in Maire storming home. Chief Whip Pat Carey says he’s heard nothing about it, but we’re more inclined to believe the colleagues who agree that Maire is “feeling terrible sour” with the party.

There are three big reasons for this. Hoctor was not happy about losing her junior ministry. The loss of that job will make it even more difficult for her to fend off the very serious competition coming from Cllr Michael Smith jnr, son of the former FF minister. Finally, she shares the constituency with Independent deputy Michael Lowry, who gets lots of little goodies thrown his way by Government to keep him sweet. That rankles.

Another unhappy camper, it seems, is maverick FF deputy John McGuinness. He went missing on Thursday.

Rasher decisions for breakfast of champions

Enda Kenny has convened a special Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting for Tuesday morning to discuss the party’s performance in the local and European elections. This will be in addition to the usual weekly meeting in Leinster House.

It will be an early start – the meeting starts at 8am in The Burlington Hotel. Deputies and Senators are, doubtless, delighted. To compensate them, Enda is buying the rashers. It’s the first time the parliamentary party has had this sort of breakfast meeting, and if things don’t go well, Enda may threaten to hold more of them.

The main topic up for discussion is the party’s performance in the local and European elections. It is expected that the Eugene Regan episode – a court saga involving head office telling a constituency organisation who to put on their election ticket – will feature prominently. Senator Regan’s daughter’s attempt to run in the local elections was the most high-profile example of grassroot anger over head office interference, but it was a very contentious subject with members around the country.The Frank Flannery affair – to cosy or not to cosy up to Sinn Féin – is also sure to figure. Canvassers got a lot of stick over it on the doorsteps.

By the way, we got a strange communication from a reader informing us in some detail that he saw the party’s senior adviser “buying a jacket with a mandarin collar” in a shop in Dublin.

Is this a sign? he asks cryptically.

Defeated politicians are outclassed and outspoken

FORGET THE All-Ireland, Wimbledon and the Lions. The sporting occasion of the week happened on Tuesday night in UCD, when an Oireachtas squad of finely tuned athletes took on a selection from the FAI in a charity soccer challenge.

In a sterling display of all-party ineptitude, the politicians, augmented by some brave members of the Leinster House staff, bravely fought their way to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of a few sports journalists and some FAI officials well past their peak. The politicians immediately declared a moral victory. This is because the FAI had Packie Bonner in goal, and they couldn’t get anything past him. Furthermore, they complained there had not been a level playing field as the sports journalists were eager young fellas, mad to win.

“It wasn’t fair. Why didn’t they get political journalists like Stephen Collins and David Davin-Power to play? They would have been useless too, and if Vincent Browne was there I could have kicked him and got away with it,” sulked one disgusted squad member.

Prizes were awarded afterwards over drinks in Doheny Nesbitts pub. The politicians, each convinced that their own performance had been exemplary, waited eagerly to hear who would be named man of the match. Deputy Margaret Conlon and Senators Ger Feeney and Fiona O’Malley talked down their chances. Deputies Niall Blaney, Chris and Barry Andrews, Michael D’arcy, Frankie Feighan, Joe McHugh, Damien English and Senators Mark Dooley and Brian O’Domhnaill all nursed ambitions.

Packie announced the winners. Man of the match? Sue “Beyoncé” Hanway, pint puller extraordinaire and the Dáil bar’s better looking answer to Ronaldo. She received a medal and a trophy as consolation for having to play alongside such a crowd of donkeys.

“I don’t know how we didn’t manage to score a goal. There were 19 of us on the field at one stage,” said Sue.

Meanwhile, Senator Ger Feeney was named winner of the Sexy Legs award, much to the annoyance of Frankie Feighan, who threatened to sing in retaliation.

The teetotal Senator Feeney, flushed with success, was last seen leaving the premises triumphantly waving Packie Bonner’s shorts.

RTÉ newsroom gives Lee a final fling in the real world

George Lee’s former “showbiz” colleagues threw a big going-away party for him in RTÉ last night.

The former economics editor turned FG TD for Dublin South joined his newsroom friends for drinks in the broadcasting building’s Oasis Café, and after his first few weeks in Leinster House, it must have been something of a relief to return to the real world for an evening.

Ed Mulhall, director of news and current affairs, presented Deputy Lee (everyone thought that was hilarious) with a briefcase for when he becomes a minister, along with a collection of political books including Brendain O’ hEithir’s The Begrudger’s Guide to Irish Politicsand A Guide to the Irish Parliamentary Processby then TD, now MEP, Gay Mitchell. (It’s a short pamphlet.)

News at Oneanchor Sean O’Rourke managed to track down a copy of the Hot Pressmagazine from 1984 containing that infamous John Waters interview with Charlie Haughey. Sean remarked George might learn a thing or two from Haughey about how to survive in politics.

Political correspondent, Dr David McCullagh, who holds a PhD in political science, drew on his practical and academic experience to compile a spoof training video for new deputies in Leinster House.

A great night was had by all, and even Charlie Bird put in a surprise appearance. He just happened to be over on a visit from Washington and jumped out of the cake upon George’s arrival. (No, he didn’t.)

George and Charlie broke the NIB bogus non-resident account story which resulted in the RTÉ/Beverley Flynn libel trials.

A fact that Deputy Lee has already mentioned in the Dáil – barely a wet day in Leinster House and he’s managed to get his and Charlie’s finest hour into the official record.

Cruel glimpse of promised land for Bonkers’ tour group

Our favourite Blueshirt and Chuck Heston lookalike, James “Bonkers” Bannon, has resumed his duties as chief “axer” of Standing Order 32 questions, whereby matters of “urgent national importance” are raised, only to be ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle.

The FG deputy for Longford Westmeath had been missing in action for some time. Perhaps Deputy Bannon was too busy showing parties of constituents around Leinster House.

The place is like Piccadilly Circus these days, with TDs and Senators ushering groups of visitors around.

On Wednesday, James entertained a big crowd from Longford. Although “entertained” might not be the right word.

The lunchtime sandwich crowd in the Dáil bar were highly amused by his tour guide approach. He flung open the door, holding it open for the ladies and gents to come through and view the legendary watering hole.

“There you are now!” burbled Bonkers, as his party of senior citizens charged in with their tongues hanging out.

“That’s it!” said he with a smile, still holding the door as they made a beeline for the bar. “On we go now!” And he belted them out again, parched for the want of a drop.

Trigger-happy FG have President in the firing line

What has President McAleese done to annoy Fine Gael? Michael Ring got all hot and bothered recently over Her Excellency’s use of an Air Corps helicopter to get her to the Connacht football final last year.

It was an official engagement, and Mrs McAleese was flown to the stadium in Castlebar having earlier attended the National Day of Commemoration in Dublin. Now Michael’s colleague John Deasy is in on the act.

He tabled a list of questions for written answer this week to Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea, asking how many members of the Defence Forces are required for ceremonial duties involving the President and how much it costs to provide this support.

He mentioned escorts of honour, guards of honour, occasions when ambassadors’ go to the Aras to present their credentials; when heads of State roll into town on official visits and when Herself departs and arrives back in the country after State visits abroad.

Deputy Deasy forgot to mention the Army bands and aides de camp, but Willie threw them in for good measure in his reply. As to the matter of cost, there is no additional outlay as its part of the overall job for members of the Defence Forces.

Why this sudden interest the presidency? Perhaps Fine Gael has its eye on the Aras.

Watch your back, Enda.