US males pose dilemma for TDs

Eamon Gilmore made headlines by dropping Savannah from his St Patrick’s week itinerary in America

Labour’s way or Gilmore’s way. Either is acceptable. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Labour’s way or Gilmore’s way. Either is acceptable. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


Should our male Government Ministers refuse to attend influential social events closed to female guests or should they look away and go network with the other boys?

Women ( no say in the matter) got a definitive ruling on this question last weekend.

Answer? Do whatever you think yourselves, lads. It’s grand.

Which adds up to No from the Tánaiste and Go from one of his junior Ministers.

Eamon Gilmore made headlines by dropping Savannah from his St Patrick’s week itinerary in America because he would have been expected to attend the Hibernian Society’s annual dinner.

Strictly stag, as the networking business achievers like to style these bunfights.

But Alan Kelly, Labour Minister for State at the Department of Transport, quietly attended the Friendly Sons of St Patrick’s totally testosterone dinner in New York the night before.

He wasn’t defying his leader by joining 2,000 men in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel on Seventh Avenue to hear NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly deliver the keynote address to an audience which included Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

There is no protocol set down for party members (yes, yes, we see the pun) invited to men-only functions. According to a Labour spokesperson, the Tánaiste’s decision to avoid the function in Georgia was a personal one.

You see, in this delicate matter, it is Labour’s way or Gilmore’s way. Either is acceptable.

Tipperary North TD Kelly, whose multimillionaire brother Declan is a big noise on Wall Street and counts Bill Clinton among his buddies, probably knows the value of networking better than most. Presumably, Alan was dining for Ireland on the night.

Incidentally, police commissioner Kelly was filling in for Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who was in Rome for the papal election. Kelly said the cardinal had hoped to bring the conclave to New York “but when Mayor Bloomberg found out there was smoke involved, he forbade it”.

The Friendly Sons of St Patrick are an ecumenical lot – with the emphasis very firmly on men. “The Society has always been non-denominational, welcoming members from all religious backgrounds. Citizens of the United States of Irish lineage, over eighteen years of age and of good moral character [and with a penis] are eligible for membership.”

In reality, these events are not about the speeches or the grub. They’re all about networking and access to the right people – the powerful, the influential and those who might do you a good turn.

Norris welcomes ‘the splendid’ Heffernan across the floor

“Count me out – I’m not doing it. I don’t believe in segregation either on a gender basis or on any other basis.” That’s what Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore told our Simon Carswell when explaining why he had no intention of breaking bread with the men from the Hibernian Society of Savannah.

But segregation on a political basis? Now that’s a different kettle of shillelaghs. Sure without it we’d have anarchy.

Take young James Heffernan, the Labour Senator who voted against the Government on the social welfare Bill last December and was drummed out of the parliamentary party.

Despite losing the whip, Limerick-based Heffernan continued to sit with his erstwhile Labour colleagues in the Seanad – he’s still a member of the party, if not the Leinster House brigade.

But he was given the red card this week by whip Aideen Hayden and evicted from his normal voting seat. He has now been rehomed among the Independent Senators.

James was also asked to vacate his office, which he shares with fellow Senator John Kelly. However, Heffernan has dug in his heels, refusing to move until a suitable alternative is found. He is also resisting pressure to relinquish his place on the European affairs committee.

“There was no need to do this to James, it’s too heavy handed,” said a colleague. “And now that he’s among the Independents he’ll probably cause us a lot more bother.”

David Norris was quick to welcome Heffernan across the floor. “I welcome Senator Heffernan most heartily to these benches,” he boomed. “He is a splendid man. And he is the only one from the Government side, apart from the Taoiseach’s Independent nominees, who has shown the moral courage to cross the House to vote in favour of the ordinary people . . . ”

Maybe the sudden move against Heffernan has something to do with his recent call on local radio for Gilmore to resign.


Harte on the ball

Trap’s Army – loyal and longsuffering supporters of the Republic of Ireland soccer team – has an exemplary record for good behaviour when travelling abroad for games.

But that reputation might not last in the face of extreme provocation on trips to come. For they will soon be joined on their travels by a new bunch of fans in the shape of an FAI-approved Dáil and Seanad official supporters club.

The sight of that lot could inflame some non-sporting passions in the stands.

Soccer-loving Senator Jimmy Harte from Letterkenny held a meeting in Leinster House on Wednesday to see if Oireachtas members (past and present) are interested in setting up an Ireland supporters group. He had already spoken to several politicians who thought it a great idea.

“It would be to show our support for the team and help promote League of Ireland soccer throughout the country” he explained.

Gerry Riordan, FAI development manager, attended the meeting. It is hoped to formally establish the club after Easter. Riordan said the move was very timely as the FAI is hosting a get together of “official” supporters clubs from all over the world next week.

The conference, held in association with The Gathering, will examine the possibility of developing a worldwide supporters club. Delegates from all over Ireland will be joined by fans from the UK, Europe and Canada.

Last hurrah looms for gentleman Jimmy

There were tributes aplenty in the Seanad (and more to come next week) for journalist Jimmy Walsh, who retires on Thursday after 50 years in the newspaper business.

Jimmy has been reporting on proceedings in the Seanad for this newspaper for almost 20 years, and for that alone, he deserves a medal. But for most of his career, he toiled in the Irish Press.

One of his earliest markings was a vox pop in Dublin city centre when John F Kennedy visited Ireland in 1963.

Walsh’s brilliant shorthand (which has never slowed despite the arrival of various types of recording contraptions through the years) was and remains the envy of his peers. This meant he was always handed the poison chalice of covering the Irish Press Group agm, a job his colleagues were terrified to touch in case they got something wrong.

His many friends and colleagues are laying on a lunchtime reception in Leinster House on Tuesday to mark his retirement.

The Senators are already queuing up to speak. But they’ll have to get past Gentleman Jimmy first.