Residents of ‘Council Estate’ gather at Áras for a grand day out and a long chat with Michael D

A group takes a nice little jaunt to the park for talks with the President

Where is this council estate anyway? The President invited it to Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday.That’s a lot of chairs and biscuits. Good old Michael D. Always doing something different. But this was no ordinary council estate. This was “The” council estate, or “The Council of State” as some call it.

A large media contingent gathered outside the Áras to witness the arrival of the residents, who had been invited to discuss the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and whether or not the President should refer it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

This must have come as a surprise. Most groups are invited to a garden party. They talk about nice things they have achieved; the President cries “fintistic” and they all have their photograph taken.

Journalists were not allowed to hear what the President and the important people from the council estate had to say to one another about the abortion Bill. But it was of vital constitutional importance.

Cancelled slots
Two of the people from the estate – Ruairí McKiernan and Prof Gearóid O'Tuathaigh – had cancelled their speaking slots at the MacGill Summer School to attend.


So where is this housing scheme exactly?

There are loads of council estates around the country, but the President’s one is obviously quite small as there was no marquee in evidence around the back.

Then a man from the Áras gave us list of invitees – 21 tenants in all and no children. It was puzzling. Bertie Ahern was one of the first to arrive, but to the best of our knowledge, he lives in a purchase house in Drumcondra. Although now that his income stream from the international speaking has dried up, the former taoiseach may have downsized to something more manageable from the housing list.

They arrived in dribs and drabs. Going on the cut of the guests, it must be said this was the poshest council estate we’ve ever come across. However, it soon became clear they were from an area which is a hopeless legal and academic ghetto, with some rougher political elements thrown in.

Well done Michael D for reaching out. If nothing else, it was a nice little jaunt to the Phoenix Park for them.

Michael D and Sabina have the place lovely. There’s a vibrant new painting hanging in the entrance hall and the ceiling looks freshly painted. Hydrangea flowers from the garden winked up pinkly from their bowls along the Francini Corridor.

The President was due to meet the council estate in the diningroom, around a big square table. Before their discussions, there was a photocall in the main reception room.

Typical mix
The group represented your typical mix of ordinary lawyers, academics, former presidents and former taoisigh with a Tánaiste and Taoiseach thrown in.

A sprightly Liam Cosgrave (93) stepped from his car and – old pro that he is – turned to face the grateful photographers with a cheery wave.

The aforementioned Bertie, looking like he’d caught a terrific bang of the sun, drove to the Áras car park and walked the final stretch of the way. Former president Mary McAleese looked happy to return to the place she called home for 14 years.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness tootled up to the courtyard in her red car and Nicholas Kearns, president of the High Court, removed a large box of legal documents from the boot of his vehicle and carried it inside.

That didn’t look good for those hoping to get out before teatime.

The Chief Justice Susan Denham and Attorney General Máire Whelan made their way inside to join a number of former chief justices.

Perish the thought
All the aforementioned walked unaided into the Áras. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore had to be accompanied by a political adviser, who escorted him inside and left after about 10 minutes. Perish the thought that the leader of the Labour party might venture into the council estate all on his own.

Similarly, the Taoiseach also doesn’t like to go anywhere alone. He had a security car in tow. Maybe he feared the vicious dogs known to roam the place.

Michael D has two hounds – big soft slobbery lumps of fluff. We didn’t see them, although they had left their calling cards on the lawn.

Oh, but they would have eaten Enda. Bernese Mountain Dogs adore cheese.

The Taoiseach sprang from his car, beaming. He sliced one hand upwards for the cameras, karate-style, then clenched it and fist-bumped the air.

It was either that or high-five the President’s aide-de-camp and that wouldn’t have been wise.

There were high hopes among the media that the meeting of the Council of State might turn into a council of war, but with the non-appearance of John Bruton – trenchantly opposed to the abortion Bill – that idea proved a non-runner.

As time moved on, one man from the council estate was missing. Anybody see Brian Cowen?

A navy Transit passenger van in the livery of the Office of Public Works came around the bend, a change to the procession of sleek black Audis and Mercs that had gone before it. Some unkind people said it looked like a prison van.

And Cowen was decanted on to the forecourt. He gave a courteous smile and vanished inside.

Finally, the big photo. Enda, sat up straight and swivelled his head like he had just escaped from the meerkat enclosure next door in the zoo. Michael D was the happiest looking President in the history of happy looking presidents.

They held their deliberations, talking for hours.

Then the people from the council estate went back to the ghetto.

It was a grand day out.