Zero tolerance from a tiny tot as the Minister deputises for Santa


Santa Claus is the leading expert in the field, as we all know. But when it comes to making lists of who's naughty and nice, Ministers for Justice are not far behind him.

So while it will be a few days yet before the arrival of the jolly red-faced man from the far north and his team of speeding reindeer, the patients of Temple Street children's hospital in Dublin had a dry run with the next best thing yesterday.

John O'Donoghue, a jolly red-faced man from the far south whose reindeer have faced speeding allegations of their own, was making the annual presentation of toys from the probation service's workshops. And as though warned about the visitor's intelligence-gathering operations, the children were on their best behaviour.

There was a brief lapse, however, when the Minister attempted to hold Nicola Mackey for the cameras. At three-and-a-half, the Finglas toddler is the same age as the Government. But she adopted a policy of zero tolerance towards Mr O'Donoghue and, spitting out her soother like a defective gagging order, applied for asylum.

The would-be Santa might be reassured to know that it's a miracle Nicola ever survived to be a fugitive from justice. Born 17 weeks premature and weighing a mere 22 ounces, she was still nearly small enough yesterday to sleep in the doll's cradle she had chosen from the toys on offer. Mr O'Donoghue said the toys had been made by people who "instead of going to prison agreed to make amends to society by performing work which benefits local communities". Some of these also attended the event. One who asked not to be identified explained she opted for a year's community service rather than three months' jail after a conviction for using a stolen credit card.

The hospital ensures all children who are well enough will go home for Christmas, at least for a few hours. Between 60 and 80 will have to spend Christmas night in the wards; but the real Santa will be visiting, as usual, as will Dublin's Lord Mayor.

Not all those spending Christmas at the hospital will be ill, assistant matron Maria Lynch explained. For already troubled families, Christmas can be a stressful time. And with social services closed on Christmas week, "some children will be taken to the hospital as a place of safety".