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Miriam Lord’s Week: Fine Gael chinwag gives clues to timing of next election, as David Norris prepares to bow out

Lashings of ginger beer and one-armed bandits can do nothing to stop the steady leaks within the Chamber walls... and ceilings

It will be the end of an era in the Oireachtas on Monday when David Norris delivers his final speech to Seanad Éireann. As the waggish Senator Norris might say, there won’t be a dry seat in the House.

He retires after 36 years of service and his colleagues, Michael McDowell and Victor Boyhan, are hosting afternoon tea in the Members’ Restaurant to mark the occasion.

Head usher Alan Ruane and Senators Boyhan and McDowell, leader and whip of the Seanad Independent Group, will greet David and his long-time PA, Miriam G Smith, on their arrival at Leinster House. David will meet Cathaoirleach Jerry Buttimer before entering the chamber where he will speak first on the Order of Business, announcing his resignation from the Upper House during his valedictory speech.

The former senator Norris, colleagues and staff will then repair to the restaurant for a “traditional afternoon tea” prepared by Leinster House head chef, Julie Lyons. It’ll be silver service all the way and there won’t be any crusts on the bread.


Loins suitably girded by egg and cress sandwiches, iced dainties, tea and lashings of ginger beer, Senators McDowell and Boyhan will return to the Seanad for the start of a 4½-hour debate on the forthcoming referendums.

The debate continues on Tuesday with more than six hours set aside to examine proposed constitutional changes providing for a wider definition of family and the removal of text on the role of women in the home.

McDowell has been leading the early charge in the No camp while independent TD Catherine Connolly also emerged as a strong voice arguing against the changes following a compelling speech in the Dáil on Wednesday.

Hot topics

When Leinster House woke up after the Christmas recess, nobody imagined that polygamy and throuples would emerge as a hot topic for discussion at the end of a long, difficult and sometimes ill-tempered first day back in the chamber.

It was all down to exchanges between the multiple portfolioed Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and lawyer Micheal McNamara, the independent TD for Clare, who forcefully presented an argument that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that certain relationships not covered by the proposed constitutional amendment could be deemed “durable” family relationships if the definition was legally tested.

He was referring particularly to polygamous marriages which have been successful in some cultures and religions for centuries.

Roderic was certain that polygamy does not come under the scope of the amendment and neither, for that matter, do “throuples”.

A highly entertaining misunderstanding ensured, with Micheal thinking the Minister was talking about truffles and if they were on offer in the Dáil canteen and the Minister repeating “throuples” for the sake of clarity.

Not to be confused with The Throuples in the North or 1970s rock band Mott the Throuple.

Alas, truffles were not on the canteen menu on Thursday either. But there was a menage a pois. It was the talk of the lunchtime crowd in the packed canteen.

“My mother was on the phone to me this morning and she suddenly said ‘what’s a throuple’ and, Jaysus, I had to try to explain it,” said one TD.

Mattie McGrath was shooting the breeze at a large table with a group of politicians when the subject came up. “What’s a throuple?” he was overheard saying.

One of his dining companions explained.

“And how would you spell it?”

One-armed bandit

With his arm held close to his chest and hand tucked inside his jacket, Minister of State Ossian Smyth struck a very Napoleonic pose in the chamber on Wednesday.

Upon closer inspection it turned out his arm was in a sling. He told us he broke it in Brussels on Monday night.

The Green Party TD for Dún Laoghaire, who is Junior Minister of Public Procurement, eGovernment and Circular Economy, was in the Belgian capital for an EU Environment Council meeting. Afterwards, he went for an evening stroll, admiring the streetscape and architecture.

“I was looking up at the famous Hotel Metropole, which was requisitioned by German forces during the war. I wasn’t watching where I was going and I walked straight into a bollard at crotch height and fell.”

He broke his upper arm and spent the rest of the evening in the emergency department.

One of his staffers couldn’t resist making the obvious pun.

“I’m always on about bollards and making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists – he told me I was hoist by my own bollard.”

Ossian, by the way, is the Minister in charge of rolling out the Government’s new reverse vending machines for plastic bottles and cans.

“And he’s looking like a one-armed bandit himself now too,” joked a backbencher when he saw the sling.

FG in election mode

Fine Gael kicked off the new political season with a parliamentary party meeting in Leinster House on Tuesday night followed by dinner and a get-together at the Schoolhouse Restaurant in Ballsbridge.

There was a big turnout and the proverbial great night was had by all.

We hear the burning topic of conversation at this team-bonding session was the date of the next general election. TDs and Senators are already in election mode with local and European elections coming down the track but it’s the Big One they really care about.

(Although we spotted former TD for Dublin North West, Noel Rock, in Leinster House on Thursday. Noel is hoping to get the nod to run for Europe.)

The overwhelming view among the FG ranks is that a winter election is on the cards after the cash-rich Government spreads pre-election largesse across the board with a vote-wooing budget.

Not that former minister, John Paul Phelan, has to worry about that. The TD for Kilkenny, who is bowing out of national politics at the next election, was in mighty form this week. We noticed him fielding congratulations from colleagues from across the political divide in Leinster House.

John Paul is chairman of Tullogher Rosbercon GAA Club which won the AIB All-Ireland Junior Club Football Championship in Croke Park on Saturday – a great achievement for a club from a small parish in Kilkenny. His cousin Colman O’Sullivan captained the winning side.

The team was guided to victory by inspirational manager Michael Doyle and not even the fact that Michael is from across the border in Wexford could wipe the big smile from JP’s face.

A steady drip of a leak

A mysterious leak discommoded a number of TDs in the Dáil on Wednesday night and now Oireachtas authorities have vowed to track down the source. This was not a political leak but yet another inundation from above.

One politician who was in the chamber at the time described the latest ingress as “not so much a trickle but more a steady drip, like one or two deputies I could mention”.

Former Labour leader Brendan Howlin and Fianna Fáil’s Cormac Devlin had to move from their seats to avoid getting wet.

Leinster House is a very old building and leaks in the roof are a common headache for the maintenance team. When it rains heavily, the ceiling in the Dáil chamber leaks like a Fianna Fáil backbencher at a parliamentary party meeting.

The thing is, it wasn’t raining on Wednesday.

The latest theory is that the dripping water might be condensation coming from within the heating system.

An investigation is now under way.

You say porridge, I say potatoes

Tánaiste Micheál Martin speaks fluent Cork but the little bit of Spanish he has isn’t up to much. Still, he gamely tried to order breakfast in the local lingo on his recent visit to Mexico.

He ordered a bowl of porridge. And the smiling waiter brought him a large bowl of potatoes.

An official from the Department of Foreign Affairs with a non-Cork blás to his Spanish accent quickly sorted the matter.

Returning adviser

Former RTÉ producer and journalist Caroline Murphy left her media job in 2018 to join then minister for foreign affairs, Charlie Flanagan, as his press adviser. Caroline, who is married to veteran broadcaster Sean O’Rourke, then moved on to become a special adviser to the Green Party Minister of State, Pippa Hackett.

After she retired from that role in 2022, her son Declan O’Rourke, a long-time member of the Greens – applied for the job and was appointed one of the Minister’s two special advisers. He had been working as a solicitor with one of the big five law firms when he made the move into politics.

And now Caroline Murphy has returned to the thick of it in Government Buildings. Minister for Justice Helen McEntee recently appointed her as a special adviser to replace Fiach Kelly (formerly of this parish) who left to join Diageo Ireland as head of public policy and affairs.

RahMahal and the Mary Louvre

Discretion, they say, is the better part of valour and Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis might have been wiser to keep his trap shut during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday when Heather Humphreys shot holes in Mary Lou McDonald’s declaration that a Sinn Féin government would “get house prices as low as we feasibly can” with the objective of bringing house prices in Dublin down to “the €300,000 mark”.

A house in a rural area can’t be built for that price, said the Minister for Social Protection, citing the case of a farmer in her locality whose son couldn’t build a house on his own land for that sort of money and that was with a free site.

“Now tell me, deputy, I have to ask you one question: would you build your house for €300,000? I couldn’t. It’s not possible to do it… You cannot build a house for €300,000. That is it and that is the fact of the matter.”

Mary Lou didn’t demur.

Dessie Ellis wondered what sort of house Heather was talking about.

“Is it a mansion?” he shouted.

His colleagues said nothing.

Has Dessie never seen his leader’s gorgeous big house?

The RahMahal? The Mary Louvre?

If there were guided tours of Cabra, it would be the first stop on the hop-on hop-off bus.

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Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday