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Miriam Lord’s Week: FF bristles at accusation of ‘male, stale and pale’ line-up

Micheál Martin says he doesn’t ‘propose to exclude men from any further deliberations in public life’ as Thomas Byrne leads referendums campaign

Fianna Fáil’s Yes man for the referendums needs to forget his shovel if he wants to go to work on the rest of the campaign.

Minister of State Thomas Byrne had a bit of a nightmare on Wednesday during a referendum debate on the Today with Claire Byrne radio programme.

He joined Orla O’Connor of the National Women’s Council of Ireland to argue for a Yes vote against Aontú leader and TD for Meath East Peadar Tóibín and the journalist and barrister Brenda Power.

It was a lively discussion with both sides passionately arguing their case.


Then the Minister succumbed to a dreadful bout of galloping presumption.

During exchanges on what defines a “durable relationship”, the inevitable mention of polygamous relationships and “throuples” surfaced again.

“Look, I mean, this is probably the most egregious example of a red herring that has ever been thrown into a referendum debate ... and we have seen so many red herrings thrown into every single referendum debate that we’ve have,” said Thomas, urging people to read the information booklet they will receive from the Referendum Commission.

“And I have to say, I do smile when Brenda Power says that nobody would have a problem if the wording was slightly different. It’s the same voices that are opposing these referendums every single time.”

She reacted immediately. “Well, I wouldn’t know...” she began, but Thomas jumped straight back in.

“Brenda, have you ever supported a referendum? I don’t know whether Peadar has either, I guarantee if there was a referendum...”

The Sunday Times and Irish Mail columnist replied that she supported the last two.

But Thomas knew different. “You didn’t support the abortion referendum,” he blithely declared.

Brenda wasn’t taking that.

“I absolutely did. 100 per cent. How dare you come in here so ill-informed!”

The Fianna Fáil man wouldn’t let go of his theory. Or his shovel.

“Did you support the marriage equality referendum?”

“I did, 100 per cent and if you want to look at my columns on it I’ve written…,” fumed the journalist, again unable to complete her sentence because Doubting Thomas was fully invested in his shovel by now.

“Marriage equality?” he repeated from the depths of the hole he was still digging for himself.

Brenda let rip.

“Yes. Yes. 100 per cent. Go back and check it out, Thomas, because this is exactly the kind of misinformation that we are getting from the Yes side: that anybody who disagrees with them are right-wing conservative God botherers. That is absolutely disgraceful and part of the misinformation campaign – the big red Brexit bus that you have been floating around the country for the last while trying to persuade people that if you don’t support this you’re backward, you’re a conservative, you’re ignorant, you’re uninformed.”

Poor Thomas.

“This is exactly the kind of abuse you are levelling at people and it is really, really dishonest of you, Thomas, to come out and say that because that is absolutely not true and I want you to apologise.”

The chastened Minister of State for Sport put down his shovel and hoisted the white flag.

“I accept that. I accept that.”

He’s right, of course. The Usual Suspects are out in force again, calling for a No vote to save us all from our permissive selves. They are one of the Yes campaign’s greatest assets.

But they aren’t the only ones calling on voters to reject the proposed constitutional change.

Thomas might want to take a look at that infamous image from the abortion referendum campaign in 2018, when 31 Fianna Fáil TDs and senators posed for a photograph to promote a No vote, and four more of their colleagues who couldn’t be there sent their apologies.

The majority of them are still in the Oireachtas.

Will they be calling for a No vote this time too?

‘Male, stale and pale’

And still with Thomas, best of luck to any male candidates hoping to take the final places on Fianna Fáil’s starting grid for the forthcoming European and local elections.

Fine Gael’s Maria Walsh, seeking re-election as one of the party’s two MEPs in Ireland Northwest, caused quite a stir recently with her withering assessment of Fianna Fáil’s candidates thus far as “male, stale and pale”. Remarks this week by the Fianna Fáil leader would indicate that moves are under way to redress this imbalance.

At the launch of his party’s referendum campaigns (held at the same time as Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, which some might consider rather disrespectful of the parliamentary process and Government partners Fine Gael), Micheál was confronted with the MSP allegation again.

The referendums on the family and carers are being held on March 8th to coincide with International Women’s Day, so there were raised eyebrows in political circles when Fianna Fáil appointed Thomas Byrne as its campaign director.

Social protection Minister Heather Humphreys has been handed the role by Fine Gael, while the Greens have appointed senator and European elections candidate Pauline O’Reilly.

The start of the press conference after the launch was dominated by questions about Byrne’s appointment in light of Maria Walsh’s MSP comments.

Was it a good move for the party to give this position to a man when it has women within the ranks more than capable of doing it?

The party’s director of elections for the locals is Jack Chambers and Darragh O’Brien is at the helm for the European Parliament campaign.

“I don’t propose to exclude men from any further deliberations in public life,” pronounced the Tánaiste. “I think there is great confidence in Thomas Byrne.”

He cited his strong legal background, his effectiveness as a campaigner and his communication skills.

But what about the reports that a number of women in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party are seething over this, feeling overlooked for a role which they thought would have suited them better?

Well, replied Micheál, nobody said anything to him.

“I thought Thomas was the right fit for this.”

It did not go unnoticed that all the male, pale and stale questions were being posed by male journalists who might fit that description themselves.

Male, stale and pale: it may be a cliched and a cheap shot but it has certainly worked for a lesser-spotted outgoing MEP trying to boost her profile

Norma Foley, the Minister for Education, was asked for her opinion on this outrage.

“I am delighted to see Thomas appointed.”

Senator Fiona O’Loughlin, who chairs the Oireachtas Women’s Caucus, was similarly canvassed.

“My response would be the same,” she replied.

The Tánaiste knows exactly what Maria Walsh is up to: chasing headlines.

“I think, look, I hadn’t heard from Maria for a while. We are in the middle of a campaign so people will say what may get them the headlines. That happens in electoral contests.”

Male, stale and pale: it may be a cliched and a cheap shot but it has certainly worked for a lesser-spotted outgoing MEP trying to boost her profile.

What’s a fellah to do?

“Maybe Maria should be careful what she wishes for,” mused Micheál. “The Fianna Fáil ticket isn’t complete in either constituency yet – Northwest and the South.”

Lisa Chambers could yet be facing off against the Fine Gael incumbent in June while Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, former TD for Cork South West, must be very hopeful now of getting the nod to run in Ireland South.

Varadkar paused by US secret service

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar looked relaxed and composed when he appeared on Friday’s Six-One News from the Munich Security Conference.

He had been due to talk to reporters at 5pm. They gathered at the media area on a seventh-floor balcony in the Bayerischer Hof Hotel, where this mega-conference is taking place. The balcony was chosen for its nice views of the city and is located just below the police snipers and a strange-looking contraption used to shoot down drones.

It was an oasis of calm compared to the chaos down in the lobby where world leaders and their security teams were causing all sorts of fuss.

Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Lib Dems and UK deputy prime minister who is now president of global affairs at Facebook, had just finished an interview before Leo’s scheduled arrival.

The hacks waited, but there was no sign of the Taoiseach.

He showed up eventually, 20 minutes late.

It later transpired that Leo and his team were stopped from getting into the lifts by US vice-president Kamala Harris’s secret service minders.

He didn’t seem too put out by the inconvenience.

RTÉ staffers await pay as €450,000 golden handshake is revealed

If the financial situation in RTÉ wasn’t bad enough, the national broadcaster now has to find the money to repair floors damaged by the weight of hundreds of jaws simultaneously hitting the carpet tiles when news of Breda O’Keeffe’s exit package was revealed to the Oireachtas media committee hearing on Wednesday.

It’s been a long and depressing few months for staffers who are the backbone of the Montrose operation. News of this handsome €450,000 golden handshake caused further despondency among workers already browned off by the bogus self-employment contracts scandal and the details of fat salaries enjoyed by the top brass.

“And the worst thing about this whole goddamn debacle is that while some people are getting huge pay-offs for not doing a very good job, most of RTÉ’s full-time employees are still waiting for this month’s salary. We should have been paid over a week ago but because of a changeover from fortnightly to monthly pay we’re going to have to wait for the guts of another week before it lands,” one overworked and underpaid employee told us.

“We’re even more stony broke and smashed than usual. You just couldn’t make it up.”

No love lost between Eamon Ryan and Michael O’Leary

There is no love lost between Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary.

Relations plunged to a new low earlier this month when O’Leary called him “incompetent” and an “idiot” during a radio interview and told him to resign over the Green Party’s opposition to raising the cap on passenger numbers at Dublin Airport.

The leader of the Greens listened back and said he found the comments to be “very personally abusive”.

Last week, the aviation boss followed up with an open letter describing the 32 million passenger cap as “arbitrary and untenable”. He claimed other European Union airports are laughing at us.

Eamon Ryan penned an immediate response.

“I have invited you, through your executives, to meet me, to discuss any issues you have face to face. Those invitations have never once been taken up. I reiterate this open invitation to you again should you wish to accept.”

Ryanair took the argument online this week with a question for its 817,000 Twitter/X followers.

“Dublin Airport passenger cap means tourism meant for Ireland now goes to UK, Italy, Spain ... What is being done, @EamonRyan? Ireland, is this what you voted for?”

The result on Thursday morning didn’t go well for the airline, with 44.6 per cent of respondents saying they didn’t vote for this but a majority 55.4 per cent of respondents agreeing that this is what they wanted.

There were 6,470 votes.

The Greens were chuffed.

“Even Ryanair’s followers disagree with Ryanair. Irish people didn’t vote for runaway global warming, they voted for a sustainable future. Climate change is real and important. We need to work together to solve it,” they crowed.

“Green Party followers vote to send Irish tourism to EU counterparts,” sulked Ryanair.

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