Subscriber OnlyPoliticsMiriam Lord's Week

Healy-Rae, Buttimer and McConalogue try on welly for size in search for political Cinderella

Dáil gets the boot, big crowd turns out for book launch, Macroom on the map, citizenship ceremonies and Chicken Licken

An unlikely Prince Charming was seen striding the corridors of Leinster House this week on the hunt for a political Cinderella to fit an old rubber boot.

Fine Gael TD Frankie Feighan searched far and wide for volunteers to try on this special piece of footwear, hawking it around the House in a freebie British Council cloth bag.

He cornered Kerry’s Michael Healy-Rae in an ante-room off the Dáil chamber and persuaded him to try it on.

He ambushed Seanad leader Jerry Buttimer outside his office. And he waylaid Charlie McConalogue, the Minister for Agriculture, as he was leaving a committee meeting.


It was a large green welly and the TD for Sligo-Leitrim denied picking it up after it was dropped by an agriculturally minded politician fleeing the Dáil bar on the stroke of midnight.

In fact, the 10-year-old boot was his own.

“I brought it in to publicise a great product called the Welly Wedge. It’s a great piece of kit for helping you take off your wellies and was developed by Ava and Millie, transition year students from Drumshanbo Vocational School,” explained Frankie. “I’m collecting photos of politicians using it and I have Heather Humphreys in my sights for next week.”

He says he cleaned nearly all the muck off the Dunlop in question and it wasn’t that smelly to start off with. “More well-seasoned.”

Book in Belfast

The indefatigable Eamonn Mallie held the first launch of his memoir Eyewitness to War and Peace at a packed reception in Queen’s University Belfast on Thursday night.

“It was probably one of the biggest book launches ever in Belfast,” Maillie told us, never one to sell a story short. “It was the most representative gathering of a cross-section of the Belfast political community in years.”

With hundreds of guests in attendance it was standing room only and every book sold out by the end of the night.

In an interesting snapshot for Queens, the formalities on the platform were conducted by three Eamon(n)s: the author, along with Eamon Deeny, QUB director of communications; and broadcaster Eamonn Holmes, who conducted a Q&A with Maillie.

Colleagues from print and broadcast media turned out in force for the North’s doyen of political journalists.

Guests included the Northern Ireland chief constable John Boutcher, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly of the DUP, MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and Ian Paisley jnr, and former MLAs Michael McGimpsey and Danny Kennedy (UUP) and Joe Hendron (SDLP).

Sinn Féin’s Danny Morrison, Jim Gibney, Richard McAuley and Joe Hartley made up for the absence of their sidekick Gerry Adams.

Former loyalist leader Jackie McDonald was there as was the grand secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson.

Church leaders included Robin Eames, former Anglican Primate of All-Ireland and former Presbyterian moderator Ken Newell.

“The atmosphere was as electric and symbolic of a detectible change today in the mood of Northern Ireland,” said Maillie.

His next launch is on March 25th in his homeplace of Silverbridge in South Armagh, when new GAA president Jarlath Burns will do the honours.

Eamonn hasn’t set a date yet for his Dublin launch.

Cream of Macroom

Macroom, the town that never reared a fool, may have lost its seat at the Cabinet table when Fine Gael’s Michael Creed missed out in the FG/FF/Green coalition deal, but the town still has its hands on the levers of power.

Clare Mungovan is a special adviser to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Her cousin Morgan McSweeney is one of Keir Starmer’s closest aides and was chosen by the British Labour leader last year to mastermind the party’s general election strategy.

Morgan is the son of accountant Timmy McSweeney and his wife Carmel and this week’s Southern Star tells us that he first made the news “in 1982 when he appeared as the mascot for Macroom’s GAA team after they won the country championship”.

Government adviser Clare is a solicitor who worked as an assistant to then FG senator Colm Burke from 2011, moving on to work in the party’s research office before becoming an adviser in 2016, moving through the ministerial ranks until taking on her current role with the Taoiseach.

A proud local has been in touch to wonder if, with Morgan and Clare so close to Keir and Leo, a future Anglo-Irish Summit might take place in Macroom.

“With musical entertainment by Bambie Thug singing Mount Massey – The Flower of Macroom. Maigh Cromtha Abú!” they write.

“I doubt that choruses of The Red Flag were a thing in the Mungovan/McSweeney households back in the day, where the colour of choice would have been more on the blue end of the spectrum, but young Morgan will be well about to adapt. After all, he’s from Macroom and Macroom never reared a fool.”

And speaking of West Cork politics and Ireland’s entry in this year’s Eurovision, The Corkman reports that Cllr Gobnait Moynihan, sister of Cork North West Fianna Fáil TD Aindrias, joined her colleagues at this week’s Macroom local municipal district meeting in extending congratulations to Bambie Thug on getting through to the final in Sweden in May.

Ted Lucey, the mayor of Macroom, said he hoped they would win as it “would be great publicity for the town”.

And Gobnait Moynihan quipped that if the Irish contingent is looking for delegates in Malmo, she would be delighted to attend as would her fellow councillors.

“So it would be wonderful to get the invite!”

Citizen Smurfit

The citizenship ceremonies which take place around the country are emotional events.

They are suffused with feelings of hope, optimism and joy. The pride of the participants when they finally become citizens is plain to see and it softens the hardest of hearts.

It can touch some of us who have enjoyed the privilege of always possessing an Irish passport even if, perhaps, we complain a bit too much about living in this grand aul country.

But there was one rather unexpected applicant among the hundreds of soon-to-be-citizens in the National Concert Hall on Monday morning, when Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe represented the Government at the ceremony.

Among the people from 105 countries around the word was the familiar face of a woman whose charity work and philanthropic projects down through the years have changed so many lives here for the better.

After more than six decades living and working here and making a huge difference though her fundraising work, Norma Smurfit finally became an Irish citizen this week.

She was in London’s East End and became a regular figure on the social pages in Ireland when she married businessman Michael Smurfit in 1963 and moved to Ireland. They divorced in 1985.

Why chose now to get that passport?

“I’ve lived in Ireland for more than 60 years and I just thought, as my family are more Irish than the Irish, it would be nice to round off my life and have the honour of being a citizen at long last,” she told us .

“The day was very nice – it was a simple and very pleasant ceremony. Minister Donohoe was doing the service and there was lots of lovely music from ladies playing the cello and harp and so on. There were a lot of people being awarded citizenship – six or seven hundred in the morning and the same again in the afternoon.

“There were people from all over, hundreds of them – it was very lively, very lively indeed.

“So many people from so many different country – different colours, different costumes, different creeds – I’m sure. And they all looked so happy.

I was delighted.”

Participants are only allowed one guest so Norma brought a friend.

“We had a glass of champagne afterwards to celebrate.”

And why now?

“I’ve been meaning to do it for years – you know, children born here, make a living here, I paid my taxes for all those years. So I thought, right, I had better do it now.”

So does she feel any different now she is an Irish citizen?

Norma is recovering from knee surgery.

“Not yet. I’m not doing the Riverdance, that’s for sure!”

Onwards and F-words

In the week after the Ceann Comhairle sent out a notice to TDs asking them to respect the rules and behave with decorum in the Dáil chamber, Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh managed to sneak the F-word into a contribution this week and nobody noticed.

He was speaking on Tuesday when Sinn Féin introduced a Bill seeking to place RTÉ accounts under the oversight of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

He treated the chamber to a quote from a government minister who used to be in charge of the national broadcaster.

“Convicted tax fraudster and Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke was widely reported as having said “I’m going to f-ckin’ screw RTÉ” just before he did away with the Comptroller and Auditor General’s oversight of RTÉ in the Broadcasting Act.

Perhaps this current mess is him having another laugh at us.

“RTÉ clearly cannot be trusted to investigate itself,” he declared with not even a squeak of protest from the chair.

His colleague Thomas Gould, meanwhile, continued being very unhappy with the way RTÉ is running its business. The Catherine Martin controversy which gripped politics and media for the last week – even if the public is suffering from chronic RTÉ fatigue – was top of his list.

“This is just in the past seven days. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be like a scene from Monty Python. What is happening here is unbelievable.”

Meanwhile, the non-appearance at Catherine Martin’s Tuesday committee grilling of the former general secretary at the Department of Media, Katherine Licken, gave rise to the inevitable in political quarters as the week went on.

Ms Licken, who has returned from a distinguished career in the Civil Service, was not invited to attended as she is no longer on the staff. This decision was made on her behalf by the department. Nonetheless, the jokers around Leinster House couldn’t resist referring to her as “Chicken Licken”.

“If she doesn’t turn up in future, the name is likely to stick,” remarked one observer.

Which is unfortunate, if not unforeseen.

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