Subscriber OnlyPoliticsMiriam Lord's Week

Social media giants smoothly defended the ‘cesspit’, but our politicians were not convinced

From over-zealous photo opportunists and MA graduates to comedy speeches at party conferences, it was a busy week in politics

The Oireachtas Children’s Committee met representatives of social media companies again this week to discuss artificial intelligence and the safeguarding of children using social media.

Witnesses from Meta, TikTok and the cesspit formerly known as Twitter appeared on Tuesday afternoon to resume their very earnest engagement with the politicians, smoothly explaining how protecting kiddies from dangerous and unsuitable content on their platforms is paramount in everything they do.

The TDs and Senators were not convinced.

Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan summed up the polite but sceptical mood with her opening line: “You’re very welcome to today’s committee. A lot of questions and topics have been thrashed out already today but I think we all will agree that social media is an absolute cesspit.”


Independent Senator Tom Clonan pitched his questions from the perspective of a middle-aged layman who is not particularly tech savvy but asked questions which concerned parents are asking about the material their children can see.

“Forgive me if some of the questions sound like stupid questions,” he said. “I come from the position of being a layperson, although I do use all of the platforms except TikTok… because I saw what it did to Simon Harris, God help him.”

“It made him Taoiseach!” pointed out Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne as TDs and Senators fell around the place laughing.

The witness from TikTok looked thrilled.

Tom explained.

“It’s just taken over his life entirely. He is the TikTok Taoiseach. It has taken over his life entirely, it’s gone in an unanticipated direction.”

To a big new office in Government Buildings, God help him.

Photo opportunities

Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly is some man for the photo opportunities.

He’s his party’s equivalent of a heat-seeking missile, only in this case, the target is any high-ranking politician in front of a camera.

Witness Simon Harris’s inaugural ardfheis address two weeks ago in Galway. Seán was up on that platform like a Kerry mountain goat the second the speech was over, finishing in his favourite position near the leader’s shoulder.

However, Seán’s enthusiasm got the better of him last Friday at the launch of Daniel Butler’s bid to become the first directly elected mayor of Limerick.

Taoiseach and new party leader Simon Harris travelled to Limerick racecourse in Patrickswell for the occasion and a host of FG luminaries from the Treaty City and beyond gathered to greet him. Munster MEP Kelly was among the welcoming party when he arrived.

There were speeches for the faithful in the Greenmount Suite and then oodles of lovely photo ops. There were lots of people vying for the Taoiseach’s attention on the platform. “It was like the start of the Grand National before the tape goes up,” is how one witness overdescribed it.

Then there was an unmerciful crash as the bould Seán toppled over the edge and into a large pop-up backdrop. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was a table with empty glasses behind and he fell on that too after the “spider” frame supporting the large Fine Gael poster collapsed.

“You know that song I believe I Can Fly? Well, he can’t,” added our FG informant, who seemed to be taking far too much pleasure in this unfortunate mishap.

Happily, MEP Kelly is a hardy buck. Straight back on the Munster Euro election trail for the elections in June. Not a bother on him.

Turning dreams into realities

Congratulations to Roscommon-Galway TD Denis Naughten, who recently graduated from DCU with an MA in science and health communications. We always knew the former minister for communications Denis was a bit of a science nerd.

Denis is chairman of the global Inter-Parliamentary Union’s working group on science and technology and convener of the Oireachtas Friends of Science and Technology group.

He was studying for a PhD in food microbiology in UCC when he was elected to the Dáil in 1997 and promptly abandoned academia for a life in politics.

“I’d been looking at this course for years and was going to go for it in 2016 but, bizarrely, I got into government at that stage,” says the independent TD for Roscommon-Galway. “But it was always in the back of my mind.”

Denis – he has a degree in industrial microbiology from UCD – recognised the benefits of remote working during Covid and he decided to go back to college and enrol in the two-year part-time course. The first year was mainly online and in the second year he attended a mix of online and in-person lectures.

Earlier this year he announced his retirement from national politics for personal and professional reasons after 26 years of unbroken service in the Dáil.

After the graduation ceremony two weeks ago he wrote: “As I close this chapter and look forward to the next, I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. This qualification is not just an academic achievement; it is a testament to the power of determination, collaboration, and the support of those around us.

“Here’s to new beginnings, to the endless possibilities that education opens up, and to all those who dream big and work hard to turn those dreams into reality.”

Conference highlights

Another weekend, another party conference.

This time the Greens will be gracing our TV screens on Saturday evening with a live leader’s address. Set your tellies to record.

The schedule for the day is jam-packed with a succession of speakers up and down to the microphone at a bewildering rate. The podium will be worn to the ground with the traffic by the time Eamon Ryan reaches it.

Some speakers are limited to just five minutes while the longest 30-minute slots have been set aside for panel discussions.

Some of the highlights include “Seven Weeks to Go!” from director of local elections, Roderic O’Gorman, “on the battle for attention in the final campaign’s final week”.

And a “Don’t forget the other election!” rallying cry from Brian Leddin TD who is one in a very crowded field in the race to become the first directly elected mayor of Limerick.

Clare-based Senator Róisín Garvey has one of the toughest tasks with 20 minutes to delight delegates on the subject of “What have the Greens ever done for us?” If she’s short of material, Róisín can Google Mattie McGrath’s Dáil contributions on the question.

Minister for Media Catherine Martin will be teeing up her party leader with a seven-minute warm-up speech. But she will feature only very briefly on the live transmission and will be off the stage before anybody from Prime Time tries to book her for an encore.

Eamon Ryan will speak for a whopping 25 minutes.

But the longest amount of speaking time has been allotted to a comedian. Colm O’Regan, author of the book Climate Warrior, will do the main warm-up with a 40-minute comedy sketch.

Sinn Féin and the EU

Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín accused the Government of ceding Ireland’s sovereignty to the European Union with its support of the EU migration pact. How can the Irish people have a say in lawmaking for this country “when decisions are made in Brussels or Berlin”?

The Taoiseach asked him: “Do you not want to be a member of the European Parliament? Are you not running for election because you want to be there making decisions?”

“We do but we don’t want to cede any more sovereignty” was the reply.

Eventually, the discussion came around to Peadar’s former party. He was first elected a TD when a member of Sinn Féin. If we were to go by the policy of the party when he was still in it, Ireland wouldn’t even be in the EU, said the Taoiseach, because not so long ago, Sinn Féin wanted no truck with Europe.

There was a chorus of protest from the SF benches across the floor.

“You voted against it every single time,” said Minister of State Neale Richmond.

“Did you not oppose every referendum?”

Harris was momentarily distracted. “Sorry, Deputy McDonald is muttering something I can’t hear.”

The Sinn Féin leader was not amused.

“It’s a statement of fact that Sinn Féin has opposed every European referendum since we joined the European Union, including the one to join the European Union. That’s the truth,” said Simon.

Mary Lou was thoroughly cheesed off.

“It is so utterly dull that we’re hearing this in the Dáil,” she sighed wearily. “New Taoiseach. Old fogey, young fogey.”

Simon did a double take, repeating the words back to her.

“Old fogey, young fogey?”

What did that mean?

It must mean Leo Varadkar is now an old fogey. He’ll be delighted to hear that.