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Miriam Lord’s week: Election talk gathers pace as victorious athletes demonstrate how to pass the baton

A year on from Tubsgate was discussed at British ambassador’s get-together before Harris makes a dash to Castlebar

Taoiseach Simon Harris with the Irish Athletics team after their medal-winning performances in Rome: the correct way to pass on a baton from one taoiseach to another. Photograph: Sam Boal/Collins Photos

Next Saturday, it will be a year since RTÉ dropped that bombshell report detailing hidden payments to star broadcaster Ryan Tubridy and the entire country went mad on the back of it.

So don’t miss our bumper 72-page full-colour souvenir commemorative mega-supplement on the first anniversary of Tubsgate, the scandal that rocked the nation, kept the Government out of the headlines and spiced up the summer of 2023.

What? We’re not doing one?

No free pair of flip-flops with every copy of The Irish Times? Ah well.


Only a year but it seems such a long time ago now. Guests were reflecting on that this week at the annual garden party in the British ambassador’s residence to celebrate the king’s birthday.

During his speech, ambassador Paul Johnston noted the presence of Caroline Campbell, the first female director of the National Gallery of Ireland and RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst, two successful Brits in Ireland who are representative of the links between our two countries.

His excellency also mentioned Kevin at last year’s event, wishing him all the best in his soon-to-be new job as director general of RTÉ. And he spoke in glowing terms of Ryan Tubridy, having attended his final show as host of the Late Late a few weeks earlier.

Little did the ambassador know that before the year was out Ryan would be a successful Irishman in Britain.

Two days after that party in Glencairn, RTÉ dropped the controversial report, its star performer was taken off the air and Kevin Bakhurst was about to be plunged into an existential crisis for the national broadcaster.

Life moves on. The ambassador probably didn’t think he would be hosting a different taoiseach either. Simon Harris mingled with guests before rushing across the country to make Castlebar in time for Maria Walsh and Nina Carberry’s election in Midlands North-West.

‘Celebrity’ election candidates: On the campaign trail with Ciaran Mullooly, Nina Carberry and Cynthia Ní MhurchúOpens in new window ]

His predecessor, Leo Varadkar, enjoyed the luxury of staying put and shooting the breeze with Paschal Donohoe, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and a whole host of TDs and Senators who took the Luas up from Leinster House.

Northern secretary Chris Heaton-Harris had some quality time away from the UK elections while Bertie Ahern – wouldn’t be a great man for the dressed Pimms – is always happy to talk about elections.

Home improver Dermot Bannon was there, as was garden improver Diarmuid Gavin, as was home approver Amanda Bone, one of the judges on RTE’s Home of the Year show.

The Foreign Office must be thinking about doing up the gaff.

Numerous ambassadors and a sprinkling of media people made up the numbers, including Eileen Dunne, who is still buzzing from her Dancing with the Stars adventure. Given Nina Carberry’s success it can only be a matter of time before the former newsreader feels the tap of a Fine Gael election scout on her sequinned shoulder.

Simon Harris began his speech by noting the fortuitous intercession of the Child of Prague (the ambassador had three statues outside the back door on Wednesday night) which saw the weather change from howling rainstorm all day to balmy sunshine just in time for the festivities.

The Taoiseach remarked it was a pity Ireland didn’t qualify for the Euro 2024 finals but everyone was cheering for the ambassador’s home country… (pause)… Scotland (enthusiastic applause).

He spoke warmly of King Charles and the work he has done to promote good relations between Ireland and Britain, wishing him well in recovering from his illness. Then he proposed a toast to the monarch and the band played God Save the King.

Paul Johnston said he couldn’t talk about politics because of the ongoing election campaign in the UK. He was told to keep his speech “bland and devoid of content” – a quip which went down particularly well with the giggling diplomats.

Then he proposed a toast to the President of Ireland and the band played Amhrán na Bhfiann.

A piper emerged on the ramparts at dusk to sound the farewell, a bracing way of calling time on the hangers-on and asking have they no pubs to go to.

Invisible Ninja

It is not true that photographers were issued with photofit likenesses of Fine Gael’s Nina Carberry in the event that she might finally turn up at the count centre in Castlebar on Thursday night.

Which she did, but only when victory was assured and Taoiseach Simon Harris and various Fine Gael political heavyweights were by at her side to fill any awkward silences.

Roaring rural TDs came looking for Dáil insults and Simon Harris didn’t let them downOpens in new window ]

Her glaring lack of media engagement – cheery videos and photos pumped out by headquarters don’t count – made her the invisible candidate of the European elections. And yet she snuck up silently on the inside and raced to victory despite having no political track record and having hardly opened her mouth for the entire campaign.

Nina Carberry? Ninja Carberry, more like, stealthily stealing up on everyone and making a killing.

There’s the makings of a good politician there, so.

Leinster House of usher

Members of Ireland’s fabulous athletics squad visited the Taoiseach in Government Buildings on Friday.

They showed him the medals they won in the European Championships and he gave them advice on clocking up ridiculously fast speeds while eating an ice-cream cone and the correct way to pass on a baton from one taoiseach to another.

Later in the day, he tweeted a photograph of himself and President Michael D Higgins, standing in the library of Áras an Uachtaráin.

A snap election already? They’re all the rage these days.

Miriam Lord’s elections: Highs, lows and awards from the campaignOpens in new window ]

Not yet. Although Leinster House is convinced it will happen in October.

Meanwhile, there were tributes in the Dáil on Thursday to Martin Murray, one of the longest-serving and nicest ushers in Leinster House, who retired this week.

The Ceann Comhairle told the House that Martin worked in the newspaper business, among other things, before donning the uniform in Kildare Street.

“He was an avid footballer in his youth and a keen boxer. We are very lucky we never had to call on him to use his boxing skills since he came in here.” Seán Ó Fearghaíl wished Martin many happy years of retirement with his daughter Aisling and granddaughters Elsie and Evie – “the apples of his eye”.

One of his last tasks was to escort former president Mary Robinson from the Upper House on Wednesday after she delivered a formal address to Senators.

Simon Harris met Martin in his office on Thursday and presented him with a pair of cufflinks to mark his retirement.

Silver wins

The mood was jovial at the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting in Leinster House on Wednesday night.

With a solid performance in the local elections and an excellent showing in the Europeans on the cards, TDs and Senators relaxed in the knowledge that rumours of their demise had been greatly exaggerated.

Even though its seat tally is down, FF emerged as the largest party at local Government level – one in the eye for its main coalition partners – and Sinn Féin had a disastrous outing.

The exploits of Ireland’s athletes in the European championships brought further cheer and there was a big round of applause when the Tánaiste broke more good news.

“Ireland won silver,” he informed the troops.

And someone down the back hollered “So did Fine Gael!”

It brought the house down.

Billy Kelleher, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Cynthia Ní Mhurchú: Cynthia will be Billy’s political companion in Brussels and Strasbourg for the next five years. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

They had a long wait for the results in Ireland South. The only sure thing before the final shakeout was that Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly was home and dry and their man Billy Kelleher would definitely retain his seat.

As tension mounted, the big question on Thursday was whether Mick Wallace would also hold on or be replaced by the force of nature that is Cynthia Ní Mhurchú.

At the count, the debonair Billy was overheard saying he felt like a bridegroom waiting at the altar on his wedding day: not sure whether he’d be better off if his bride got to the church or if she did a runner.

In the event, Cynthia made it with plenty of votes to spare on the 20th count and will now, for better or worse, be Billy’s political companion in Brussels and Strasbourg for the next five years.

Polling plea

The advent of the “celebrity” candidate is a source of great irritation to politicians resentful of big-name contenders who haven’t put in the hard yards of local activism and grass roots campaigning.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen, who comes from a family of political celebrities, summed up the feelings of many candidates on all sides when he made a final, heartfelt Facebook plea on the eve of polling day: “I’m not a news hack or a shock jock, a jockey or a dancer… I’m not even a Rose of Tralee! I’m just a dedicated and committed public servant who has gained the trust of my community over the past 13 years – at local, constituency and national level.”

European Election: Mick Wallace loses out as Kathleen Funchion (SF), Michael McNamara (Ind) and Cynthia Ní Mhurchú (FF) win final seats in Ireland SouthOpens in new window ]

We’re getting Julia-Roberts-in-Notting-Hill vibes here.

“I’m a TD, standing in front of the voter, asking you to love me.”

There was a happy ending for Barry too.

He’s off to Brussels with Ming (named after the celebrity intergalactic tyrant from Planet Mongo), Ciaran Mullooly (celebrity former RTÉ regional correspondent), Nina Carberry (celebrity former champion jockey and contestant on Dancing with the Stars) and Maria Walsh (celebrity former Rose of Tralee and successfully re-elected MEP).

Offaly Fianna Fáil organised a big “homecoming party” for their hero in, eh, Cowen’s bar in his native Clara.

He was only away in Castlebar for a few days.

Cheeky pic

Was Micheál Martin doing a bit of trolling when an odd-looking photo was posted to his Insta page?

The image is part of a series of run-of-the mill pictures showing the Tánaiste out and about on the election trail with different candidates. But among them is a photo of Micheál sitting down as if taking a rest from canvassing, head bowed, reading a copy of the Daily Mail.

Seems a curious sort of picture to use. The Fianna Fáil leader isn’t in any identifiable location and he isn’t with any other person.

The headline on the front page of the newspaper is from June 6th and it reads: “We’ve Enough of the Greens.”


A tale of two Claires

It’s a small world…

Two councillors elected to Offaly County Council come from the same town, share the same name spelt the same way and represent the same local electoral area.

Different parties, though.

Claire Murray from Fianna Fáil and Claire Murray from Sinn Féin are both from the town of Rhode and they ran in the Edenderry electoral area. They had to toss a coin to see whose name would be first on the ballot. Sinn Féin Claire won. Fianna Fáil Claire was elected with ease on the second count while Sinn Féin Claire was elected on the sixth and final count.