Miriam Lord: Bertie’s swagger is back as the old guard stage a rebellion

Parking protocol high on the agenda as retired TDs and senators meet for first time since pandemic

Everybody agreed Bertie Ahern was in brilliant form at the agm of the Former Parliamentarians Association in Leinster House recently, where he gave a speech about the Belfast Agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol.

“People were saying he must have some new project on the go, or something good up his sleeve, because he was in great humour. He was like the old Bertie,” said a former TD. “I wonder what it is?”

It might just be because Bertie is relevant again and very much in demand with media outlets in the UK and across the world thanks to Brexit and what it means for the future of the peace process.

The retired TDs and senators met for the first time since the pandemic, with 64 members gathering in the Fine Gael meeting room to elect a new committee and discuss issues of concern to the cross-party community of former Oireachtas members. The most pressing issue on the agenda was the protocol, but not the one addressed by Bertie Ahern. This one was far more important. The Leinster House authorities had been trying to push through “a protocol” on parking rights for retired members, limiting them to slots during less busy times during the parliamentary week.

However, the association fought a strong rearguard action and members are now claiming victory and full retention of their parking privileges. “This is a tradition which has been going on for the last 100 years,” a former senator told us. “We were right to mount a rebellion.”

Roscommon’s Michael Finneran, a former Fianna Fáil minister of state for housing, was elected chairman of the association. An attempt by the reunited Three Amigos of the Independent Alliance to get John Halligan on to the executive committee was thwarted by the combined might of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael despite the best efforts of Shane Ross and Finian McGrath to get their man over the line.

McGrath, the former junior minister for disability, was also spotted in Leinster House later in the week. He was there with the chairman of Shelbourne Football Club to meet Minister for Sport Jack Chambers and discuss securing the future of the club’s home ground, Tolka Park. Since retiring from active politics, McGrath has joined the Shels board and is the club’s inclusion officer.

Also in high spirits at the former parliamentarians’ get together was Donie Cassidy, who has fully recovered from his Golfgate ordeal and was busy encouraging former colleagues to attend the Oireachtas Golf Society’s big outing in Powerscourt.

Cork lawyers baulk at library inflation

There are shenanigans aplenty in legal circles this weather with the annual Bar Council elections on the horizon and campaigning factions already jockeying for position in the run-up to the vote later this year.

The race is on to take over from outgoing chairwoman Maura McNally SC, whose two-year term of office ends in September. It’s hard to believe (or maybe not, given the power and strength of the old boys’ network) that when McNally was elected she became just the second woman in the 125 year history of the barristers’ representative body to hold the office, bridging a 41-year gap since the election of the first female chairwoman, the late Ms Justice Mella Carroll.

Leitrim native McNally, who was at Wednesday’s launch by junior minister James Brown of the Bar of Ireland’s first Equality Action Plan, was recently appointed chairwoman of the new Atlantic Technological University by Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris.

With the elections imminent, we hear legal eagles and their supporters are already on active manoeuvres, while senior counsels Seamus Clarke, Sara Phelan and Seán Ó hUallacháin are most frequently mentioned as the frontrunners for the coveted position of chairperson.

However, there has also been talk of a dark horse from Cork entering the contest to “take the legs out from under them” in headquarters, as one Leeside lawyer muttered darkly following the Munster Bar’s annual black-tie beano in Castlemartyr last month.

Apparently noses are majorly out of joint among certain members of the Cork legal fraternity over a Bar Council decision to increase their modest Law Library subs, which have always been significantly lower than the practice fees charged to the crowd above in Dublin with their fancy facilities and access to acres of valuable legal documents and tomes.

But with the library’s vast repository of research material and reference books now available online (and maintained at considerable cost) to members all over the country, the powers that be decided it was time to hike the subs paid by the Cork-based barristers.

The Bar proposed to slash the 44 per cent annual discount enjoyed by Cork practitioners. This did not go down well.

It was the talk of the Castlemartyr bash, where the doyens of the Munster Bar tucked into a five-course meal while complaining about the impertinence of the actions of the Dublin and Leitrim vulgarians. The Leeside lawyers brought their own special silver cutlery service for the occasion, and the knifes were out for the Bar Council as well as the roast monkfish and Hereford beef sirloin.

There was talk about “rolling out the big guns” of Munster to reverse what was described as “an unjust and arbitrary” decision, with more than one attendee seen bending the ear of guest speaker, Attorney General and Kerry man Paul Gallagher SC.

The issue was due to be decided at a showdown meeting on Thursday when, coincidentally, a large contingent from Cork arrived at the Distillery Building for the launch of a new association for tort and insurance specialists (a bigger draw than the previous day’s equality launch).

The increase will go ahead but the Cork lawyers are now fighting over whether compound or simple interest should apply to the increase as it could result in having to shell out as much as an extra €50 per annum.

“We’ve probably got away with murder for years, to be fair,” said one leading light afterwards.

Jospeha Madigan, prime minister of Denmark

We didn’t see this week’s much-awaited opener to series four but it seems yer one from Borgen is in the wars again.

Something about infuriating campaigners with her very badly received suggestion about opening “special education centres” as a “stopgap” solution to her government’s ongoing failure to provide vulnerable children with places in mainstream schools.

Apologies. It wasn’t Borgen.

But you see, this happens all the time — people mixing up the steely Birgitte Nyborg (the fictional former prime minister of Denmark and central character in the critically acclaimed political drama Borgen) with Josepha Madigan, Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education.

The junior minister recently tweeted details of this possible new education option for pupils with special needs but was met with furious opposition from parents and campaign groups. They called the plan regressive as it segregated children with special educational needs.

She spent much of last week explaining and backtracking after her party leader, Leo Varadkar, said talking about Special Education Centres “was not the best use of words” amid reports that Minister for Education Norma Foley had questioned the details of the proposals before they were suddenly made public.

Government sources told The Irish Times the plan was “dead in the water” and Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris, whose brother Adam is founder of the autism charity AsIAm, also slammed the proposal.

“It is not going to fly. I base that not only on my own view but on the views of people I know.”

Discussions between the Minister and various interest groups in the sector are ongoing.

In the middle of what one Government insider described as “this total sh*tshow”, an article written by Josepha Madigan appeared in the Irish Independent on Thursday night headed: “People say I’m like Birgitte from Borgen. Is this a compliment?”

This immediately begged another question: “Is this woman for real?”

The piece, an overview of the drama that returns to Irish screens this week after a nine-year absence, was less about Borgen and more about Josepha, who ended with a cracker of a closing paragraph.

“Birgitte Nyborg is a role model for many aspiring female politicians. She doesn’t always get it right, but she always tries. It is in that trying that we can glimpse her frailty and her fervent desire to change things for the better. I have often been told I resemble her in appearance and manner. I am still working out whether it’s a compliment.”

Whatever about people telling Josepha that she is the Birgitte Nyborg of Dublin Rathdown, Danish politician Margrethe Vestager is believed to have been the role model for the creators of Borgen. The executive vice-president of the European Commission and it’s Competition Commissioner was in Dublin on Friday for the official opening of the Alde congress — Fianna Fáil’s political grouping in Europe.

Asked during a press briefing if she would be watching the new series of Borgen, she said it had already aired in Denmark and promised not to reveal the ending.

“It has only been released on Netflix here so everyone is very excited,” said one journalist.

“I’m such a fan!” gurgled another.

“And I think you might find that they’re sort of teasing you for another season,” teased the commissioner.

Might she consider a cameo role at some point?

“It remains to be seen,” she replied.

But should she decide against, there’s always Josepha. She won’t say no.