Sweltering in the Bavarian Alps, the G7 leaders kept their dignity and their shirts on last week as they poked fun at macho man Vladimir Putin and his propensity for stripping off during photoshoots.
As they sat down for their first meeting, it was rather unfortunate (but not surprising) that Boris Johnson was the one to suggest they might not just take off their jackets but disrobe even further “to show that we’re tougher than Putin”. Given the sleazy detail about to emerge in the UK about the then British foreign secretary getting caught en flagrante on his office sofa with a younger associate who would later become the third Mrs Johnson, it’s a mercy he only suggested: “Show them our pecs!”
The seven members of the G7 boys’ club laughed awkwardly. “Bare-chested horseback riding” chuckled Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. The sole woman around the table, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a “non-enumerated member” of the group, gamely joined in.
“Oh yes” she said, in stilted tones. “Horseback riding is the best.” Scarlet for her.
A few days later and the circus, with an expanded cast, moved on to Madrid. The Taoiseach was among the guests at the Euro-Atlantic dinner in the Spanish capital hosted by prime minister Pedro Sanchez, attended by all EU and Nato leaders. We hear it was sweltering in the city, but Micheál Martin kept his jacket on. He flew to Spain on the Government jet which managed to find a parking space among the four jumbo jets it took to get Joe Biden across the ocean, while the next door neighbours from France sent three enormous planes to underline Emmanuel Macron’s credentials. Apparently, the Irish contingent couldn’t see a thing once they landed because their little flying machine was wedged in between the major powers.
“It was like a Russian doll of jets,” said one member of the entourage.
The Taoiseach met US commander-in-chief Joe Biden (who was accompanied by his two granddaughters) and the UK’s philanderer-in-chief Boris Johnson at dinner in the Prado Museum, which is magnificently cool on all levels so, presumably, Johnson didn’t feel the need to repeat his jokey line from Bavaria: “Can we take our clothes off?”
The leaders dined in the top-floor Cloister extension and the menu showcased typical flavours of Madrid. They began with an appetiser of cod, orange and beetroot followed by lobster gazpacho with summer vegetables, flavoured with basil and extra virgin Arbequina olive oil. The main course was slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with a lemon puree, and the dessert was strawberries with violet caramel, wafer and aniseed liquor. They were each presented with a silver coin specially minted to mark the 275th anniversary of the birth of artist Francisco de Goya.
Earlier, the VIP guests viewed the magnificent artworks on display. Micheál was particularly taken by Goya’s Queen Maria Luisa on Horseback (1799), although it must have been difficult for the leaders to view the painting without thinking of photoshopping Putin’s upper body onto it.
The thin-skinned Russian president was stung by the G7 lads mocking his tough-guy image. Whatever way they wanted to get undressed, “I think it would be a disgusting sight,” he said on Thursday. Western leaders don’t have what it takes to look good because they don’t take enough exercise and abuse alcohol, apparently.
Perhaps Micheál should invite Vlad to Courtmacsharry for the annual New Year’s Day swim. Or Leo Varadkar could take him for a dip among the jellyfish in the Forty Foot. That might soften his cough.
With all the talk in the Dáil about the cost-of-living crisis and emergency budgets, the good news announcement of the week didn’t get much of a bounce in the media.
Wednesday’s press release from the Department of Finance was a welcome ray of sunshine amidst all the doom and gloom.
“Seán Fleming, Minister of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for Financial Services, Credit Unions and Insurance, welcomes the news that the Irish Inflatable Hirers Federation has secured insurance cover for bouncy castles.”
The Irish Inflatable Hirers Federation will operate through a new group insurance scheme. The organisation represents bouncy castle operators around the country.
And here’s a quote from an ecstatic Fleming: “This is very welcome news for bouncy castle operators. I would like to congratulate the Irish Inflatable Hirers Federation and their broker for getting this successful group scheme up and running. This is great news for families and children throughout the country who will now have access and be able to avail of the fun and enjoyment of bouncy castles. Many businesses have seen success accessing insurance through group schemes. I would encourage businesses who are experiencing difficulty accessing insurance to consider a group scheme with fellow operators.”
Every politician loves a good bounce.
The Dáil rose at midnight on Wednesday on a very tetchy note. At one point, Leas Ceann Comhairle Catherine Connolly accused Fine Gael’s Brendan Griffin of being “vexatious” and threatened to abandon the rest of the voting block if certain Government TDs did not cooperate with the chair.
Griffin was the main transgressor, angrily demanding that the vote on renewing the operation of the Special Criminal Court be held a second time by “other than electronic means”. He wanted a roll-call vote because “a huge proportion of the Members of this Parliament have abstained on a vote concerning the Special Criminal Court”.
The motion passed by a considerable margin and as the rules of the House state that a member cannot seek a roll-call vote if the difference between Tá and Níl in the first result is wider than 10, Brendan hadn’t a procedural leg to stand on. But that was never the point. His aim was to put the spotlight on the 31 Sinn Féin TDs who “seem to have no view on gangland crime in this country”.
Eventually, after much roaring and shouting for the sake of posterity, the Kerry TD declared: “I want to record my disgust that 31 Members of Dáil Éireann abstained in a vote on a motion on the Special Criminal Court,” and ceased his protest.
One more vote later and deputies finally got the chance to head for the hills.
James Lawless, chair of the Joint Justice Committee, was particularly anxious to get home as he was due back in Leinster House at 8.30am the following day to prepare for what turned out to be a mammoth session on the Data Retention Bill. He headed to the LH 2000 building to collect his belongings, taking the lift to his office on the fourth floor. A few seconds later it juddered to a halt between the second and third floors.
He rang the emergency button and tried to explain his whereabouts before ringing one of the ushers, who rushed to his aid with a number of colleagues. Two burly Army officers eventually arrived on the scene (the Defence Forces have a permanent station in Government Buildings/Leinster House). They managed to open a gap so the Kildare North TD could see out and talk to his rescuers just standing below him. He wanted to jump out but that course of action was ruled out on grounds of health and safety, along with the gruesome possibility that the elevator might suddenly move again while he was halfway out.
Lawless spent an hour in the lift before an engineer arrived on the scene and got the infernal contraption moving again.
He now joins the not-very exclusive club of parliamentarians (and many others) who have fallen foul of the idiosyncratic Oireachtas lifts.
The following evening, Lawless, a barrister by trade, joined the flight of fellow Justice Committee members and political legal eagles to the King’s Inns on Constitution Hill for the Bar of Ireland Chair’s dinner. The event was addressed by the Attorney General, Paul Gallagher and the outgoing Chair, Maura McNally, SC.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris and Wexford TD James Brown, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, flew the flag for Merrion Street. Former AG and justice minister Michael McDowell headed up a cross-party contingent of Senators, while another former holder of the justice portfolio, Fine Gael’s Charlie Flanagan, was among the large group Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs.
Labour leader and law professor Ivana Bacik led a contingent of Labour lawyers, while Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Martin Kenny was joined by colleague, Tralee solicitor Pa Daly, who replaced outgoing SF stalwart Martin Ferris in the 2020 election.
Deputy Kenny was seated close to the top table in the company of some of the Law Library’s big hitters. There was much schmoozing of the Sinn Féin spokesman during the evening, as one might expect for the man tipped to become minister for justice should his party make it into power.
Perhaps the TD for Sligo-Leitrim filled them in on Sinn Féin’s reasons for abstaining on the Special Criminal Court vote the previous night – a softening of attitude from the party’s once implacable opposition to it.
Three barristers – the three S’s - are vying to replace Leitrim woman McNally as Chair of the Bar: Senior Counsels Sara Phelan, Seán Ó hUallacháin and Seamus Clarke.
David Norris was in the Upper House this week for Tuesday’s second-stage debate on the Higher Education Authority Bill. The Minister, Simon Harris, read his script at speed, finishing up by outlining the key sections of the Bill from number one to 14.
“Bong!” went Norris.
“I hope that Senator Norris saying ‘bong’ is included in the transcript,” said Sinn Féin’s Niall Ó Donnghaile.
“I have never smoked with a bong in my life. Give me a joint any day,” replied Norris.
Fianna Fáil’s Pat Casey was in the chair.
“Now members, behave.” Not much chance of that.