Being the British ambassador to Ireland wouldn’t be the cushiest of numbers these days.
Relations between the neighbouring countries are somewhat strained at the moment, to put it mildly.
Luckily for Paul Johnston, the incumbent, his purgatory coincides with the tenure of Yury Fibalot, the Russian ambassador, whose brazenness in defending the indefensible knows no bounds.
Paul Johnston’s duty to defend Boris Johnson’s chaotic administration and reckless approach to the Northern Ireland protocol pales in comparison to Fibalot’s odious pronouncements from Orwell Road. Nonetheless, it can’t be easy for Her Majesty’s representative under the present circumstances.
Just last week, when Boris half-heartedly indicated he was probably resigning, Taoiseach Micheál Martin hoped that the Philanderer-in-Chief’s impending departure might mark a “renewal of relationship” between the two countries. “It’s fair to say that over the last while, that relationship has come under strain and there have been significant challenges.”
Perhaps that era of renewal is about to begin, depending on who gets the top job in Downing Street.
The Ceann Comhairle was certainly pleased to see Johnston in the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery on Wednesday. “I think we should extend a warm welcome to him. He’s a frequent visitor to the House. He has the challenge of representing his country at a time of great flux,” gurgled Seán Ó Fearghaíl, “and we appreciate his engagement with the members of this House and his presence here today. You’re very welcome.”
There was polite applause from the handful of deputies who bothered to turn up. The Taoiseach joined in, an inscrutable little smile on his face.
The embassy official had just arrived in time to hear Michael Healy-Rae berating the Taoiseach over emission ceilings for the agricultural sector, so he was probably in shock
To be fair to His Excellency, who landed here in September 2020, being front-of-house man for the endlessly evolving Tory shitshow must be terrible on the nerves. Who could blame him for wanting to take a little breather by relaxing in the peace and solitude which only a dreary morning in the Dáil chamber can provide?
He managed a thin smile when Ó Fearghaíl gave him the shout-out, mouthing “thank you” but really saying: “Don’t mind me, chaps. I’ll just sit up here in the far corner and drink in the soothing nothingness.”
He was accompanied by an embassy official who sat, expressionless, staring into the middle distance. The young man had just arrived in time to hear Michael Healy-Rae berating the Taoiseach over emission ceilings for the agricultural sector, so he was probably in shock. “The Green tail is shaking the Fianna Fáil and Fyne Gayle dog to death,” seethed MHR.
“I think you mean ‘wagging’,” smirked Micheál.
The Distinguished Visitors didn’t hang around for much longer so they didn’t hear Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond ask the Taoiseach about the “protocol-busting Bill” making its way through Westminster. “We all, sadly, know the consequences of this legislation if it is enacted,” said Neale.
“I like the phrase ‘protocol-busting Bill’,” said the Taoiseach.
Fianna Fáil’s Seán Haughey tried to look on the bright side. “Hopefully, you’ll get off to a very good start with the new British prime minister,” he ventured, not sounding very hopeful.
Might that be Liz Truss, the foreign secretary? (Word is she isn’t top of the wish list in Government Buildings.)
We hear Simon Coveney bumped into her on Monday when in London for talks with the latest NI Secretary of State, Shailesh Vara. But not before bumping into Theresa May first. Their meeting was in the Palace of Westminster (the place was in turmoil) and the Irish contingent kept their heads down as they bustled through the corridors.
Suddenly: “Simon! How lovely to see you!” It was former prime minister May, in terrific form. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
They exchanged pleasantries and he thanked her for her ongoing commitment to Anglo-Irish relations. “And we’ll see what happens next,” added Simon.
She nodded vigorously, but said nothing. A few minutes later, they rounded another corner only to see Liz Truss bearing down on them with a big smile.
“Mr Foreign Ministah!” she cried. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
There were pecks on the cheek and then the painfully polite Coveney said: “Liz, I want to wish you the best of luck in your campaign.”
Howling with laughter, she snorted: “I really don’t think that would help.”
Before going to the Dáil for his last Leaders’ Questions of the season, the Taoiseach went to McKee Barracks with Coveney — who is also Minister for Defence — for the launch of the Government’s major funding package for the Defence Forces.
Thanks to Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, it proved to be the political highlight of the day. (There wasn’t much competition from a listless Dáil in holiday mode.)
Then some man in a suit appeared out of nowhere, cycling along the parade ground heading away from the ceremonials, looking for a convenient flagpole to which he could tether his bicycle
The Top Brass put on a big show for the Coalition dosh. Every last detail planned with military precision. Arrivals staggered and timed to the minute.
The Chief of Staff to arrive first. Then Simon Coveney. Then Eamon Ryan. Then the Taoiseach.
Salutes and guards of honour and parping brass for each after they are driven into the parade ground through the designated entrance via the designated route to the designated spot where a military police officer would spring forward and open the car door.
Lt Gen Seán Clancy made his entrance, dripping in shiny buttons and braid. Then the Minister for Defence, right on cue, adopting a military bearing as he stepped from his vehicle to a galvanising blast from the bugles.
Then some man in a suit appeared out of nowhere, cycling along the parade ground heading away from the ceremonials, looking for a convenient flagpole to which he could tether his bicycle. He leaned back — look, no hands! — as he pedalled along, oblivious to the two soldiers in dress uniform belting after him.
Finally, they managed to catch up with Eamon and shoo him back to the welcoming party.
The official door-opener was surplus to requirements. But the Defence Forces rallied and greeted the delighted Green leader and his trusty two-wheeled steed with a rousing salute. The funding is supposed to prepare the army to deal with any eventuality. Including unexpected bikes.