Miriam Lord’s Week: Is a quote from Seamus Heaney now compulsory in Government speeches?

Select invitations to a Green party, sporting events and calls for a second chamber of the Dáil to be established fill up the week

Did Michael McGrath read right to the end of his Budget Day speech on Wednesday before he went into the Dáil chamber to deliver it? Because if he did, how did he think it was a good idea to finish up his 45-minute statement with the most cliched ending to big occasion Government speeches these days: The Quote from Seamus Heaney.

Is he compulsory now for ministers? Like sincerity?

Perhaps when new Ministers are given their Cabinet handbook their new advisers get a handy Heaney guide for speechwriting. People just laugh and roll their eyes now when a senior politician breaks out a bit of the aul Seamus. Which is exactly what happened in the Dáil when the Minister for Public Expenditure fell into the trap.

Until then, the most cringeworthy part of the budget statements was the announcement that VAT on newspapers is to be scrapped, whereupon everyone on the Government benches gurned up at the press gallery as if the cut was coming out of their own pockets and they are to be eternally admired by the hacks for their munificence.

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People Before Profit’s Mick Barry immediately tweeted his annoyance at this indiscriminate use of Heaney material. He returned to the topic during the budget debate, as did Independent TD Catherine Connolly.

We would have put down the Council of Europe gala dinner in Dublin Castle on Thursday night as the social highlight of the political week

But they aren’t the only ones fed up with Government politicians plundering the Nobel Prize winner’s collected works. Word has reached us from a source close to the Heaney family that they too are becoming increasingly irritated by the practice.

“It wouldn’t be a million miles from the truth to say that they are sick to the back teeth with the wanton quote dropping” said our bookish confidante. “What really bugs them is this constant quoting by ministers, especially from those who otherwise don’t seem to give a second thought to anything cultural. They have kept their counsel on this, but with increasing reluctance.”

It seems the best quotes of the day for them came from Barry (who talked of politicians quoting Healy “until they bore the population senseless”) and Connolly, who pointed out that the Minister quoted Heaney paraphrasing Vaclav Havel.

“He might have been better quoting from a poem by Seamus Heaney if we are going to quote him. I am reluctantly quoting because I agree with a previous speaker today that he is misquoted and misused in the Dáil” she said, but she felt something From the Republic of Conscience might have been a better one for the Minister to use: At their inauguration, public leaders must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep to atone for their presumption to hold office.

“A nice rejoinder” remarked our source close to the verse-maker. “If he is going to get quoted, that’s how it should be done.”

A joint celebration

We would have put down the Council of Europe gala dinner in Dublin Castle on Thursday night as the social highlight of the political week.

It was held on the first night of a two-day conference of European Justice ministers on the issue of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Ireland currently holds the Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, hosted the event which was also attended by Simon Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Among the guests was the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the magnificently monikered Dutch politician, Tiny Kok.

“I hope this dinner, which I’m sure will showcase Ireland’s excellence in culinary skills, affords you the opportunity to relax and engage with each other in a more social setting” said McEntee.

What do Fine Gael Senator, Paddy Burke and Rural Independent leader, Mattie McGrath have in common?

However, we hear that a big birthday party is happening in a Dublin hotel this weekend and invites have been winging their way to various members of the Green Party and certain Cabinet Ministers.

It’s a joint 50th celebration for the Green’s deputy leader, Catherine Martin and her husband Francis Noel Duffy, the TD for Dublin South West. Both of them were born in 1972, which means that the Catherine, the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, now holds the same amount of Government portfolios as decades she has lived on this earth.

Francis Noel, an architect, is an accomplished artist and he designed the invitation on the theme of 50-50. His design has been described by one guest as “very cool and funky”.

It isn’t a swanky affair, mainly family and friends. But speculation will be rife after the event as to which ministers and colleagues got the special invite and which ones did not.

Concrete plans, UK turmoil

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Follow-up analysis of Budget 2023 including childcare measures and the concrete levy, plus a look at the difficult political choices facing UK prime minister Liz Truss after a week of turmoil on the markets. Pat Leahy talks to Jack Horgan-Jones and Cormac McQuinn.

Medallists

What do Fine Gael Senator, Paddy Burke and Rural Independent leader, Mattie McGrath have in common?

They are both All-Ireland senior medallists.

And people thought the Oireachtas had no sporting heroes left since former Fine Gael minister and five time All-Ireland winner with Kerry, Jimmy Deenihan, departed national politics in 2016.

Mattie, of course, is a former national set dancing champion.

And Paddy is a member of the team from Castlebar Golf Club which recently won the prestigious Pierce Purcell shield after beating Abbeyleix in the final at the Knightsbrook course in Co Meath. The competition, we are told, is the men’s club golf equivalent of the All-Ireland. Celebrations are still continuing in the West as this is Castlebar’s first time to win the title in the 52 year history of the tournament.

Paddy and fellow team members (it’s a foursomes contest with ten in each team) beat Clontarf in the quarter finals, getting something of a lucky break as the Dublin club was without its star player, Dublin GAA great Bobby Doyle, before edging out Lismore in the semi-final.

Competitors arriving at the Knightsbrook complex in Trim were delighted to see a sign bidding them welcome from Meath based Independent senator Sharon Keoghan at the entrance to the hotel. However, it turned out that the welcome was intended for the hundreds of councillors from all over the country attending the Association of Irish Local Government’s autumn seminar.

The place was heaving with politicians.

Due to his Pierce Purcell commitments, Oireachtas Golf Society stalwart Senator Burke missed their outing to Kildare for the annual Dermot Early memorial Trophy, which took place on the same day. This also meant that Paddy was unable to argue in the clubhouse for the umpteenth time that the late Dermot Early, former army lieutenant general and a Roscommon footballer of great renown, should really have lined out for Mayo as he was born above Byrne’s bar on Main Street, Castlebar.

Four teams from the Army, Garda, GAA and the Oireachtas compete for the trophy which was won by the GAA. The politicians came second.

A different team hosts the event every year in the Royal Curragh Golf Club and the President of the Oireachtas Golf Society, former tánaiste and Labour leader, Dick Spring, did the honours this time.

Former taoiseach Enda Kenny also teed in the four-ball stableford competition, with former Fianna Fáil TD Beverly Flynn adding to the Mayo contingent on the day.

Second space

Best wishes to the Ceann Comhairle for a speedy recovery following his prostate cancer surgery on Thursday.

We suspect the best tonic Seán Ó Fearghaíl could get would be prompt agreement from the main party leaders for his proposal to establish a second chamber for Dáil business to make the valuable work done by parliament more productive and time-efficient.

Across the water in the UK parliament a second chamber off Westminster Hall operates for 16 hours a week. The sittings deal with backbench business and are fully televised. The Irish version would have a broader remit. (Given the far smaller number of politicians here and the welcome our backbenchers already have for themselves, they would probably be highly insulted by the idea of having to speak in a separate chamber and wouldn’t want to go anywhere near it.)

Anybody who follows the proceedings in Dáil Éireann will be struck by the interminable “debates” where TDs stand up and read out scripts to a deserted chamber. The same applies for “statements”. They may concern matters of national or international importance, but after the senior politicians have spoken the sessions continue with deputies delivering essentially the same speech to empty benches.

Important points are made and thought-provoking arguments are most definitely advanced amid all this talk, but the process drastically cuts down on time for legislating.

Last year’s Oireachtas Forum on a Family Friendly and Inclusive Parliament recommended that the setting up of a second chamber where Dáil business which does not require TDs to vote, should be considered. This second chamber could be used for the likes of ministerial questions, topical issues, statements and maybe even some second stage debates which are not voteable. Leaders’ Questions and the Order of Business would always be in the full Dáil chamber.

Some politicians might dismiss a second chamber as a talking shop, but it would be a very novel exercise: a time-saving talking shop.

TDs who are keen on the idea tell us that a perfect space exists already in Leinster House for this auxiliary venue. The little-used Reading Room/Library on the ground floor, just off the entrance hall, is almost a replica of the beautiful Seanad chamber above it and would make an ideal chamber. Meanwhile, the library could be moved to a more modern room already identified within the complex.

While no votes would ever be taken in the other room, TDs would be able to double the volume of work done in parliament, freeing up legislating time in the main chamber. It would also drastically reduce the need for guillotines and allow for the working day to finish at a more reasonable hour.

But will the political parties and groups agree? If there is political buy-in, the idea could be up and running this time next year.

Or could it be that, for all the talk about Dáil reform, Government (or those who would wish to be in Government) might not be particularly unhappy about imposing guillotines and are less than enthusiastic about the additional scrutiny and exposure that a second chamber might bring?