Miriam Lord’s week: Big Phil rubs it in to the Brexiteers at London book launch

Former EU commissioner was guest at launch of Stephen Collins’s book, along with Irish Ambassador Martin Fraser

Phil Hogan has lost none of his political bluntness since his controversial departure as Ireland’s EU commissioner. Now plying his trade as a strategic adviser to big international players such as JP Morgan, Visa and Vodafone, he didn’t put a tooth in it as he told the British some home truths about Brexit in a speech at the Irish Embassy in London on Thursday night.

“The first question to ask is whether Brexit was a success for the UK or not. I don’t think so,” he observed, in case anybody thought the answer was yes. “They have cut themselves off from their biggest trading partner and there are now barriers to trade where there were none before,” he added, going on to list the various ways Brexit has damaged Britain.

Big Phil rubbed in one of the sorest points of all by pointing out that Paris is now overtaking London as the financial centre of Europe. “At the end of the day you can’t go on blaming the French for your own mistakes.” Ouch! As someone involved in the Brexit talks, he said the other side of the coin is that Ireland and the EU have emerged well from the whole process. “We achieved our aims, the UK left the EU in an orderly fashion and we protected our citizens, our budget and peace on the island of Ireland.”

He was guardedly optimistic about the ongoing impasse over the Northern Ireland protocol and believes the political mood music between the EU and the UK has become much better with the arrival of Rishi Sunak in Downing Street.


“A lot can be done with a bit of pragmatism,” he said, suggesting there is now a window of opportunity to get a deal done as the alternative would be to plunge EU/UK relations into the abyss.

But never mind. “It is time to put the past behind us. The UK will forever be an ally and a friend.”

The occasion for Hogan’s speech was the second launch of our colleague Stephen Collins’s book Ireland’s Call: Navigating Brexit. Not content with getting the Taoiseach to do the Dublin launch of his page-turner, he managed to get Irish Ambassador to London Martin Fraser to host the London leg. The book should be required reading for people in the UK if they want to know what really happened, remarked Phil, who appears to be scraping together a decent living since his defenestration.

Before departing for the sunlit uplands of 17 Grosvenor Place (still defiantly flying the EU flag), Fraser was secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach throughout the Brexit negotiations. He figures in the book but declined to be interviewed given the sensitivities of his role. Collins, however, managed to get the three taoisigh (Kenny, Varadkar, Martin) involved to spill about what happened behind closed doors at the negotiations, while Hogan and a number of senior Irish and EU officials also gave frank interviews.

Race is on for new AG

With Paul Gallagher’s announcement that he will not be continuing as Attorney General when Leo Varadkar takes over from Micheál Martin on December 17th, the race to succeed him is well and truly on.

It was widely believed in legal circles that Gallagher would bow out at the changeover, so quietly determined jockeying for position by the potentially interested has already been happening behind the scenes. The Law Library gossips have installed senior counsel Rossa Fanning as hot favourite for the job.

Perhaps the highly garlanded Gallagher, who was also AG during the torrid years of the Bertie Ahern/Brian Cowen bailout fiasco, will return to lucrative private practice, although it is whispered he would not look unkindly on the offer of a seat in the Supreme Court. Then again, if he wants a change, we hear there are some top jobs going in Dubai.

The outgoing AG announced he was moving on during tributes on Friday morning to Supreme Court judge John MacMenamin, who has retired. During those tributes, the Chief Justice, Donal O’Donnell, said MacMenamin’s mother was an aunt of Michael McDowell, and John had told him that the roughhousing in the garden with his McDowell cousins was nothing to the “bruising arguments around the dinner table” where he “watched in amazement as the McDowell children were encouraged to express their opinions no matter how outlandish or wrong they were”.

But back to the race to become Leo and the State’s legal adviser.

Rossa “the Rottweiler” Fanning – he is known for his robust style – is not the only name in the mix. Others mentioned include Eoin McCullough, Fine Gael trustee Pat McCann and party stalwart Patrick Leonard. Is party member Fanning, said to be Leo’s favourite, blue enough for the FG diehards who want a lifelong, dyed-in-the wool party man in the job?

The dark horses include one man and three women: rising star Séamus Clarke from Cavan; Clíona Kimber, who has Green Party connections; Áine Hynes from Sligo; and Leitrim woman Maura McNally, ex-chair of the Bar Council and chair of the Atlantic Technological University.

Meanwhile, over in Leinster House, speculation continues over who will succeed Fianna Fáil’s Mark Daly as cathaoirleach of the Seanad when the Great Rotation comes around.

Two names are being floated: Joe O’Reilly from Cavan, the serving Leas-Chathaoirleach, and Jerry Buttimer from Cork. O’Reilly has performed his duties well and would seem the natural successor, but Buttimer is seen as the favourite.

Observers say Leo Varadkar will give him the nod after the organisers of the infamous 2020 Golfgate outing were exonerated by the courts earlier this year. Buttimer, who attended the event, immediately resigned as leas-chathaoirleach when the scandal broke, and the party leader may now restore the position to him.

Good breeding

Special shout-out today to Cosmo Donnelly from Clonsilla who was mentioned in dispatches in the Dáil during Thursday night’s debate on the second stage of the Dog Breeding Establishments (Amendments) Bill.

Introduced by Peadar Tóibín, Noel Grealish and Sean Canney, it aims to strengthen the regulation of dog breeding establishments, or puppy farms, to take account of key animal welfare issues. It also provides for proper enforcement of the existing law and beefed-up fines for illegal operations.

Aontú’s Tóibín said Ireland is considered “the puppy farm capital of Europe” and that in some of these breeding-intensive places the animals can suffer greatly.

Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly said responsibility for dogs must be handled under one roof to ensure proper oversight of the sector. At the moment, three Government departments look after different aspects of dog welfare: Rural and Community Development, Environment and Agriculture. Is it any wonder unscrupulous breeders are still churning out puppies for the Christmas market?

“I feel very, very passionately and strongly about the mistreatment of dogs,” Paul told the House. “I will declare my ownership of a husky. She was off at the groomers today getting all ready for Christmas.”

That would be Cosmo, who the deputy for Dublin West clearly adores. He was kicking himself afterwards for not getting her name on the record.

Heather Humphreys, Minister for Rural and Community Development, said the Government is not opposing the Bill. She too is a dog lover, even if they rob her shoes, rip her tights and dig up her flowerbeds.

“I have two myself. I have a little miniature Yorkshire terrier and he’s called Rusty and I have a King Charles spaniel called Lady and, like everybody else, they are part of the family and we would be absolutely heartbroken if anything happened to them.”

Sinn Féin’s Réada Cronin welcomed the Minister’s support for the Bill and spoke passionately about the need to clamp down on “cruel and explotivie” puppy factories.

She was glad Heather put her dogs’ names on the Dáil record so she was going to do the same for her little Slaney, who died recently. “Adopt, don’t shop” is not just a phrase, it is excellent advice and I urge everyone to take it,” Réada added. “The shelters today are full of gorgeous dogs who need loving homes.”

Not to be outdone, Peadar Tóibín put his own fella on the record.

Laid-back Rua is a 14-year-old cross between a red setter and a golden retriever and has a great time running in the fields, even if he is henpecked by the Tóibíns’ three hens and “the cat is always wrecking his head on a daily basis”.

Kiskeam v Kremlin: no contest

Hell hath no fury like a Kiskeam man scorned, as poor Vladimir Putin is about to find out.

Many years ago, Redemptorist priest, historian and proud son of Duhallow Fr John J O’Riordan wrote about the War of Independence in his native Cork in a work modestly entitled Kiskeam Versus the Empire.

When asked who won out in this contest between the North Cork parish and the Imperial power, Fr John, with phlegmatic understatement, delivered himself of the immortal line: “Well, Kiskeam is still here.”

And Fr John should know. His father, Jim, was a member of Seán Moylan’s famous flying column which defeated the British at Clonbanin and Toureengarriffe. Jim later posed for artist Seán Keating’s famous Men of the South painting which hangs in the Crawford Art Gallery.

Clearly, neither Putin nor Ambassador Yuri Fibalot ever heard of Fr John’s reply or Moylan’s flying column when deciding to include Kiskeam’s most illustrious son of more recent times in the list of those barred from visiting Russia – Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North-West Michael Moynihan.

But every action has a consequence and Putin’s folly in disrespecting Deputy Moynihan led to a hastily arranged meeting of the local FF Cumann which voted unanimously to ban Vlad from Kiskeam and surrounding townlands with immediate effect.

We understand Deputy Moynihan didn’t mention Putin when speaking at the annual Seán Moylan commemoration in Kiskeam last Sunday but still, if you were a betting man or woman, as many locals there are, there is no doubt who they would be backing if it all eventually comes down to Kiskeam vs The Kremlin.