So on Thursday afternoon, the elaborate flower arrangements went out on the staircase and the Ceann Comhairle put on a ceremonial tie and the chamber was almost as full as it ever gets thanks to the addition of senators drafted down beyond the railing to plug the gaps.
And the Taoiseach laid on a light lunch in his office for the EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen.
Which probably means the poor woman won’t be able to look at another boiled egg again.
Mairead McGuinness was a danger to herself and others for the entire day and night, never less than perilously close to exploding with conviviality as she bustled about with her Brussel’s boss. The EU Commissioner for Financial Services was glowing in the distinguished visitors’ gallery.
The Ceann Comhairle’s platform has been pimped in recent weeks, with more floor space around his desk and generous room for a comfortable seat on either side of his chair. Ursula sat on his left and Mark Daly, outgoing Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, sat to his right.
After an hour passed and people started drifting away, Ms von der Leyen appeared to be carrying on a personal battle with her eyelids which were intent on closing
Seán Ó Fearghaíl put on a big welcome for his distinguished visitor and she put on her headphones when he spoke in Irish and Mark put on a brave face in the knowledge that Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer will soon be taking his job as part of the coalition’s rotation agreement.
Then the Ceann Comhairle broke into German. It sounded flawless and the President didn’t burst out laughing and for a short time there were fears Seán Ó Fearghaíl might explode with happiness, detonate Commissioner McGuinness and take the whole house down.
Sinn Féin’s First Minister designate, Michelle O’Neill watched proceedings from the public gallery with a seven-strong entourage.
President von der Leyen began with a little bit of Irish: “A dhaoine uaisle ...”
There was thunderous applause.
Seán “Frau Präsidentin von der Leyen, hundert tausend mal, bitte Ich Sie im irischen Parlament, herzlich willkommen” Ó Fearghaíl had every right to feel short changed.
The President’s speech was very well received. She threw in the cúpla focal on a few occasions to great effect and went to town on her Irish quotations, at one point quoting JFK quoting GBS (George Bernard Shaw). And then there was that early triumph when she quoted a line from “the great Irish band” The Saw Doctors.
But the element of plamás was off the scale. “It was pure f*****’ guff, the lot of it” one TD, a committed Europhile, told us afterwards.
Sure, we’re great. Europe loves us, was the President’s message. Europe looks up to us. She even told us “Europe owes you!”
Well, that’s true. How much is? Around forty-five billion or so, give or take?
“That was uplifting and inspirational,” cooed the Ceann Comhairle.
Ursula looked happy but then nobody told her that thirteen TDs and senators were listed to speak after her.
Mary Lou McDonald continued the love-in after the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Leader of the Green Party spoke. After an hour passed and people started drifting away, Ms von der Leyen appeared to be carrying on a personal battle with her eyelids which were intent on closing. Eventually, Richard Boyd-Barrett came to the rescue by lifting her out of it with a full-lunged lecture on the shortcomings of the EU, its role in imposing austerity and its “utterly unconscionable” stance on Israeli attacks in Palestine.
That woke her up. So she was able to fully appreciate Mattie McGrath’s bilingual tour de force which ranged from the Irish beet industry to Thomas Davis and A Nation Once Again. “I come from Tipperary, the land of Breen, Treacy, Robinson and Dinny Lacey who gave their lives. Liam Lynch, a Limerick man, was shot in the adjoining parish to mine,” he told her.
And we thought: leave down those translation headphones, Ursula, they won’t help you now.
The speeches ran way over time. Finally, after two long hours, she escaped.
And we were finally able to get down to the big mystery of her lovely speech: what Irish hand helped script it?
Our sources believe that top level EU lawyer Anthony Whelan, who is a member of President von der Leyen’s Cabinet with responsibility for EU digital policy, supplied the exquisite Blarney. Whelan, who qualified as a barrister in Dublin and lectured in law at Trinity college before embarking on a high-flying career in Europe, is from the West of Ireland, Co Clare, to be precise. Which explains the inspired Saw Doctors reference.
Thursday I’m in Love
A big night in the Convention Centre on Thursday when the Taoiseach and the EU Commission President glammed up for a glittering business awards ceremony and none other than Volodymyr Zelenskiy was beamed into the heart of Dublin Central at the end of the dinner.
And all the while everyone was wondering: where’s Paschal?
The Minister for Finance and President of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers, in the heart of his own constituency, was nowhere to be seen. Most unlike him to miss such a networking opportunity on his home turf.
Our spies tell us Paschal didn’t go the full goth, which is disappointing. He just wore jeans and a casual jacket
But Paschal Donohoe WAS in the constituency, and not too far away either from where the black-tie dinner for the annual Business and Finance awards was happening. He was just a little further down the Liffey quayside in the 3Arena, where the signature colour of the night was also black. But there were no tuxedos in sight. The black cloth was goth.
In the Convention Centre, while the salmon starter was giving way to the first turkey and ham dinner of the season, our Minister for Finance was happily reliving his youth at the opening concert of The Cure’s European Tour.
Paschal Donohoe tells us he bought his tickets “ages and ages ago” and thoroughly enjoyed the gig. He admitted to being a Curehead in his day “but I didn’t grow a fringe”. His favourite songs are Shake Dog Shake and Just Like Heaven. Oh, and his favourite Cure album is Disintegration.
Just so you know.
Our spies tell us Paschal didn’t go the full goth, which is disappointing. He just wore jeans and a casual jacket.
We are glad he was able to escape to his concert after dutifully remaining in the Dáil chamber for the full two hours of the joint sitting for Ursula, which is more than can be said for many of his Government and opposition colleagues who sneaked out well before it finished.
The Minister for Finance will head back to Brussels next week for a Eurogroup meeting after a weekend detour to Dingle for the Other Voices festival where he will take part in the Ireland’s Edge conversations.
Dr Bacik will see you now
The Taoiseach and President von der Leyen had hardly any time at all to get ready for the B & F, KPMG-sponsored awards hooley in the Convention Centre what with all the speechifying and gladhanding in Leinster House, but they made it just in time for the black-tie gongfest.
Over 1,000 guests gathered for the event where Ursula von der Leyen received the Sutherland Leadership Award in recognition of the European Union’s outstanding contribution to Ireland, on the 50th anniversary of the country joining the bloc.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy was given the TK Whitaker Award for Outstanding Contribution to Public Life. The President of Ukraine, probably the most famous man in the world today, addressed the suited and booted audience in Dublin via video link from government headquarters in Kyiv.
Talking to a high-powered crowd of diners in another country about “Thomas Kenneth Whitaker” while his country is battling Russia is something Zelenskiy could never have contemplated, but it’s an important part of the war effort, strange though that may seem.
It’s probably just as well that the war-weary recipient, wearing a plain sweatshirt, couldn’t see the dickey-bowed and full-gowned finery before him as he spoke.
Landing the two presidents was quite a coup for B & F boss Ian Hyland and we hear noses were out of joint in certain political/diplomatic/business circles that Hyland managed to nab both Ursula and Volodymyr for his gig, along with the Taoiseach.
Ivana Bacik was at the dinner on the evening before the day she became Dr Ivana Bacik.
The Labour Party leader now has a PhD in feminist criminology from TCD and she was conferred with her doctorate on Friday.
Ronán honours Ronan
The Dáil Members Restaurant was packed out on Thursday night for Senator Ronán Mullen’s fundraising dinner in aid of Self Help Africa. It followed a ceremony earlier in the day when the Oireachtas Human Dignity Award was presented to Offaly man Ronan Scully in recognition of his work in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Since 2010, Ronan has worked with Self Help Africa and before that he spent 18 years as a volunteer and employee with GOAL. Over the years, he has raised millions of euro for various charities committed to human development and famine relief in Africa and Asia.
“Ronan [Scully] is also known for his sporting and cultural contribution,” Senator Mullen tells us. “He has been Offaly Sportsperson of the Year, was a leader on RTÉ's Operation Transformation, has authored two books and writes a weekly column for three regional newspapers.”
Previous recipients of the Human Dignity Award were Sr Consilio Fitzgerald of Cuan Mhuire; Barney Curley, founder of Direct Aid For Africa; Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Mary’s Meals; Gina Heraty of Our Little Brothers and Sisters Orphanage in Haiti; and BR Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre.
It’s been a busy week for Ronan Scully. On Monday he was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from University of Galway.
Among the guests at the dinner was former Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his wife Mary – old friends of Ronan from the Faithful County. Pat McDonagh of Supermacs fame hosted a table with his wife Una while former Attorney General, Máire Whelan, was one of a number of legal eagles in attendance, among them Sunniva McDonagh SC and Patricia Dillion SC.
Corofin woman Carmel Donlon baked a beautiful iced Christmas cake which Senator Mullen decided was too nice to put in the raffle. It was auctioned off on the night and we hear Pat McDonagh parted with a handsome sum for it.
The night finished up with a singsong around the piano (one of the guests brought his electric piano with him, as you do) and the senator belted out Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific.
The restaurant staff were very patient and didn’t rush people out at the end of the night although we hear they put Senator Mullen on standby for an encore in case they had difficulty clearing the premises.