A bust of the late John Hume was unveiled in Leinster House on Wednesday evening.
Apparently the Ceann Comhairle did the honours and there were speeches and everything, and guests included John Hume’s son, John jnr. And Lady Daphne Trimble, wife of the late David Trimble, who was with their daughter, Vicki.
We hear the place was coming down with ambassadors, including the US ambassador, Claire Cronin. We know the German ambassador was there as we saw him being driven through the main gates.
The Ceann Comhairle made a speech. As did others. But they obviously didn’t have much to say as no media were invited to witness the event, which took place somewhere in the Leinster House 2000 building.
We know the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste were there because they missed the start of the block voting. Other leaders, along with many TDs and Senators, also attended.
The Oireachtas is commissioning artworks to beat the band these days. This includes a series of commemorative works marking the 25th anniversary of the receipt of the Nobel Peace prize by Hume and Trimble. Portraits and busts are getting unveiled at a great rate, with some of pieces marking the anniversary of the signing of the Belfast Agreement.
The bust of John Hume is by the sculptor Elizabeth O’Kane. It seems portraits of John Hume and David Trimble were also on temporary display at the hugger-mugger unveiling. The Hume portrait is on loan from the Crilly family and was painted by the artist Edward McGuire.
We were particularly disappointed not to get a chance to see the artist Colin Davidson’s portrait of David Trimble because the press release sent by the Oireachtas after the event told us it was “singed by the artist” (sic).
Members of the Oireachtas press gallery are wondering why the Leinster House authorities are not alerting the media in advance of many of these events – the portrait of the women Senators, the Kathleen Lynn portrait and the recent unveiling of the busts of two past presidents come to mind.
Still. It’s not like these very welcome commissioned public works are being funded by the State exchequer and located in the national parliament...
Noel Murphy retired as superintendent of the Houses of the Oireachtas on Thursday.
But he was much more than that. Noel began working with the Civil Service more than 40 years ago, starting out in the old Department of Posts and Telegraphs. After moving between various departments, he landed in Leinster House in 1999 and became an integral part of the vibrant parliamentary community in Kildare Street.
He moved up the ranks and, before his appointment to the key role of superintendent, he held a number of senior roles including principal committee clerk, education outreach officer and facilities manager. The superintendent is responsible for the security, decorum and running of the Dáil and Seanad.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar led the Dáil tributes to Noel while Seanad Cathaoirleach Jerry Buttimer kicked off the tributes in the Upper House.
“Many Members will know him very well for his work in the committees. He has been a permanent feature around the Houses for 24 years. I know all Members would like to thank him for his incredible work ethic and for his efficiency, dedication, good humour and amiability at all times. We will miss him,” said the Ceann before the Dáil gave the blushing Noel, sitting in the unfamiliar surrounds of the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery, a standing ovation.
After close of business, the Visitors’ Bar was packed for the going-away do. Colleagues held a whip-around for food and decorations and there was a Copacabana theme with pineapples on the tables and palm trees due to a slight mix-up over Noel’s favourite song.
Head chef Julie baked a cake in the shape of a basketball and adorned it with a picture of the retiree when he had a head of hair.
Visitors to Leinster House were taken aback as they entered the bar and saw it decked out like a nightclub in Rio. An Oireachtas staffer told us afterwards: “One of the TDs had an active retirement group in from Kildare and they were asking if this sort of thing happens every Thursday night in the Dáil bar.”
Michael Errity, the deputy general secretary of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service spoke on the night and said if staff were looking for a role model there wouldn’t find a better one than Noel.
But back to the Ceann Comhairle, who also pointed out that the superintendent’s departure leaves a big vacancy which must be filled by December.
Because Noel Murphy was also the long-serving Santy at the Oireachtas staff children’s party every Christmas Eve.
“Don’t be looking at me,” said Ó Fearghaíl. “I might be the right shape but I don’t think I have the personality for it.”
“I just was,” replied a disappointed Taoiseach.
“Deputy Pringle could rise to it,” suggested the Chair, indicating the well-bearded and deep-voiced Independent deputy for Donegal.
“I’m aspiring to it,” said Thomas.
Suited and booted
No Santy for the footless childer of Kildare Street in 2023?
This cannot happen.
We have been thinking of suitable candidates for this prestigious role and the Donegal TD certainly fits the bill – the Dáil’s very own Kris Pringle.
But there are others well placed to slide into Noel Murphy’s boots.
With Sinn Féin’s propensity for promising everyone everything, funded by seemingly endless financial reserves, Santa’s sack would always be brimming. The party even has its own shop.
This surely puts one of their politicians in (north) pole position for the job.
While the comfortably padded and very jovial Pádraig MacLochlainn would do an excellent job, the red suit has to go to Dublin Central’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who traditionally wears a novelty Christmas tie in the Dáil chamber before the festive recess.
He could wear it under his white beard while handing out “A Lorry Load of Volunteers” fridge magnets to slack-jawed tots and singing All I Want for Christmas is a United Ireland in the style of Mariah Carey.
Other candidates for the grotto could be the Minister for Finance, Michael McGrath, although replacing the sack with a small spending envelope might not go down well. His Fianna Fáil colleague Barry Cowen has been ruled out of the running as it emerged on Wednesday that he would take all the children’s sweets away and make them cry.
Congratulations to Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan who was conferred with a Certificate in Practice Support in Social Farming at a graduation ceremony in UCC this week.
The TD for Cork North-West, who chairs the Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters, decided to undertake some on-the-job training after hearing from representatives of social farming groups at committee hearings.
Social farming gives people with special needs the chance to spend time on a working family farm in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment.
Michael, himself a farmer, became involved with Social Farming Ireland and quickly recognised the therapeutic value the practice brings to people with varying degrees of physical, mental, intellectual or social challenges.
“With what I already knew and after listening to the social farming groups many times at the committee, I said to myself: “You know what lads, I’m going to have a go at this myself.”
He signed up for the year-long part-time course at UCC and attended online lectures every Monday night before driving to Leinster House on Tuesday mornings.
“I found that when I was up in Dublin I could spend the few hours on Tuesday and Wednesday nights after the Dáil finished to study and go back over Monday’s lecture.”
While the course was a long slog at times, Michael found the material very interesting. The packed curriculum included law, environment and mental health studies, policy and disability studies.
“Sometimes after finishing a long day in Leinster House I wondered: “Jeepers, what am I doing this for?” But he persevered, graduating on Tuesday before driving on to Leinster House and contributing to questions on social welfare.
We’ll meet again... and again
Mattie McGrath had a cut at a fellow politician from Tipperary on Thursday when he castigated an unnamed Fine Gael Senator for launching an attack on county councillors in the constituency for calling an emergency meeting to discuss the housing crisis.
He was referring Senator Garret Ahearn, who is a son of the late Theresa Ahearn, a former TD for Tipperary South.
Senator Ahearn told the Upper House on Wednesday that a special council meeting later that day was one of many happening around the country.
“Sinn Féin has put forward this initiative,” he said, complaining that this “political stunt” was taking officials who had to attend the meeting away from important housing-related duties.
“It’s an utter waste of time.”
Rural Independent Mattie McGrath condemned the Senator for criticising public representatives for doing the job they were democratically elected to do. He said the meeting in question had been “very productive” and came up with good ideas which are being forwarded to the Minister for Housing.
“Someone in Government needs to apologise and rein this man in. April Fool’s Day is on Saturday. I wonder was he a few days premature,” Mattie fumed at the Taoiseach, who is Senator Ahearn’s boss.
Leo Varadkar wasn’t too concerned. It’s all part of the cut and thrust of public life, as Mattie well knows, he replied.
“The Fine Gael Senator is also entitled to have a go. He obviously has no ambition to go back into the Seanad again if he is attacking the entire county council in Tipperary, but that’s another matter.”
“He wants to be in here,” riposted Deputy McGrath.
Ahearn had an interesting week. On Wednesday, he was elected vice-chair of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, replacing Jennifer Carroll MacNeill who became a Minister of State in December.