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Miriam Lord’s Week: TDs and Senators eager for their close-ups in The Tubridy Show

Committee hearings into RTÉ payments controversy provided stark contrast between top performers and those who scaled soaring heights of incoherence

Here, by popular demand, are your Comm-it-tee Top Talents, Spear Carriers and Clowns.

People have deluged this newspaper with requests to performance rate the politicians who grilled Ryan “I left a lot of myself on the studio floor” Tubridy and Agent Under Instruction Noel Kelly at Tuesday’s blockbuster meetings.

Well, at least one person did.

Two whole committees were let loose on the showbiz duo for the most-watched ever episodes of Downstairs in the Oireachtas Basement with TDs who want to be Ministers and senators who want to be TDs.


It’s usually Tumbleweed Central around the committee rooms of Leinster House 2000, but when tarnished golden boy Tubridy was due in to testify even the coffee dock upstairs was suspiciously packed with deputies and senators nursing cups of tea while nonchalantly scanning the seating area for a glimpse of the household-name presenter.

In fact, after spending the guts of seven hours getting prodded by politicians in the basement, Tubridy made a point of mentioning the Oireachtas catering staff when thanking the decent people of Ireland and the parish priest for the use of the hall.

Perhaps he read the newspaper article last weekend which reported that Tubs is now so unpopular that even the ladies of the Leinster House canteen tore up their treasured photo of themselves with Ryan when he came in on a visit.

They were deeply unhappy about this and an emissary was dispatched to the beleaguered entertainer when he arrived on Tuesday morning with news that the picture still has pride of place over the cash register.

The TV pulling power of the committees proved a mini-bonanza for hairdressers as members arrived for their big moment in the national limelight beautifully primped and preened and in best bib and tucker.

Media committee chair Niamh Smyth came in for special mention in this regard, always immaculately turned out in colourful eye-catching outfits, perfect make-up and very glam blonde tresses.

We will not mention the deputy on her committee who wore a pristine starched white shirt under the lights only to ruin the look with a dirty lumpy grey vest underneath. All we will say is that his mammy will have killed him whenever he got home.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has 10 members, all of them TDs, while the Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media Committee has 14. Substitutes are allowed and non-members are given a chance to ask brief questions at the end of proceedings if time allows.

Both chairs performed well, although over the course of the last few weeks they occasionally fell down badly by letting some of the more forceful members away with hectoring and dismissive behaviour towards some witnesses.

Honours would have been even were it not for Brian Stanley’s late intervention at the PAC meeting when he launched into a patronising, pointless and bewildering series of questions aimed at Tubridy’s agent, Noel Kelly. The man who landed the tastiest of top-ups (worth €75,000 a pop) for his client while being innocently led by nose by RTÉ to dress up the payments which didn’t come from Renault as “consultancy fees” for reasons unknown to him.

Stanley decided to delve into Kelly’s past to learn how he became such a successful agent. What did he do before his present gig? The witness said he worked in sales and marketing for Cadburys. “What were you selling for Cadbury?”

“Eh, chocolate.”

The PAC members did not work effectively as a team and while it was clear that they had done their homework they should have been more co-ordinated and tactical with their questioning. Some had questions they were determined to ask, which they did despite others having asked the same one before them.

The best performers were Fine Gael’s Alan Dillon, who was quietly effective without feeling the need to act up for the audience, and Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe, who was equally concise and incisive and showed an understanding of the financial and governance issues under examination.

Colm Burke (Fine Gael) John Brady (Sinn Féin), Marc Ó Cathasaigh (Greens), Alan Kelly (Labour) Catherine Murphy (Social Democrats) James O’Connor and Cormac Devlin (Fianna Fáil) put in solid if unspectacular performances.

Cormac’s “Kids are wondering why the Toy Man is in the news so much?” was peak cringe, and that’s saying something when the schmaltzfest from Tubridy is taken into consideration.

Languishing at the lower end of the table was Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster, who won a new fan base for her aggressive form of questioning but she was far too eager cut off people before they could answer her and her tone with some witnesses verged on insulting. She softened her tone appreciably in the face of the Toy Man.

Verona Murphy dismayed for the same reason. Shouting is no substitute for making sense.

Niamh Smyth from the media committee wins the battle of the chairs.

Top talents from this group were Fine Gael’s Brendan Griffin, Michael Carrigy and Alan Dillon, again; Malcolm Byrne and Christopher O’Sullivan (Fianna Fáil) and Marie Sherlock (Labour). But Ciaran Cannon (Fine Gael) was outstanding with brisk, concise questioning which was effective and completely on point.

Imelda Munster dialled down the anger but previous form held against her, while Senator Shane Cassells ruined what was a potentially illuminating interlude with a sudden rush of blood to the head which saw him roaring and shouting at the witness.

Senator Fintan Warfield was polite to the point of hesitancy.

Mattie McGrath and Peter Fitzpatrick were woeful but entertaining. Mattie plumbed the depths of conspiracy theory madness when complaining about children on the Toy Show being “used” to promote the Pfizer Covid vaccine and asking a nonplussed Tubridy if he had financially benefited from this.

An angry Peter Fitzpatrick shouted questions and made statements, reading carefully from a script yet still managing to scale soaring heights of incoherence.

Fine Gael celebrates end of term

Congratulations to Fine Gael senator John McGahon, who married Oireachtas press officer Ainé McMahon in Monaghan last Sunday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a speech at the lavish reception in Castle Leslie which was attended by a large contingent from the parliamentary party.

It was a busy week on the social front the blueshirts, winding down before the Summer recess. TDs and senators gathered in their Mount Street headquarters on Tuesday night and marked the end of term with drinks and nibbles.

Taking it all in with interest was two-month-old Robin Morgan Ngo Liu Wen Ward, who was getting in some practice on the art of enjoying a party with her dad, Senator Barry Ward.

Little Robin was the centre of attention the following night when proud father Barry and his wife Aoife McLoughlin-Ngo threw a shindig in Dún Laoghaire in her honour.

Fine Gaelers in Leinster House were invited to a “Full Moon Party introducing our daughter” at the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Barry is very fond of the place.

He had his wedding reception there last August and it was also the venue for his engagement party the previous September.

“That baby’s had more outings than the Taoiseach,” giggled one guest.

Barry’s full moon soirée was not modelled on the infamous sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll Thai all-nighters. Couldn’t be having that in the Royal Irish.

We hope they served Jaffa Cakes.

“Full moon…half moon….”

Senators rebel against Government over disabilities Bill

While Leinster House was up in a heap on Tuesday over Ryan Tubridy’s appearance before the Public Accounts Committee, a mini-rebellion against the Government was happening in the Seanad.

The revolt was over Independent senator Tom Clonan’s Bill to legally oblige the State to provide treatment and support to people with disabilities. He is seeking to amend the existing law where people are entitled to an assessment of needs but not to the services which would address those needs.

“We are the only country in the European Union, for shame, where there is no legal obligation on the State whatsoever to treat, support or provide therapies or interventions to a disabled citizen,” said Senator Clonan, in a passionate and compelling speech introducing the Bill.

“That is why tens of thousands of children and young adults are being failed by this State. These young children are waiting years – way beyond the therapeutic window – for speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy. These children are deteriorating and suffering life-altering, suboptimal outcomes on every measure, such as poverty, homelessness and social isolation and it is completely and utterly unnecessary.”

As he spoke, his family, including his son Eoghan, who suffers from neuromuscular disease, watched from the public gallery.

He told the Upper House that Eoghan had to wait until he was 17 for surgery which should have been carried out when he was 12 or 13, resulting in years of pain and restricted breathing which has compromised him for life.

But while welcoming the proposed law in principle and having nothing but praise for the senator’s work to secure rights for disabled children and adults, the Government tabled an amendment proposing that the Bill be put back for a year, effectively killing it.

Speaker after speaker supported the new law, with Coalition senators arguing weakly and unconvincingly that the 12-month deferral was merited.

Then Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne said he would not be supporting the Government in the vote.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s Senator Michael Carrigy, who was at the media committee’s hearing with Tubridy, received a text from Clonan telling him the vote was imminent. The chair of the Oireachtas autism committee and long-time campaigner for disability rights left the meeting and rushed to the Upper House.

Senator Michael McDowell was in no doubt that the amendment would “kill the Bill”. However, he saw a way out for his Government colleagues: they could refuse to appoint tellers. Four are needed for a vote to take place, two from each side. Without the required number of tellers from the Tá side the amendment was lost and the Bill passed second stage and on to committee stage.

And as no vote took place the Government senators could not be accused of defying the whip.

When cathaoirleach Jerry Buttimer called the vote a number of Government senators approached Minister of State Anne Rabbitte, who was representing the Minister, Roderic O’Gorman.

The group, including Carrigy, Byrne, Mary Seery-Kearney and Erin McGeehan, went out to the anteroom with the Minister to continue discussions before deciding not to appoint tellers.

Afterwards, politicians lined up to congratulate Senator Clonan. In his closing speech, he said to the Government senators: “When you leave, I ask you to walk past that young man, our family, and come back in here and vote.”

They did. And they voted not to kill the Bill.

“There was a lot of unhappiness about this timed amendment. A number of Government colleagues said they wouldn’t vote for it,” said Senator Carrigy afterwards. “I feel very strong about this – we need to change the Disability Act and we need to provide services. We need to support all children with needs.”

The rejection of the amendment was raised on the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night. Nobody challenged the senators’ decision.

Varadkar clinically acknowledges unfair treatment of Shatter

In the quiet shallows of Questions on Promised Legislation on Wednesday afternoon, former Fine Gael minister Charlie Flanagan asked the Fine Gael Taoiseach a question about another former Fine Gael minister, Alan Shatter.

“As we approach the summer recess, Can I raise with the Taoiseach an issue concerning a former distinguished member of this House, deputy Alan Shatter. The Taoiseach will be aware of decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal that stated quite categorically that Mr Shatter was wronged and grievously so. That he was poorly treated in the context of his demise as a cabinet minister and a member of this House. This is an issue that should be redressed and resolved. The discredited Guerin report is still an official record of this House. In the context of current matters, would the Taoiseach like to comment on how this redress might be put right?”

Leo Varadkar didn’t quite say “I’m glad you asked me that question” but he had a prepared statement on hand to read into the Dáil record.

“In May 2014, a report of the government-established non-statutory inquiry – the Guerin report – was published and was critical of Mr Shatter’s conduct as minister for justice and equality. The Government acknowledges that Alan Shatter’s conduct as minister was subsequently vindicated by the O’Higgins commission in its report, which was published in May 2016. Moreover, in legal proceedings that culminated in a decision of the Supreme Court in February 2019, it was found that Mr Shatter had not been afforded fair procedures in the course of the inquiry. Certainly, in my view, Mr Shatter was not fairly treated by an organ of the State. I want to acknowledge that in the chamber today.”

Short, sweet and very clinical.

In December 2020, Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, told the Dáil that a redacted copy of the Guerin report – without the paragraphs containing the adverse findings against the former minister for justice – would be placed in the Oireachtas library along with the full text of the Supreme Court judgment.

At the time, Alan Shatter said he was disappointed that “the taoiseach failed to publicly acknowledge and to apologise for the damage wrongly inflicted on my reputation”.

On Wednesday, he didn’t get that Government apology and the statement made no reference to the Guerin report, but at least Alan now knows that Leo thinks he was unfairly treated.