Poignant scenes on Wednesday at the meeting of the Oireachtas media committee when members prepared all morning for their close-ups only to discover that nobody wanted to see them any more.
What happened to those heady days of cameras at the gates of Leinster House, endless requests for interviews, packed public galleries, members jostling for position and non-members begging for some airtime before the end of the session?
The TDs and Senators were feeling most unloved when they gathered for their lunchtime meeting having scoured the popular press for early analysis of their latest session and found none.
Niamh Smyth, chair of the committee, looked her usual glamorous self, as did her glitzy suited colleagues – or at least those who managed to turn up.
Why had the limelight forsaken them?
This week the committee was engaging with Coimisiún na Meán (the new media commission) on its 2023 programme. Exciting stuff indeed, with hot topics such as online safety, the future of the media and Artificial Intelligence up for discussion.
Not one member of the media turned up.
The gallery was deserted.
Members drifted in and out in dribs and drabs. With five witnesses at their disposal, the TDs and Senators dispatched them all in under two hours.
Only last week, the public couldn’t get enough of their resumed examination into the “transparency of RTÉ's expenditure of public funds and governance issues”. The witnesses were from RTÉ.
This week, tumbleweed.
“Huh. If it was about flip-flops or Renault cars they’d be all over us,” shrugged a disappointed Senator.
Breast is best at the Áras
It’s all go above in Áras an Uachtaráin these days.
Sabina Higgins was centre stage on Wednesday morning when she hosted her annual “latching-on” reception aimed at raising awareness of the low rates of breastfeeding in Ireland and increasing supports to mothers.
One hundred breastfeeding mothers took part in the event, along with representatives from Cuidiú, La Leche League of Ireland, Friends of Breastfeeding, Baby Feeding Law Group Ireland, Bainne Beatha and the HSE.
Sabina was the main speaker on the morning but her husband, Michael D Higgins, also took the opportunity to say a few words.
The occasion turned into a family event for the Higginses when Senator Alice-Mary Higgins arrived with her three-month old baby boy, Finn Aimhirghin, who was making his first public appearance in the most salubrious of surroundings.
The event highlighted the link between breastfeeding and the 17 sustainable development goals endorsed by almost all the world leaders in 2015. Breastfeeding is a vital key towards the achievement of the goals of ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring security and inclusive prosperity for all the world’s citizens.
Meanwhile, away from the patter of tiny feet to the thud of a weighty hardback landing on lino. President Higgins has launched a second volume of his Machnamh 100 “Centenary Reflections” – a super soaraway bumper compendium of the writings and thoughts of Michael D and a host of leading scholars.
“Machnamh 100 is an initiative of President Higgins that builds on his extensive work to date during Ireland’s Decade of Commemorations that has examined and explored seminal events such as the Lockout of 1913, the first World War, The Easter Rising, the flu pandemic, the election of 1918 and the First Dáil” says the blurb.
Both volumes of the ebook can be downloaded free. Check out the President’s website president.ie.
A limited number of physical copies will be available in public libraries and universities. The book brings together the speeches and discussions, chaired by Dr John Bowman, at Michael D’s series of six Machnamh 100 seminars looking at the events of a century ago.
Bound and boxed copies of Volume ll (a very handsome tome) were delivered to members of the Oireachtas this week.
Whether they liked it or not.
McDowell swims against the GRA tide
As might be expected, Senator Michael McDowell gave a rousing speech on law and order during the debate on Fianna Fáil’s Something-Has-To-Be-Done motion on crime and policing.
While stressing his entire support for everything in the motion, he was keen at the outset to put on record his “full confidence” in beleaguered Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.
“This House should respect him and support him because he is bringing about effective change in a force which I, as a former minister for justice, know needs reform and change. Different rosters are needed. He should not be in a position where he has to take the flak for reforms that are badly needed.”
Senator McDowell’s view is wholeheartedly shared by 1 per cent of rank-and-file officers.
The remaining 99 per cent recently voted no confidence in their boss in a bitter dispute over returning to pre-Covid rosters.
But then, McDowell has history with the Garda Representative Association (GRA).
“I remember when I proposed the introduction of a Garda reserve – with all-party support – GRA representatives saying they would wait in the long grass for me,” he told the Seanad. This was back in 2006, when the GRA was running a vigorous campaign against the proposal.
At their annual conference that year, the organisation’s newly elected president, John Egan, caused consternation at government level when he suggested that gardaí would target Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat TDs in marginal constituencies at the next general election as part of their push to force the government to drop its plans for a part-time reserve.
He told reporters at the conference: “We will be waiting in the long grass.”
Abject apologies swiftly followed from Egan and the GRA’s then-general secretary PJ Stone, after commissioner Noel Conroy carpeted them in his office over an alleged breach of disciplinary regulations and the minister for justice warned that members who followed their president’s advice could be sacked for engaging in political activities in breach of their oath as members of the force.
And for the first time in 28 years, the GRA decided not to invite McDowell to address the conference. A spokesperson denied this was a snub as he had been invited to the dinner.
That threat about waiting in the electoral long grass for politicians died a death in a couple of days. But it seems the grass has never stopped growing in Ranelagh.
As relations deteriorate between the commissioner and the rank-and-file with threats of “Drew flu” strike action on the horizon, the former tánaiste and leader of the PDs urged fellow Senators “to remember that we must support the institutions of the State, and the commissioner of An Garda Síochána is one of them.”
Meanwhile, the current dispute between the GRA and the commissioner appears to be deepening, with GRA general secretary Ronan Slevin dismissing their meeting earlier this week as “a complete waste of time” and describing the association’s relationship with Drew Harris as “irreparable”.
Here’s McDowell again: “He deserves support. He deserves the support of the Government and he deserves parliamentary support.”
Water protests resurface
Incidentally, McDowell, who is a senior counsel, made an interesting observation further on in his speech when addressing the sinister, threatening and obnoxious behaviour of protesters outside Leinster House two weeks ago.
He referred to the ordeal suffered by former tánaiste Joan Burton and her colleague when they were trapped in their car for hours during a water protest in Jobstown nine years ago.
“I will not repeat the language here, but it was foul and abusive, to which she and her colleagues were subjected on that occasion. Not merely that, but threats were made to them. The policing on that occasion was very poor indeed.”
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy took part in the demo and was subsequently tried and acquitted on charges of false imprisonment. Since then, he blindly refuses to accept there is any similarity between his actions on that occasion and recent events when people have been intimidated and impeded by protesters.
“If we go back to what happened afterwards, a kidnapping charge was put against one member of the House and others, which was a ridiculous over-reaction” said McDowell. “The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994 makes what happened there an offence. It gives every guard the right to order people who behave like that and the people who were outside the gates of this place to disperse.”
Alarming instances of mattress abuse have been highlighted by concerned county councillors in Wexford.
At their September meeting, members of the Rosslare Municipal District shone a light on this distressing practice, with one councillor revealing that a local company is “beating the sh**e out of mattresses” on a regular basis.
Simon Bourke of the Wexford People has a riveting account of the proceedings in the latest edition. Elected representatives are up in arms with planners over two long-running issues: the stench of excrement from a piggery in Killinick and the activities of a metal recycling company in Kilrane Business Park.
Cllr Ger Carthy was spitting feathers over the mattress recycling facility. For more than two years, nearby residents have been complaining about unacceptable noise levels and they also allege that the company is operating outside of permitted hours.
A year of meetings has passed since he asked how the council could “allow this company to recycle mattresses in an area where the people can’t sleep at night”.
It seems nothing has changed since then.
“They’re beating the sh**e out of mattresses down there on behalf of Wexford County Council, across from a housing estate. It isn’t acceptable, I’ve had enough of it,” fumed Carthy (Independent). “I want our legal team present at the next meeting and I want a solution as to how this is going to be stopped because they’re in breach of their planning.”
He claimed the local authority’s planning and environment departments are aware of the situation but are unwilling to act.
“You can do what you like in this county in regards to planning; you can build a nursing home today, turn it back into a hostel, and then into a refugee centre. You can put mattresses in a place, beat the sh**e out of them in it, and no one cares. They’re out of control.”
But the council is not willing to take the rap for wholesale mattrecide in the sunny southeast.
Senior Engineer Gerry Forde “clarified” that WCC has sent no mattresses to Kilrane Business Park to have the sh**e bet out of them.
Perish the thought.
They dispatch them to Longford instead.
Meanwhile, councillors continue to raise a stink over the piggeries.
“The smell of pig sh*t in Drinagh and Taghmon,” said Cllr Carthy, moving on. “These are ongoing issues which the executive of WCC hasn’t dealt with. How are we going to progress legal action against those pig farms?”
Cllr Jim Codd (Independent) drew on personal experience of the pong from the piggeries, describing a recent visit to the nearby Coal Bunker Bar as difficult to stomach.
“I went down to see The Wolfe Tones there during the summer and they had to close every window in the pub to keep the smell of the pigs out. It would blind you, and I come from a farming background.”
From Electric Picnic in Laois to Electric Pignic in Wexford.
Fair play to The Wolfies.
No bother to them being around a bad smell.