The Ceann Comhairle hosted a dinner in the Members’ Restaurant on Thursday to raise funds for Cliona’s Foundation, a national charity which provides financial assistance to families with children who have life-limiting conditions.
It was founded by Brendan and Terry Ring after their daughter Cliona died from an inoperable brain tumour at the age of 15. Since its launch in 2007, the Limerick-based charity has raised more than €3.5 million and helped more than 1,200 families across 31 counties.
Brendan and Terry spent eight years in and out of hospital with Cliona and have first-hand experience of the day-to-day difficulties faced by people in this all-consuming situation.
Seán Ó Fearghaíl told guests about the service provided by the foundation to families struggling to cope with the crushing non-medical expenses which go along with caring for a child with chronic and complex needs.
He said that the charity, which gets no State funding and relies entirely on fundraising events, is inundated with requests for assistance.
The night was compered by TV presenter and fashion designer Brendan Courtney. The Ceann Comhairle was mortified when he referred to him as “Ryan” Courtney. An understandable slip, giving the ongoing obsession in Leinster House with all RTÉ and Tubridy-related matters.
Brendan, one of the main subs on the broadcasting bench filling in on Ryan’s vacant morning radio slot, hosted a discussion after the meal on a theme of life challenges, leadership and women in sport.
His guest panel included John Kiely, Limerick senior hurling manager, and Kellie Harrington, world champion boxer and Olympic gold medallist, who was there with her wife and biggest supporter, Mandy.
Introducing singer, songwriter and former Westmeath and Leinster rugby star Niall Breslin, the tall, svelte and chiselled Ceann Comhairle said he was sick and tired of people asking him if he is related to Bressie because they look so alike.
Minister of State for Children Anne Rabbitte came along to lend her support.
A few bob from her end mightn’t go amiss either.
Tick tock Tánaiste
“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”
Fianna Fáil’s answer to the White Rabbit bustled into the chamber to take Leaders’ Questions on Thursday. Busy man. Always rushing somewhere.
Before Micheál Martin got down to answers on promised legislation, he joined Labour leader Ivana Bacik in welcoming a group of students from the High School in Rathgar who were in the public gallery as part of their tour of Leinster House.
“We thank them for their presence here and hope that some of them will emerge in the not-too-distant future as members of this House.”
Already, time was slipping away as most of the Opposition TDs, much to the Ceann Comhairle’s frustration, had wandered well over their allocated speaking slots.
Seán Ó Fearghaíl glanced up at the potential TDs of the future. “I hope they are better able to read the clock than the ones we have here at the moment.”
The Tánaiste seemed to take this as a personal observation on his own timekeeping.
“It’s been one of my lifelong difficulties, a Cheann Comhairle,” confessed Micheál, out of the blue.
“When I used to attend secondary school, I was always five minutes late and my twin brother was always five minutes early, to which at the end of my sixth year in school the deputy principal, totally flummoxed by this, said: ‘Is it that you only had one spoon to eat the egg?’ So that’s the story of my life. I apologise when I get here a minute too late.”
We have always wondered why young Micheál’s nickname when he was a schoolboy in Turners Cross was “Ducky”.
Maybe that preschool breakfast with the one spoon was a duck egg.
In an interview with The Irish Times a number of years ago the Fianna Fáil leader spoke about his strong friendship with his twin brother when they were growing up.
“I was the extrovert. He’d kind of back me up physically.”
This might explain why Paudie got the spoon – and to school – first.
Could a posthumous pardon be on the way for Michael?
It would be music to the ears of all the rugby fans slaughtering The Fields of Athenry in Paris this weekend, singing about poor Michael having been taken away by crown forces in the middle of the night for stealing Trevelyan’s corn so his chislers wouldn’t die of starvation.
Fianna Fáil TD for Clare Cathal Crowe is fighting for Mary’s husband (she was left to raise their child with dignity after Michael was transported to Australia) and other starving innocents who suffered at the hands of the foreign invader during the Famine.
He recently tabled a question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs asking him to “ask the British government to posthumously pardon all Irish people convicted for food theft and other hunger-related crimes during the Great Famine” and also to make a statement to the Dáil on the matter.
Micheál Martin wrote back at length, delighted for the chance to mention his speech at the National Famine Commemoration in 2022 and his remarks that An Gorta Mór – the Great Famine – had a profound impact on Irish life and society and “its indelible marks are still there in our culture, our society, our politics and our place in the wider world”.
He said that the work of the National Famine Commemoration Committee and the annual memorial day commemorating An Gorta Mór is crucial in ensuring that Famine victims and the long legacy of the Famine will not be forgotten.
He mentioned Ireland’s “leading role” today in efforts to fight food insecurity worldwide. This is the best way we can honour those who suffered in the past.
And what about looking for that posthumous pardon?
The Tánaiste recalled a statement issued by then British prime minister Tony Blair in 1997 which acknowledged that those “who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy”.
Nothing about justice for all from around the fields of Athenry and everywhere else.
Our revenge will be in the singing of our supporters.
The Fields, Zombie and Corn Free.
One suspects that Baron Frost of Allenton, the overpromoted peer who served as Boris Johnson’s Brexit attack poodle, would not have much time for the likes of Cathal Crowe and his talk of British apologies for past wickedness.
David Frost was very put out this week after reading a report in the Daily Telegraph about comments made by the Taoiseach at the summit of European leaders in Spain.
Leo Varadkar was asked if he was concerned at some of the views emanating from the Tory party conference, including threats to abandon the European Convention on Human Rights.
“I am, to be honest,” he replied.
“The Britain and United Kingdom that I love and admire, it is the country of the Magna Carta, the country that founded parliamentary democracy and the country that helped to write the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said.
“And it does bother me to see the United Kingdom disengaging from the world, whether it’s reducing its budget for international aid, whether it’s leaving the European Union, and now even talking about withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, that’s not the Britain I know.”
Frost, a formerly unremarkable diplomat who turned cheerleader for the EU single market as head of the Scotch Whisky Association until he was appointed chief Brexit negotiator for the UK and is now an unrepentant proponent of the shambles he produced, took a very dim view of Leo’s crisp analysis.
He took to the Tweet Machine immediately.
“Maybe the Taoiseach would like to reflect on how much the UK has provided to Ukraine, or indeed how much his own, neutral, country depends on others, including the UK, to defend it, before making points like these.
“We would all be better served if more Irish politicians concentrated on governing their own county instead of pontificating to others,” he pontificated because pontificating is something he is actually good at.
There has been no reaction from Merrion Street. Leo Varadkar, no slouch when it comes to social media, didn’t dignify the comments with a response. However, a Government source finally came back to us with a one-word response.
Perhaps Lord Frost (“elevated” to the House of Lords by Johnson) was stung by the implied criticism of this week’s Conservative Party conference, where he was one of the star turns at a fringe event.
He participated in a “balloon debate” where panel members assumed the persona of a conservative politician from history and argued why they should not be thrown from the basket of an overladen balloon.
The last person left would be deemed the Guiding Light of Conservatism.
Speakers included cabinet minister Michael Gove (untitled), Brexit diehards’ favourite Frost (unelected) and former Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster, or Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee (titled and once elected).
Gove chose to represent Theodore Roosevelt and there was no messin’ from Arlene, who channelled her inner Margaret Thatcher and brought along a large handbag for the occasion.
Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator took on the mantle of Ronnie Reagan and wore a cowboy hat, which was apt.
It didn’t help him.
Michael Gove finished second while the Baroness gave both men a hand-bagging, Foster/Thatcher winning the day among the Tory faithful.