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Minister of State makes a holy show with unfortunate housing typo

Against the events of Budget 2024 and the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Four Courts started its new legal year with a secular service

When Jennifer Carroll MacNeill was preparing for her first budget as a Minister for State at the Department of Finance, she didn’t think she would be making the news for an incident unrelated to financial matters.

She took great umbrage at a pre-budget panel discussion in RTÉ when Sinn Féin whip Pádraig Mac Lochlainn told her his colleague Pearse Doherty “will put manners on you”. This was after she offered to explain to him how the Coalition’s tax cuts for workers would work.

The Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire was reportedly “spitting feathers” after the incident and left the studio for a time to compose herself.

She has since written to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald “as a member of the Oireachtas and as a fellow elected representative who is a woman” claiming Mac Lochlainn’s remarks were “misplaced and misogynistic” and asking her to address the matter “as you see fit”.


Sinn Féin’s defence is that Pádraig was not referring to Jennifer but to the Fine Gael party. It seems the Donegal TD was using a form of that well-known majestic plural, the royal we.

But the question around Leinster House was: would that not be the royal “youse”?

We are glad to report that the Minister of State carried on with her duties.

This included conducting a budget Q&A on Instagram. Here’s an absolute gem from the exercise, sadly now expired from the timeline.

“Budget 2024 – Any Questions?”

One came in from a chap hoping to get his foot on the property ladder.

“And what’s the best option to buy home for single man. Shared ownership?” he writes.

The Minister of State offers some excellent advice to this house hunter.

“Very much depends on where you’re living in the country and what you’re looking to buy, check out your local mortgage offerings or the local council schemes such as the Local Authority Home Loan or the Affordable Hole Purchase Scheme.”

We never noticed this latest initiative in our budget summary.

Need a house young man? Buy an affordable hole.

Wait until the affordable shoe scheme is launched.

It’ll be a gamechanger for old women with large families.

Under the bus

It’s been a painful budget for Stephen Donnelly and Darragh O’Brien, two Ministers who have been run over so many times by the ubiquitous Leinster House bus that they don’t need official drivers anymore.

Just a couple of stamps will suffice for the Minister for Health and the Minister for Housing. They’re flat enough now to fit through any letterbox.

The Opposition, with Sinn Féin leading the charge, spent all week saying the Government flunked its budget test on health and housing, intimating that Fine Gael’s side of the Coalition managed to throw the two Ministers under the bus during negotiations.

Many of Stephen and Darragh’s Fianna Fáil colleagues suspect this is the case.

A suspicion greatly enhanced by the swift appearance of the Taoiseach’s glossy constituency budget leaflet, rushed out in jig time after the announcements.

“Dear Constituent, Here are the top 10 things you need to know about how Budget 2024 will put money back in people’s pockets and help families with the cost of living,” writes Leo to the voters of Dublin West, outlining all the ways Fine Gael has made their lives so much better.

It’s all good news.

Putting money back in pockets through tax measures.

Cost of living supports. Free schoolbooks and a cut in childcare costs.

More gardaí.

Delivering for farmers and rural Ireland.

Backing business. Paying down the national debt and saving for the future.

Only the good news.

There’s something missing.

Varadkar’s Fianna Fáil and Green Party colleagues have scoured the Taoiseach’s budget leaflet from top to bottom.

No mention, not a single one, of housing or health.

They expect the Opposition to throw Ministers under the bus and its main line of attack has been in the areas of housing and health.

But et tu, Leo?

This is not going down well.

Mobile motion

TDs and Senators were enjoying the benefits of the Oireachtas Members’ Bar (strictly private) even more than ever this week now that the catering facilities are running at full strength again after the main kitchen closed over the summer for a refit.

A large number of TDs repaired to its plushy embrace after the midday Leaders’ Questions session on Thursday, when Tánaiste Micheál Martin was in the hot seat.

A group of Opposition deputies watched with increasing fascination as a Fianna Fáil backbencher marched to the area at the back of the bar where his party colleagues like to congregate, produced his mobile phone and began reading from it in an animated fashion.

He handed it over to them and it was passed around. Some people looked very surprised by what they read and looked very disconcerted. The group stood in urgent discussion for some time.

Micheál Martin was also in the bar, but he wasn’t shown whatever was on the phone.

The observers quickly ascertained that the TDs and Senators were shown a Fianna Fáil Seanad motion, lodged on Wednesday and signed by the party’s Upper House members, condemning the Hamas attack on Israel and listing 10 separate grounds for why the Seanad should agree to condemn Hamas.

Two lines of the lengthy motion acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to humanitarian aid under international law and that Israel has a right to defend itself from attack consistent with international law.

Alarms bells rang among the Soldiers of Destiny, not least because the Tánaiste and Taoiseach have adopted a firm Government line on this issue, unreservedly accepting Israel’s right to self-defence and condemning the Hamas atrocities while making it clear that international law must be applied and humanitarian aid to Palestine must continue.

It later transpired that not all Fianna Fáil Senators were aware of the motion. A party source said it was drafted by Timmy Dooley in the aftermath of last Saturday’s attack. It was done before the situation escalated and was primarily designed to “have a go at Sinn Féin” and that party’s support over the years for Hamas.

It was to “draw out” the party on contradictory statements by some members which appeared at odds with the leadership’s condemnation of Hamas’s depraved actions last weekend.

The motion has now been “updated” and is expected to be “an all-Government mention” when statements on the crisis are held in the Seanad later this week. Micheál Martin is expected to address the Upper House on Thursday morning.

Minute’s silence

Frances Black struggled to maintain her composure in the Seanad on Wednesday when she talked about the experience of sisters Lara and Yara Alagha – “two brilliant and kind young women” – who are known to many in the Oireachtas.

Lara works for the Green Party and is currently TD Noel Frances Duffy’s parliamentary political adviser. Until recently, Yara worked for the Seanad’s Civil Engagement Group.

“This morning, 10 members of the Alagha family were killed by an Israeli bombing of their house in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. I am trying not to get emotional,” said Frances, expressing the Seanad’s sympathy to Lara, Yara and their family by reading the names of the those who died into the record.

They ranged in age from 61 years to one year and 21 days.

The Irish-born sisters, who went to St Paul’s secondary school in Greenhills, Dublin, and are graduates of Trinity College and UCD, have been around Leinster House for a number of years. Last year, Yara was listed in an Irish Independent list of ‘22 activists to watch in 2022′.

“I was crying my eyes out when I heard this. They are two beautiful identical twins we know and love,” one Seanad worker said.

Yara tweeted to the three Coalition leaders on Friday, pleading for their help: “My cousin Ibrahim Alagha, his wife & three children (all Irish citizens) are in Khan Younis. Their home destroyed & have no where to go. They’re desperate & terrified. No way of contacting embassy.

“This is the last message he sent to me. Please help them leave. He has three babies. ‘Can you let the world know we are starving, no water, no food, no electricity’.”

On Wednesday, the Seanad observed a minute’s silence for the members of Lara and Yara’s family and for all the people who have died so far in this terrible conflict.

Broad church

They are thrice blessed now in the Four Courts.

Ready to tackle the new legal year with holy and secular guidance lighting the path for cases to come.

Thrice blessed, though it seems some are more blessed than others.

October 1st saw the beginning of the Michaelmas term and with it the traditional “Red Mass” for m’learned parishioners at St Michan’s Church in nearby Halston Street. A parallel service was held at the St Michan’s Church of Ireland church on, er, Church Street.

This year there was a third ceremony – a secular one, the first ever. Not before time, some would say.

Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell, Attorney General Rossa Fanning and chief executive of the Courts Service Angela Denning addressed the congregation.

O’Donnell said the ceremony “begins a new tradition in a country with no established church”. While the religious services provided a valuable and beautiful opportunity for quiet reflection and challenging thoughts, there was “some discomfort” with the idea of the opening of the new legal year being associated, by default, with religion.

He introduced the secular element after establishing a committee to discuss the idea last year.

But while the Round Hall of the Four Courts proved a commodious cathedral, it does not have the seating capacity of the two churches. Invites went out to senior members of the judiciary, the Bar Council and Law Society along with judges from the Court of Justice of the EU and judges and lawyers from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We hear several high-level noses are very out of joint, not least among a number of retired judges and assorted legal big wigs who did not get an invite.