Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year That Was.......

Former Taoiseach and Ireland's favourite northsider Bertie Ahern put Tina Turner and Luciano Pavarotti to shame this year - by staging the longest career goodbye ever seen in Ireland.

Thanks to the Mahon Tribunal, Bertie Ahern had been walking on a tightrope for some time and it was a case of 'when' rather than 'if' he would bow out of politics.

The spectacle of seeing the Taoiseach of Ireland being probed by senior lawyers about his personal finances as far back as 20 years ago became too much for his colleagues in Fianna Fail and for the Irish people in general.

Love him or loath him - his credibility was quickly eroding and he was taking the Fianna Fail party down with him.

But it was only after his former secretary Grainne Carruth was forced to tears in the witness box at the Mahon Tribunal that Bertie did the honourable thing and stood down.

While this move was expected, in true Bertie style he stunned everyone with his shock announcement that he was going.

So at a hastily arranged press conference on the morning of April 2 last, Mr Ahern announced that he would step down from the office of Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fail on May 6.

And so came the long goodbye. Tributes flooded in from political heavyweights such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. His achievements and failures in politics were the subject of post mortems in newspapers, on radio waves, on TV and in pubs throughout the country.

The lap of honour spread from his constituency in Drumcondra to the US Congress where he gave his historic speech to the Joint Houses on April 30.

While all this was going on, his heir apparent - Brian Cowen - was waiting in the wings preparing to take over.

It was a seamless and trouble-free transition - nobody else in the party launched a campaign against Cowen, though some may have liked the opportunity to do so.

Cowen's ascension into office was also a lavish affair - parties in Dublin, parties in Clara, parties in Tullamore. But the one party that was suffering through all of this was the Fianna Fail party.

The long goodbye and the heaving hello by Bertie and Brian was taking place at a time when the party's attention should have been focused on getting the Lisbon Treaty passed.

Because of all the celebrations and commiserations, the Government was late off the blocks in campaigning for a Yes vote. Fine Gael and Labour stole the march yet were treated with arrogant condescension any time they accused the Government of not pulling their weight.

It was a confused campaign. The Yes side was on the defensive all of the time, thanks in no small way to Libertas' mysterious leader Declan Ganley.

Ganley led the No campaign and led the agenda on Lisbon - all the Government could do was respond to their allegations.

Many believe that the Government itself was responsible for the No vote in the Lisbon referendum - they had bigger fish to fry at the time making sure that the Ahern/Cowen transition was seamless.

Bertie Ahern was at the helm as Ireland enjoyed the excesses of the Celtic Tiger economy. He was at the helm when property developers were bathing in more money than they could ever dream of.

But now the hangover has been left to Brian Cowen to deal with.

As Ollie Hardy said to Stan Laurel, so said Brian Cowen to Bertie Ahern - 'well here's another nice mess you've gotten me into'.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hot and Not in 2008

What a year it has been in Irish politics! Bye Bye Bertie, Hello Brian; two fingers to Lisbon and to hell with the begrudgers; and the long swim down the swanee for the Irish economy.

So to mark the end of 2008, let's pay homage to the good, the bad and the downright unfortunate of the Year in Politics.

LEADER OF THE YEAR: Eamon Gilmore.

Not much competition for this title. Enda Kenny, on a good day, can be excellent but he lay too low during the early phase of the banking crisis to be a real contender for this role. Gilmore has shown solid consistency throughout the year.


Why? I hear you ask. Considering that none of the Ministers did anything to deserve this award this year, the fact that O Cuiv took on a bunch of protesting students shows that there is more to the mild-mannered, bi-spectacled politician than we thought there was. Be afraid, be very afraid!


If a member of the Government breaks wind, Varad the Impaler is there to give his tuppence worth. There are plenty of other fine Fine Gael TDs so why is it that Varadkar is always wheeled out as the attack dog?


“You are neither able nor qualified to evaluate that evidence.” – Taoiseach Brian Cowen to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny in May 2008.


All hail Deputy Behan for putting principles before politics and voting with his heart following the budget cutbacks. It wasn’t just the attempt to swipe the medical card from all over 70s that prompted Joe to leave the Fianna Fail party but other cutbacks in areas such as education. Joe is now an Independent TD and can be guaranteed a future in politics as a result of his actions.


The multi-talented Independent TD long had a special relationship with the Government in terms of getting things done in his local constituency. But when he withdrew his support from the Government following the harsh October budget, the Government withdrew his membership of a Dail committee. But McGrath has soldiered on forming what some political wags term his very own ‘Finian’s Rainbow Coalition’.


Poor Dick – all he was doing was taking an early morning dip when he found himself with a gun in his back and used as a human shield by a bunch of raiders. But in true political style, he milked his trauma to ensure that he had the headlines in the papers at a time when Irish banks were close to collapse. In fact, the bold Dick even managed to hit the headlines in news organisations as varied as the Houston Chronicle, CNN International and BBC News.


When the Mayo motormouth stands up to speak, everyone listens because they know they are in for an entertaining few minutes. No TD ever gets as worked up, as passionate and as entertaining as the Ring Master from Mayo. And when he utters the immortal words: “I’m tellin’ ya now, Minister” – you know you are on Quality Street.


As Minister for Justice, he kept his head down and was considered a quiet success there. But from the frying pan he was tossed into the fire by new Taoiseach Brian Cowen and has been burning like a bonfire ever since. He must be asking himself what he ever did to deserve the poison chalice of Finance. I bet Health is looking like an attractive portfolio to him now.


There is only one heavy-weight in the Dail and there is no one who can take him on and escape without a battering and that is Taoiseach Brian Cowen. Love him or loath him, you can only admire his dogged determination, his ‘my way or the highway’ attitude and his withering one-liners aimed at the opposition. And a note to the critics – he is NOT Bertie and he never will be Bertie.


Sinn Fein’s Dail leader isn’t given a lot of time to speak in the House but when he does, the one thing that is closest to his heart is Monaghan Hospital. That has been his cause for years and he has reason to fight for its survival – it fought for his survival when he had a bit of heart trouble himself a few years back.

DAIL WORKERS OF THE YEAR: The ushers in Leinster House and the staff of the Dail bar. Now they are two groups of people who actually earn a proper living in Leinster House and they deserve every cent!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

An Expensive Stink

A smell can be a nasty thing but as Environment Minister John Gormley has proven, a smell can be bloody expensive too.

Over the weekend, homes across his own constituency of Dublin South East were targeted by a leaflet drop by the Green Minister saying how he is to spend €35m getting rid of the stink that is coming from the nearby Sewage Treatment plant in the area.

The money is being made available to Dublin City Council to attack the cause of the foul smell that has been getting up the noses of local constituents for some time.

And the work by Dublin City Council should be done by the end of this month, bringing in a fragrant new aroma for the New Year.

It is about time that something was done about the stink emanating from the Sewage Treatment Plant but €35m seems like an awful lot of money just to clear the air.

One opposition TD in the constituency, Labour's Ruairi Quinn, said that if Minister Gormley can spend €35m 'on a stink', he can surely afford to spend €1m on funding a Judicial Review so that members of the local community can challenge the construction of an incinerator in court.

"Minister Gormley has so far refused to do that," he said.

The Green Minister has come under increasing pressure since the green light was given for the construction of the incinerator at Poolbeg.

He had campaigned against it in the run-up to the 2007 general election and had objected to the incinerator being sited there.

However, on becoming Minister for the Environment following the general election, he claimed he was precluded from getting involved in any planning issues.

Maybe if there is some change left out of the €35m ‘stink money’, it could be put to good use to fulfilling the promise Gormley made before the election – dealing with the incinerator for once and for all.

Quick March - Fine Gael style!

The press machine inside Fine Gael HQ has always been a tightly run operation – in fact, they never miss a trick.

But things are set to take on an almost ‘military-like’ approach with the arrival into the ranks of the party’s new Deputy Director of Communications – none other than former Defence Forces Press Officer Commandant Feargal Purcell.

Feargal has decided to leave his 18-year career in the Defence Forces to join Fine Gael as they begin their march on Government office.

And he wouldn’t be the first former Army man to make the leap from action man to spin-meister – current Government Press Secretary Eoin O’Neachtain is a former Army Press Officer with distinguished services behind him as well.

Feargal, a native of Kilkenny, is no stranger to in-fighting, hidden landmines and crossfire (he served four tours of duty overseas in places such as Lebanon and Bosnia) so he should fit into the Fine Gael press operation with no problem.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is delighted that Feargal made the leap from defending the country to defending Fine Gael.

“I know that Feargal will bring a sense of enthusiasm and a range of different experiences to the job,” he said this week.

“As Fine Gael prepares itself for the upcoming local and European elections, and the next general election whenever that may happen, the addition of Feargal to our team is a clear sign of our intention to be ready for all the challenges that lie ahead of us,” he said.

Political Parties

The political party ‘parties’ may be thin on the ground this year because of the economy – but there is certainly a huge amount of Christmas cheer around Leinster House.

In keeping with tradition, the giant Christmas tree was put up in the lobby of Leinster House at the start of this week and surrounded by red and white poinsettias.

And if that wasn’t enough, there was another giant tree put up in the general cafeteria of the House to bring a bit of Christmas cheer to the weary workers who ply their trade in the corridors of power.

And on the subject of Christmas, at the time of going to print – the only Christmas party on the agenda is the Fine Gael do.

Cutbacks and clawbacks are the order of the day among the different government departments.

The largesse shown in recent years has well and truly been put to bed.

And Taoiseach Brian Cowen is starting at the top – the traditional Christmas lunch for the Political Correspondents at Farmleigh has been cancelled!

I guess a mince pie and a cup of cocoa will just have to do this year!

Lights, Camera - Hot Air!!!

Attention budding Spielbergs, Stones and Scorceses – the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas needs you.

Yup, our parliament has invited tenders to design and produce a short film to outline and promote the work of the Oireachtas, together with providing a short historical record of the history and the architecture of Leinster House.

But you better hurry up, the closing date for tenders is December 17 next.

Already, political wags have been quick to come up with titles for the film, such as The Life of Brian and The Muppet Show!

I’m sure an Academy Award will be waiting for this latest blockbuster from Leinster House!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

To ask or not to ask - that's the question!!

Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan – stand up and take a bow!!

For the Kildare North Fine Gael TD has won the 2008 Star-sponsored Battle of the Inquisitors.

It is no secret that it is a hobby horse of this writer to take notice of the number of parliamentary questions being asked by some politicians.

There are some TDs who you wouldn’t hear a peep out of, yet there are others who take their role very seriously and use every arm of the State to ask questions.

And then there is Bernard Durkan, the affable Fine Gaeler who this week – whether known or unknown to him – celebrated tabling his 1,000th parliamentary question since the start of the new Dail session last September.

A quick look-back through the questions that Deputy Durkan tables on a regular basis reveals that he is the man to go to when it comes to finding out the status of a residency application or an asylum application.

It’s hard work and judging by the number of questions he has asked since September – it is expensive work.

To quote Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, ‘the cost of submitting another question will be a couple of hundred euro’.

So now that Bernard has reached the historic 1,000th question, it is time to look at those who almost made it.

1. Bernard Durkan – 1,018 questions (estimated cost based on Enda Kenny’s assessment of €203,600)
2. Enda Kenny – 608 questions (estimated cost €121,600)
3. Paul Kehoe – 502 questions (estimated cost €100,400)
4. Michael Ring – 362 questions (estimated cost €72,400)
5. Leo Varadkar – 345 questions (estimated cost €69,000)
6. Denis Naughten – 214 questions (estimated cost €42,000)
7. Fergus O’Dowd – 161 questions (estimated cost €32,200)
8. Alan Shatter – 110 questions (estimated cost €22,000)
9. David Stanton – 107 questions (estimated cost €21,400)
10. James Bannon – 69 questions (estimated cost €13,800)

In search of Carla

We are now only weeks away of being told that Lisbon 2 is officially on the way officially and in advance of this storm, Taoiseach Brian Cowen has embarked on a jet-setting tour of Europe.

Yesterday (WED), he jetted off for Luxembourg for a meeting with the Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean Claude Juncker. Then it was off to Berlin for an evening meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Today it was off to London to meet with the man he seems to have a lot in common with, under-fire Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

And tomorrow he will pack his back and head off to Paris for a meeting with the small-but-perfectly-formed French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

It’s as yet unknown whether the fragrant Carla Bruni will be in Paris with her husband for his meeting with Cowen.

Cowen and Sarkozy have met on a number of occasions over the past six months – surely it’s about time he was introduced to the main attraction!!

Nappies n' politics

Good things come to all those who wait!

Just two weeks ago in this column, we reported on Fine Gael Deputy Tom Sheahan’s effort to give a little back to his own community by donating 5% of his TDs salary to a local charity.

Well we are glad to report that Tom has been celebrating his own bit of good news this week – the arrival of his baby daughter Sarah.

Tom and his wife Mary are no strangers to the pitter patter of tiny feet – they already have three children.

But there was a gap of a few years between their youngest and the newest arrival.

Little Sarah made her debut at Tralee General Hospital at the weekend.

No doubt, the Sheahan’s will have ready-made babysitters in Kate (13), Tommy (11) and Laura (8).

Congrats to Tom and Mary.

Scrooge Almighty

Ah yes, the recession is taking a bite out of the Christmas cheer among civil servants and Government Departments this year.

Not only are large Christmas parties cancelled but Scrooge Almighty as ruled that all departmental Christmas cards are to be axed.

So if you are used to getting a Christmas card from the Department of Finance thanking you for all the money you have paid in taxes throughout the year – forget it. You won’t get it!!!

I suppose they will resort to the pathetic use of the internet to send their Christmas messages!!

Come back Santa, all is forgiven!

Girl Power in the Corridors of Power

Fine Gael Senator Frances Fitzgerald has been lamenting the lack of ‘Girl Power’ in Leinster House – and she’s right.

“The current situation in relation to female representation in the Dáil and
Seanad is a disgrace for our representative democracy and even more so when consideration is given to the fact that our ranking in world terms has slipped 50 places over the last three general elections, from 36th place in 1997 to 60th place in 2003 and 87th in 2007,” she tells us.

And its sad but true.

Out of a possible 166 Dail seats, female TDs fill just 22 (13%) of them – a figures that has risen by a meagre 1% in the last 10 years.

“In Countess Markevich, Ireland once had the first female Cabinet Minister in Europe Our figures on women’s political representation are now comparable with the countries of the Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa, rather than those of our European counterparts and averages for America and Asia,” she said.

Monday, December 1, 2008

New 'Political' Irish

Next June’s local elections will see some interesting candidates running for all parties – thanks to the ‘new Irish’.

Take the Green Party, for example, they will be forwarding a multi-cultural team to choose from, including Tendai Madondo, originally from Zimbabwe and running in Tallaght South; Paul Osikoya, originally from Nigeria and running in Tuam; John Hardt, originally from Chicago and running in Kildare; Alex Peter Ivanoff, originally from Russia and running in Bailieborough and George Enyoazu, originally from Nigeria and running in Dundalk.

Click to vote

Barack Obama transformed election campaigning through his use of the Internet and it seems that Labour Senator Alex White is learning from the success of the US President-Elect.

Alex has been chosen as the Labour candidate to contest the Dublin South by-election to replace the seat left vacant following the death of Fianna Fail’s Seamus Brennan.

And if his website is anything to go by, Alex is determined to go all the way from the Seanad chamber into the Dail chamber.

While most TDs and Senators make do with a page on their party’s websites, Alex is one of the few to have his own professional and flash website.

One click on www.alexwhite.ie brings you straight into Alex’s world. And while many people don’t have a clue what goes on in the Seanad, a lot can be learned from his website.

If his election campaign is as slick and professional as his website is, success in the Dublin South by-election could be well within his grasp.

A Cross-Party Love-in

There’s nothing like a bit of cross-party back patting – even if it is done in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

The latest love-in seems to be between Transport Minister Noel Dempsey and his Fine Gael counterpart Fergus O’Dowd.

At last weekend’s Fine Gael convention in Wexford, Deputy O’Dowd was vocal in his criticism of Irish transport policies and put forward the policies of his own party.

But Noel Dempsey was quick with the shot across the bows – thanking O’Dowd for his ‘unequivocal endorsement’ of the transport policies being pursued by him.

“Every ‘new’ policy that he suggested in his speech in Wexford is already being pursued by me. I am pleased that Deputy O’Down has listened so closely to me in the Dail as I have set out how precisely my reform of transport service provision will take place,” the Minister said in a rapidly-released missive.

And then for the winning punch:

“In the very unlikely event that Deputy O’Dowd ever becomes the Minister for Transport, we can all look forward to him continuing to implement my consumer-centred policies,” the Minister said.

To smoke or not to smoke.....

The Irish set down the marker for the rest of the world to follow in terms of the smoking ban.

But now it seems that in some countries where a smoking ban doesn’t exist – it does when the man who created it in Ireland comes for a visit.

During Micheal Martin’s whistle stop trip to Georgia, one local hostelry decided that it couldn’t, in good conscience, allow its regulars to smoke while Micheal was in the building.

The Hangar pub in Tblisi is one of a number of Irish pubs in the Georgian capital and it was also the local for an informal meeting between Minister Martin and a group of academics from a Georgian university.

And just to make sure that the Minister felt at home in the pub, there was a sign prominently displayed on the door of the establishment saying: ‘For one night only, smoking will not be allowed on the first floor of this bar’.

Naturally enough, the Minister was tickled that the temporary ban was implemented in his honour.

But this column can reveal that as soon as ‘Elvis left the building’, the ashtrays came out and the status quo was restored!!

The 'Package from Home'

When you are miles away from home, there is nothing nicer than a nice cuppa and a chocolate treat!

And nobody knows this better than jet-setting Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin.

In between meeting his counterparts from all over the world, he has proven that you can take the man out of Cork but you can’t take the Cork out of the man!

So ‘twas no wonder that on a recent trip to the remote and sinister South Ossetian border in Georgia that he decided to bring a bit of Cork with him.

Ireland currently has four EU monitors in the area as part of an EU-wide mission to ensure that the peace agreement, concluded after August’s bloody war in the region, is maintained.

The four monitors pulled out all the stops to ensure that our Minister was well briefed on the situation along the border and even took him to the border checkpoint in sight of armed Russian troops just yards away.

Thankfully, Micheal Martin fared better at the border last Friday than the Georgian President Mikael Saakashvili and Polish President Lach Kaczynski fared just 48 hours later as their motorcade was shot at by Russian troops!

But when all the formalities were over and done with, Micheal Martin showed that he was a Cork man at heart and produced, as he called. ‘the package from home’ for the four Irish stationed in Georgia.

And what did that ‘package from home’ consist of? A fine big box of Barry’s Tea (he is from Cork, of course) and a traditional Irish treat – the selection box!!

So when the dark, cold evenings close in around our Irish men and women along the South Ossetian border over the coming weeks, at least they’ll have their Barry’s Tea and their selection box to remind them of the comforts of home!!