Friday, March 26, 2010

All work and no play for FG's Leo

The boys and girls of Leinster House are back to work this week after their Paddy’s Day beanos around the world.

But while the Government Globetrotters were busy drowning the shamrock, hob-nobbing with the elite and flying business class so as not to stress them out too much, some politicians were actually (shock horror!) working.

Drum roll please for Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar who was so diligent during his Paddy’s Day break that he actually kept a detailed diary of all the work he did.

“We will hear all the usual stuff about the TDs being back from their 11 day holiday. Actually, we only missed three sitting days and one was a public holiday,” Leo wrote on his website.

“Nonetheless, I do think that my constituents have a right to know what I was doing. It wasn’t a busy week but I still had lots of work to do.”

So here is a bit of Leo Varadkar’s Diary!

Friday, March 12 - 8.5 hours. Leinster House. Press Statement and interviews on Aer Lingus dispute, Business network lunch in town. Returned phone calls and emails.

Saturday, February 13 - 8.5 hours. Constituency day. Canvass, meeting re development plan, attended two charity functions in Rolestown and Blakestown.

Sunday, March 14 - zero hours. Chilling (well he is entitled to that!)

Monday, March 15 - 6.5 hours. Visited a school, office work, staff meeting, replied to emails and prepared a mailing.

Tuesday, March 16 0 1.5 hours. Returned calls and office work. Mostly spent the day shopping. Needed a new suit.

Wednesday, March 17 - 7 hours. Meeting, Prepared speech for Fine Gael National Conference. Replied to emails. Prepared a Dail motion and press statement.

Thursday, March 18 - 6 hours. Emails, phone calls, wrote a speech, traveled to Kerry.

Friday, March 19 - 7 hours. Fine Gael National Conference in Killarney. Prepared media with press office. Met business people from South Kerry. Attended opening session of conference.

Saturday, March 20 - 11 hours. Still in Killarney. Attended conference, participated in three sessions, Newstalk morning show and RTE Saturday View.

Sunday, March 21 - 4 hours. Prepared a mailing. Wrote this blog.

Monday, March 22 - 8 hours. Pat Kenny on RTE Radio, office work, prepare for constituency AGM and attend it.

Total - 68 hours over 6 working days = 11.3 hours a day.

A gold star for Leo Varadkar I think!

Higgins view on the reshuffle

Reshuffle madness took over Leinster House this week as Taoiseach Brian Cowen finally did what others have been pressing him to do for a long time.

The Green Party shenanigans in advance of the reshuffle just added more fuel to the fire that they really are a bunch of loopers.

Former TD and now MEP Joe Higgins hit the nail on the head on Tuesday when he said that the Green Party preoccupation with ministerial positions has more to do with self-preservation than policy.

“The drive by John Gormley for the inclusion of deputies White and Cuffe to be included among the newly appointed junior ministers is nothing more than a desperate attempt to give them a raised profile with the vain hope that will save their electoral bacon,” he said.

Catty Brian Hayes

There was no time for pleasantries from Fine Gael’s Education spokesman Brian Hayes when it was announced that the new Minister for Education will be Mary ‘Calamity’ Coughlan.

He pointed out that the Fianna Fail Government’s lack of commitment to education was made abundantly clear by the appointment of Coughlan to the Education portfolio.

“It would be an understatement in the extreme to say that Mary Coughlan’s performance in Government has been less than stellar. By moving her to Education, Brian Cowen has made it abundantly clear that Education is clearly not a priority for him or his Government,” he said.

“This is a prime example of the disjointed and farcically botched job that Brian Cowen has made of the reshuffle. A new Government has never been needed more,” he said.

Saucer of milk for Deputy Hayes please!

Reshuffling the Leadership?

Following the recent Cabinet reshuffle, bookies Paddy Power are speculating on how many more reshuffles we will see before the next General Election.

It is even money that we will see one more before we take to the polls, 9/4 we see two more and just 11/2 a possible three more could be down the line.

The odds on another shuffle not occurring are 10/3.

Meanwhile, on the back of the reshuffle, Paddy Power have made a few minor changes in their ‘Next Leader of Fianna Fail’ market.

Both Mary Hanafin and Mary Coughlan have drifted in the betting from 14/1 to 18/1 and 18/1 to 33/1, while new Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation Batt O’Keeffe has moved up the ranks to 22/1.

Micheal Martin remains the 7/4 favourite to takeover as Fianna Fail leader after Brian Cowen.

Tony Killeen, Pat Carey and Sean Connick are new entries into the bookmakers market although still very much rank outsiders at 66/1, 80/1 and 100/1 respectively.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Bird Swoops and lands his prey!

This is the moment that intrepid RTE Washington Correspondent Charlie Bird finally landed his prey in the Oval Office.

Journalists on the day were under strict instructions not to ask US President Barack Obama any questions following his bilateral meeting with Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

But always one with a nose for a story, White House rules were not going to stop our Charlie.

Charlie was ideally positioned to swoop in for his prey during the press conference in the Oval Office - he was on his knees in front of President Obama holding a long microphone for RTE.

So as Cowen and Obama rose at the end of the press conference, Charlie politely reached out and shook the president's hand.

And he wasn't going to let his micro-second face time with the leader of the free world go to waste - so he threw a question at him.

"You will need the luck of St Patrick to pass your healthcare reform. If it passes, will you be coming to Ireland to thank St Patrick?" the Bird asked.

His question was greeted with stiff hilarity by both Obama and Cowen, with Obama asking our Charlie if he had a vote in the House.

But it didn't matter what the President said - Charlie got his question in while other journalists had to be happy to just stand by and watch.

It goes to prove that even the power of the White House cannot stop Charlie Bird from landing his prey!

Chelsea Clinton's little bit of Ireland

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Chelsea Clinton.

Her daddy was the President of the USA and her mammy is now the US Secretary of State.

But when Chelsea was just a young teenager - she literally took a piece of Ireland home with her, or so her mammy likes to tell people!

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had over 700 Irish Americans eating out of the palm of her hands on Tuesday night at the Ronald Reagan Trade Centre as she was honoured by the American Ireland Fund.

It was a proud night for Hillary, who was accompanied by the other big name on the night - President Bill Clinton himself, who for a change was forced to take a back seat as his wife took centre stage.

The gig was attended by a who’s who of influential Irish Americans, including Congressman Richard Neal, hotelier and Irish American of the Year John Fitzpatrick, US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly and - of course - Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

But the night was Hillary’s - and by default, Chelsea Clinton’s as her mum told an endearing story about the young teenager who grew up in the White House.

“I remember the first time our daughter stepped foot in Ireland. She was a teenager. We were not actually going to Ireland but we were stopping in Shannon to refuel,” she said.

“As we got off the airplane, she went up to one of the officials there to greet us and she was engaged in very serious conversation and I didn’t know quite what she was talking about.”

“And then she came back and said ‘they are going to let me do it’. And I said ‘what are they going to let you do?’.”

“She said they are going to let me leave the airport and go out and actually touch the ground of Ireland.”

“So she did and she gathered some soil in Shannon Airport, she placed that in a bottle and she brought it home with her to the White House where it resided until she went off to college and she has kept it ever since,” she said.

Who's bringing the shamrock to DC?

The patron saint of bookmakers, Paddy Power, has released odds on who will present the ceremonial bowl of Shamrock to the US President in the White House to commemorate St Patrick’s Day next year.

Incumbent Taoiseach Brian Cowen has been installed as the bookies red-hot favourite to remain in power for a further 12-months and once again hand over the green stuff to the US President.

Fine Gael front-man Enda Kenny is the 11/4 second-favourite with Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Martin in close pursuit at odds of 8/1.

Less likely according to the bookies odds are Labour leader Eamon Gilmore at 12/1, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan at 20/1 and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at 80/1.

Other names in the list of favourites include Dermot Ahern, Richard Bruton and John Gormley.

There is also odds of 16/1 that there will be no presentation - to save money!!

Captain Kirk goes to Washington

One of the nicest men in Leinster House, Ceann Comhairle (Captain) Seamus Kirk also got a chance to get out of the country for Paddy’s Day this year - he is in Washington with Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin.

This is the first time since his election that the Ceann Comhairle has had an opportunity to meet with leading members of the US Congress who are engaged in Irish issues.

“I am delighted to have received an invitation from Speaker Pelosi to visit Washington DC to attend the annual Speaker’s lunch,” a delighted Seamus said this week.

“The Speaker’s Lunch also presents a real opportunity for us to mark St. Patrick’s Day in the hearts and minds of the 44 million US citizens who claim an ancestral link with Ireland.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cullen's Ill-Health Gives Government A Headache

It seems there may be more to Martin Cullen’s departure from office and from politics than just a bad back.

Whispers around the corridors of power – among many Fianna Fail-ers – showed little sympathy for the Waterford man, despite his obvious physical pain.

The common view is that Cullen’s departure from office was expected – but his decision to pack it in as a TD came as a bolt from the blue for many.

“It was a two-fingers to the establishment,” one Fianna Fail source told this column.

“He knew he was being dumped on. He knew he was going to be dropped in a reshuffle so he decided to land Fianna Fail in it by resigning his seat as well.”

“Health? Sure look at Brian Lenihan and Michael Fitzpatrick? Both have serious health conditions but they didn’t step down,” the Fianna Fail source said.

Brian Lenihan is currently suffering from cancer and Kildare Fianna Fail TD Michael Fitzpatrick revealed at the weekend that he is suffering from Motor Neuron Disease.

Cullen’s actions – whether precipitated by pain or anger or both – now leaves Taoiseach Brian Cowen dealing with the headache of three by-elections.

And his chances of winning a seat in Donegal South West, Dublin South or Waterford are slim to none.

So he is faced with two serious choices over the coming months.

The first is to hold the three by-elections and see his leadership come under serious pressure if the party was to lose all three seats.

Or alternatively, he could throw caution and persistent critics to the wind and call a general election either before the summer recess or shortly afterwards.

Support for the Government is on a knife-edge as it is – including the three Fianna Fail TDs currently not under the whip, the Government has a majority of just six.

All it takes is for a few dissenters and all hell will break loose in the Dail.

Fianna Fail knows that come the next election – whenever it will be – they will be hit hard and will be looking at a spell in opposition.

So why not just get on with it and give the people of the country – those who pay the wages and on whose behalf the Government works – the chance to decide who should run the country.

What Would Del Boy Say?!

What did good old Del Boy and Trigger from Only Fools and Horses do to deserve a spirited mention from the podium at last weekend’s Sinn Fein Ard Fheis?

Bonnet de Douge – I’m sure Del Trotter was more than surprised to hear his business acumen being compared to that of the current Government.

Sinn Fein Cllr Matt Carthy is obviously a Fools and Horses fan as it was he who dragged the Trotters and their hapless pal Trigger into the debate at Saturday’s Sinn Fein Ard fheis.

He said this government ‘has seen so many Ministerial changes since the last election that it now represents the political equivalent of Trigger’s sweeping brush but with less economic competency than Del Boy’.

Del Boy’s economic mantra is simple – “The Government don’t give us nothin’, so we don’t give the government nothin’.”

So if it were Del giving that speech at the Ard Fheis, he would have probably finished with a line dedicated to the Government – ‘don’t be a plonker all your life’!

Mary Gets A Mauling From Leo The Lion

The occasional Warrior of the Week award this time goes to Fine Gael’s young buck Leo Varadkar for his full frontal attack on Tanaiste Mary Coughlan in the Dail on Tuesday.

Never one to mince his words, Varadkar wasted no time in putting it to the Tanaiste that she was basically an embarrassment, putting it to her that she brings a ‘cringe factor’ and makes ‘vulgar comments’ during trade missions overseas.

Fighting talk from the young blueshirt, but something that has been on the tip of many people’s tongues over the past two years.

Needless to say Coughlan – who has been tagged with the nickname ‘Sweary Mary’ – was not one to take those comments lying down and directed her own missile across the Dail chamber to Varadkar.

“Political charges of that nature perhaps show the ineptitude of some in the Opposition who cannot prove that on this side of the House and the political charges are ones which I may take from the Deputy but not from others,” she said.

Her response was not cringe-worthy and it wasn’t vulgar but this
battle of wits may not yet be over!

Politicians in Tweetland

Tweets of the Week.

“Got letter from Oireachtas Expenses section ‘answering questions from some members – you have to sign in, your assistant can’t do it for you’. D’oh” – Labour Senator Dominic Hannigan.

“Where will I be spending time this summer? Donegal, Waterford or South Dublin?” – Fine Gael Senator Paschal Donohoe.

“Three Greens out of six at the Cabinet table. Democracy is for the Greens but not for Ireland. Fianna Fail will take any humiliation to stay in power” – Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Micheal Breaks For the Border

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin left stunned guards in his wake during his recent visit to Gaza by literally making a break for the border.

Embassy staff and Egyptian officials were still checking the Minister’s passport at the border post as he left Gaza – while outside the Irish cavalcade under police escort was not hanging around and made it off into the Egyptian night.

The police and cavalcade was several kilometres into Egypt before the oversight was copped and it was summoned back to the frontier to clear the necessary paperwork.

Fortunately the border guards were well briefed on the VIP visit and gave Minister Martin the thumbs up to cross into the land of the pyramids.

Earlier in the day a news conference by the Foreign Affairs Minister was beamed live across the Middle East on Al Jazeera and several other Arab channels while over a dozen camera crews documented every move of his day long visit.

The outdoor conference took place in torrential rain – leading to a bemused Minister telling the local media he had brought the Irish weather with him.

The visit also has not gone un-noticed on the world stage with the International Herald Tribune asking the Minister to pen his own impressions of Gaza.

Micheál was the first EU Foreign Minister to gain access to Gaza in over a year, this week he will brief his colleagues about the humanitarian crisis on the ground when he meets them in Spain.

Howling At The Moon!

There is a nervous tension along the corridors of power at the moment – nobody knows quite what to expect as each new day dawns.

But one oracle who may be able to assist in all of the uncertainty is Labour’s astronomer-in-chief Kathleen Lynch.

With four political power-houses gone in the last month (well, three and a half – Deirdre de Burca could hardly be described as a power-house), is there something in the stars that can indicate when the next axe will fall?

Just ask Kathleen, who jokes that the ‘full moon’ is responsible for all of the political uncertainty.

So the next time you see a full moon in the sky, start placing your bets on who will be next.

For Kathleen’s sake, let’s hope it isn’t a member of the Labour Party as they are the only ones to have escaped unscathed by the recent turmoil!

O'Dowd is in good voice!

Congrats to Irish Daily Star columnist and America’s most famous Irishman, Niall O’Dowd, on the publication of his biography – ‘An Irish Voice’.

As former President Bill Clinton once said of Niall, ‘he is the voice of Irish America for this generation’.

The honour of launching the book went to Taoiseach Brian Cowen on Tuesday night.

Interesting choice there in Brian Cowen to launch the book.

After all, Niall’s brother is Fine Gael frontbencher Fergus O’Dowd.

Are the two main opposition parties moving closer together thanks to Niall’s work?

Politicians in Tweetland

Tweeting has never been so popular along the corridors of power and every week, we bring you a sample of what the twittering classes are thinking about.

“When I spellcheck Leinster House, I get Leisure House. Know many would agree but not me!” – Fine Gael Senator Paschal Donohoe.

“Is Niamh Kavanagh seriously entering the Eurovision again?” – Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton.

“Total Operation Transformation loss 21lbs. Delighted with the results:) Well done to all involved.” – Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer.