Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar has tweeted a very timely and apt question in light of the ministerial pensions controversy of the past week – ‘is it time the beards got a haircut’?
The ‘beards’ in question are, or course, the trade union leaders – some of whom have been very vocal in their condemnation of the huge ministerial pensions that some sitting TDs have been in receipt of.
One such person was SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor who last week called on any public representative in the Oireachtas or in EU institutions in receipt of State pensions to voluntarily forgo them while earning public salaries.
While we can hardly disagree with Jack O’Connor’s sentiment, it is kind of rich coming from a guy who earns a very good living representing some of the lowest paid in the country.
A bit rich in that while he is fighting for better pay and conditions for his members, he is drawing a handsome salary of €125,000 a year for his troubles – more than €25,000 more than what a TD gets paid.
And what about the other ‘beards’ as Varadkar and many others have christened our union brethren.
Peter McLoone from IMPACT is another who is representing low paid workers struggling to survive in today’s harsh economic climate.
For his trouble, he is getting paid in the region of €155,000 a year.
ICTU boss David Begg is hardly on the breadline either – he is drawing in an estimated €137,000 a year.
And Blair Horan, from the Civil and Public Service Union, is also a high-roller pocketing in the region of €120,000 a year for his troubles.
While many people, including union bosses, have taken pay cuts in the past year, it is hard to stomach that this group of people – whose job it is to represent the low paid and vulnerable workers – are still earning more than three times the average industrial wage.
And so we come back to Leo Varadkar’s tweet: ‘is it time the beards got a haircut?”
The Labour Party is feeling a little unloved by our national broadcaster – and it has every right to feel miffed.
It is a case of always the bridesmaid and never the bride for the Labour Party when it comes to pre-election TV debates.
The big ticket event is between the warring bride and groom – Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – and Labour is traditionally designated to the position of bridesmaid and also-rans along with Sinn Fein and the Greens.
But in light of the UK TV debates, the Labour Party is starting to flex its muscles and demanding what should rightfully be theirs – a place at the big ticket event.
Leading the charge is the party’s spokesperson on Communications, Deputy Liz McManus.
She feels that it is time that RTE woke up to the fact that Ireland is no longer a two-party country – Labour is biting at the heels and wants a piece of the action.
“It is time for RTE to acknowledge that the Irish electorate will have the same three way choice at the next election here,” she said.
She said the arrangement that has operated to date – where Labour has been put in the same bracket as Sinn Fein, the Greens and (in the past) the Progressive Democrats – could not be acceptable in the changed political environment in which we now operate.
“All of the recent opinion polls have shown that Irish politics is now a three horse race.”
“For instance, the most recent tns/MRBI opinion poll showed just 12 percentage points covering the three main parties, while the most recent Millward Brown poll showed a range of 15%. There is very similar to the range covering the three main parties in the UK.”
“In addition a number of opinion polls have put Labour ahead of Fianna Fail while in the recent European elections, Labour won a quarter of the seats – the same number as Fianna Fail.
“RTE should recognise that the Irish political landscape has changed and there is no case for retaining the outdated two leader format. RTE should have the courage to resist attempts by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to retain the outmoded status quo.”
“As far back as last October the Labour Party wrote to RTE looking for a commitment to a three way debate, and while we received an acknowledgement saying that RTE was reviewing the format used in previous elections, we have had no other response.”
“As there is a possibility of a general election at any time between now and May 2010 this is a matter that we will be raising with RTE again,” she said.
Getting ticked off by constituents is an occupational hazard for politicians but Labour Senator Dominic Hannigan has to draw the line somewhere.
It seems that the Meath-based Senator has been getting a telling off from voters in Wales this week!
“I know we can be blamed for all sorts but I did wonder why I was receiving complaints about building schools on parkland in Cardiff,” the affable Senator said.
The mystery was solved when he discovered his irate email was actually intended for a political namesake – Dominic Hannigan of the Cardiff South and Penarth Liberal Democrats!
“I learned after the last general election that there are two politicians called Dominic Hannigan. It was a bit of a shock but I made contact with my Liberal Democrat double. I told him he could have some ‘you can do better with Hannigan’ pens I had left over from the campaign,” Meath’s Hannigan said.
“Maybe Welsh Hannigan will send me over a few of his election tee-shirts. The Liberal Democrat’s turquoise and yellow colours are almost a match for those of the Royal County. I know I’d prefer to trade election knick-knacks than constituents complaints,” he said.
Fine Gael flop George Lee is only a wet week out of politics but that isn’t stopping constituency rival Senator Alex White from letting the grass grow under his feet.
Alex was the shoe-in to win the Dublin South by-election last year – until Fine Gael parachuted the former RTE Economic Editor into the race.
But Alex hasn’t gone away – just last weekend he sent a letter to all constituents in Dublin South reminding them that he is still working for the good of the area.
“The recent resignation of George Lee as TD came as a bolt from the blue. Understandably, many people felt shocked and disappointed that he had abandoned his political ambition so prematurely,” wrote Alex, not afraid to mince his words!
Political Tweetland has been busy over the past few weeks – despite the fact that our politicians have been on holidays.
We have had almost daily weather bulletins from Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer, a record of all the meetings attended by his colleague Senator Paschal Donohue and every Labour member tweeting about the party conference at the weekend.
But the tweet of the week went to Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar, who picked up on his party colleague Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames’ assertion that Labour were stealing Fine Gael policies.
“Fidelma is spot on,” Varadkar tweeted. “Labour are stealing our policies. First the Recovery Bank now the Constitutional Convention. Has anyone seen my blueshirt?”
“You like potato and I like potahto, you like tomato and I like tomahto, Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto - Let’s Call the Whole Thing off.”
It is hard not to think of this Louis Armstrong classic every time Fianna Fail and Fine Gael get down to the nitty gritty of arguments to prove who is right and who is wrong.
Take this week’s CSO figures on retail sales - it was a case of glass half full for Fianna Fail and glass half empty for Fine Gael.
For Fine Gael, it seems that no news is good news. Fianna Fail, on the other hand, are so delighted to see any tiny improvement in the economy that they are on the verge of popping open the champagne!
Here is Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar’s take on the CSO figures:
“The CSO figures are good news for the motor trade but terrible news for every other retailer. If you strip out the motor trade, it is obvious the retail sector as a whole is still struggling to survive,” he said.
He warned that more businesses will close and more jobs will be lost unless the Government develops a national jobs and competitiveness strategy.
Doom and gloom all round, it seems.
That is until Fianna Fail’s Knight in Shining Armour - Meath East’s Thomas Byrne - came cantering into the debate.
“There have been signs of improving consumer confidence in recent months. Fine Gael, however, has ignored these in favour of its campaign of relentless negativity,” Sir Galahad of Meath East said.
“Whereas Fine Gael has clearly positioned itself as the party of doom and gloom, Fianna Fail is taking a positive, proactive approach to charting Ireland’s path to recovery,” he said.
Steady on there, Deputy Byrne - you are in severe danger of falling off that high moral ground using words such as ‘positive’, ‘proactive’ and ‘recovery’ in the same sentence as ‘Fianna Fail’.
As for Fine Gael’s ‘glass-half-empty’ view of life - here are some words of advice from the great Monty Python:
“Some things in life are bad, they can really make you mad. Other things just make you swear and curse. When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle. And this’ll help things turn out for the best............”
“Always look on the bright side of life..........”
Energy, Communications and Natural Resources Minister Eamon Ryan has rolled out his pet project at last - electric cars!
It is a well known fact that any Green invention or policy will be an expensive one (just look at the lightbulbs!) and these cars are no exception.
Now while aiming to switch to cleaner and cheaper power is laudable, it is bonkers in the extreme to introduce them with no proper back-up and research.
Eamon tells us that charging points will be set up at 60km intervals along the roads of Ireland by the ESB.
How in God’s name do they expect to do that when at present it is impossible to get a refill of petrol let alone a cup of coffee along Ireland’s improving motorway network?
As we know, service areas are non-existent (and not allowed) along the motorways. Will a special exemption be made for these electric Matchbox cars that Eamon is plugging?
Ryan himself said on Primetime on Tuesday that mobile phones will be able to tell people where the nearest charging station is.
What will the Gardai say about this? Using your mobile while behind the wheel of a car is illegal.
There is no doubt that cleaner energy is the way of the future but can the Irish Government afford to be spending in the region of €40m to get this project off the ground at the moment?
Campaigners will argue that using electricity is the cheapest way to get from A to B. But it is also the most time-consuming.
Imagine trekking down to Kerry for a weekend – drive 150km, leaving the motorway to find a charging station, ‘fast charge’ for 30 minutes, get back on the motorway, drive another 150 km, try and find another charging station…..
Labour’s Cork South Central TD Ciaran Lynch is an affable fella - friendly, personable and sociable to the tips of his fingertips.
Maybe that is why he is planning to invite (or inflict) his constituents to An Evening with Fintan O’Toole later this month?
The young Labour TD wants his constituents to have the insight on all that is going on in the banking world, the financial world, the world of Government and the world according to Fintan O’Toole.
The great meeting of minds will take place in the Rochestown Park Hotel on April 22 and the good news for everyone is that the evening with the great thinker of the modern day (Ciaran Lynch) and his side-kick Fintan O’Toole is completely free.
And as an added bonus for those lucky, lucky people in Cork – Fintan will be signing copies of his book at the event.
Note to the people of Cork South Central - there is no such thing as a free lunch (or evening with Fintan O’Toole, for that matter!)
What is the world coming to when people think that Bono is the greatest Irish person ever? Or Stephen Gately? Or Phil Lynott?
Now don’t get me wrong, Bono, Stephen and Philo have achieved great things in their respective careers but surely no right-thinking Irish person could say that they are the Greatest Irish Person ever?
RTE is currently conducting a survey of the Irish public asking them this question - who is the Greatest Irish Person Ever and the results so far, as you have guessed, are quite astounding.
The final list has yet to be announced by judging by reports of the list to date, a lot of very key Irish people seem to be missing.
There is no mention of the great Liberator Daniel O’Connell, not a whiff of Eamon de Valera one of the most dominant figures in Irish politics in the 20th century, no mention either of Sean Lemass the first man to make serious inroads into peace in Northern Ireland, no appearance of that great economist TK Whitaker and not even a passing thought for Bob Geldof, the rocker-turned-activist?
Instead, the top 10 list looks something like this, in no particular order - Bono, Noel Browne, Michael Collins, James Connolly, Stephen Gately, John Hume, Phil Lynott, Padraig Pearse, Mary Robinson and Adi Roche.
While some of these names are very worthwhile nominees - Pearse, Hume, Collins and Connolly - we have to question why musicians such as Bono and the late Gately and Lynott are listed.
Yes they were good - but what eternal impact did they have on Irish life and culture? Very little, unless you are a music fan.
The politicians of the past put the current ones - who are on their Easter holliers until April 20 - to shame.
Will we ever seen politicians with the passion of Collins, the foresight of Lemass or the beliefs of O’Connell ever again?
What lasting impression has been left on a new generation of voters who know only of the likes of Charlie Haughey and Bertie Ahern?
It will be a sad day for the people of Ireland if successful musicians such as Bono, Gately and Lynott are eventually named Greatest Irish Person Ever.
So get voting (www.rte.ie/tv/irelandsgreatest) and ensure that the calibre and the class of the people who built this Republic get the due credit they deserve.
The top 5, as nominated by voters, will then become the subject of one of five new hour-long documentaries, each charting the individual’s impact and contribution to Irish life.
Anyone with a heart would have felt a teeny bit sorry for Mary Coughlan as she entered the lions den of public service anger when he addressed her first teachers’ conference in Galway on Tuesday.
The poor woman was terrified - and it showed.
Opting not to ad-lib but to stick firmly with the speech, she came across as dispassionate and uninterested. While this was obviously not her intention, that is the way it sounded to the delegates of the INTO conference.
While the teachers don’t suffer fools, the new General Secretary of the INTO Sheila Nunan - who has just taken over from the legendary John Carr - had a few kind and encouraging words for the new Minister for Education.
“If you don’t believe half the things you are told about teachers, we won’t believe half of the things we hear about you,” she said to a rousing applause.
And to be fair to Mary Coughlan - she took it very well and had a good hearty laugh about it.
Forty minutes notice - that is all that Wexford TD Sean Connick got in advance of Taoiseach Brian Cowen nominating him as a Junior Minister at the Department of Agriculture last week.
Speculation was rife in the weeks leading up to the reshuffle that Connick would be given the nod - but the 46-year-old New Ross man refused to think anything of it.
“I am part of the Brat Pack - all of the new lads that came in in 2007 such as Thomas Byrne, Niall Collins, Michael McGrath and Chris Andrews. There is a whole crew of really good young guys who have come in there who have great potential,” a modest Sean said.
By the time last Tuesday morning came, Connick had given up any hope of promotion to the Junior bench - but then came the call.
“I was sitting in my office and fielding some of the calls when I got a call from the Taoiseach’s office. Lourde had gone out to meet a constituent. I got a little piece of note paper and wrote ‘Lourde, gone to the Taoiseach’s office xxx’ and put it on the computer screen.”
“I got into the lift and (Senator) Geraldine Feeney was in the lift. She fixed my collar and said ‘if you are going over to the Taoiseach’s office, you need to be looking right’.”
“The Taoieach brought me into his own office - the first time I was ever in it - he shook hands with me and got a chair and sat in front of me away from the desk.”
“The first thing he said to me was: ‘how much weight have you lost now Sean? (referring to Sean’s successful participation in the RTE series Operation Transformation).
“I told him I was down about two stone. It was surreal. He explained the difficulties in both the country over the past 18 months and the difficult decisions that the Government had to take. He told me I had been working well and a position had arisen and he was wondering if I would consider taking on a job for him in terms of a junior ministry at the Department of Agriculture.”
“Needless to say, I said absolutely.”
He said the appointment was very emotional for him as it had been a great personal journey for him.
“When I had my accident 33 years ago this year, people would have thought what will become of Sean now because I was very badly injured.”
“But I went back to school and had some really great friends and family support and they have been brilliant with me throughout my life.”
Taoiseach Brian Cowen could soon become Ireland’s first ‘Tweet-seach’ as he plans to let his fingers do the talking via twitter and other forms of social media.
A Government tender was sent out three months ago from its IT unit to commission a new website for the Government Information Service.
While the plans for the new website are at a very early stage - no first draft has even been produced - it is expected that the site and the Tweeting Taoiseach will be up and running in a matter of months.
When he starts tweeting, Brian Cowen will join an elite group of world leaders who are using this form of social media to communicate with the public.
US President Barack Obama is the king of social media and this played a huge part in his election in 2008.
Also among the political twittering classes are UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Japanese Prime Miniister Yukio Hayoyama, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salim.
However, when Mr Cowen and his Ministers decide to take up tweeting officially, they will be up against it from a number of Twitter ‘impostors’ who have already attracted huge followings online.
Here’s an example of some of the ‘impostors’ tweets:
@Biffo_Cowen - ‘Which one of you little bollixes on the backbenches has been blabbing to the press?’
@Willie_O_Dea - ‘A few civil servants on top of the Passport office tooled up with sniper rifles should be able to "reach out" to Leinster House.’
@Sweary_Mary - ‘Jasus lads, weekend over. Did ye ever just not want to go to work of a Monday?’
@TDBrianCowen - ‘Tried to get short arse Sarkosy to get the match replayed: no dice. Seems I’m no good at anything. Ah well, I still get paid.”