Thursday, June 24, 2010

Willie O'Dea's Driving Licence

It is only a matter of time before Willie O’Dea will be able to drive up to Dublin from his Limerick base unaccompanied – because he has passed the first hurdle to getting his driving licence.

He has passed his theory test!

As the former Minister for Defence told The Star some time ago, he doesn’t have a driving licence as it lapsed during the years that he was a Minister.

The fact that O’Dea was not only a Minister, but a Junior Minister before that, means that he hasn’t had to drive himself anywhere for the bones of 15 years.

After his resignation earlier this year, he said one of his first priorities was to get a driving licence – and a few lessons – to make up for lost time.

The good news is that Willie has passed his theory test for his driving licence and will soon undergo the actual driving test.

Once he has his driving licence, he won’t have to rely on others to drive him up and down from Dublin.

His wife Geraldine does a lot of the driving and he has hitched a lift with his Limerick colleague Niall Collins on a few occasions.

Very soon, Willie will be able to return the favour!

Charlie's World Cup Blog

One Fianna Fail TD is trying to bring a bit of ‘light relief’ to the serious political debate that has been around for months by writing his own World Cup Blog on the party’s website.

Dublin South West TD Charlie O’Connor has become the Eamon Dunphy of Leinster House with his soon to be regular analysis of all things World Cup related.

His first instalment went up on the Fianna Fail website yesterday and needless to say, the French defeat is his main talking point.

He gives us his views on the behind-the-scenes drama in the Franch soccer camp, the rows with the manager and the rows among the players.

“It’s been utterly bizarre – you really couldn’t make it up,” Charlie O’Connor writes.

“However badly we all felt after being knocked out because of that infamous Thierry Henry handball in Paris last November, the Franch have had more kharma coming their way than the entire series of ‘My Name Is Earl’.”

“They’ve been the story of the World Cup so far and the whole affair will surely leave its mark on French football for some time to come,” the political/sports pundit said.

“I never thought Irish politics would have much of an impact on the World Cup in South Africa, but with all these heaves against leaders going on, Fine Gael have clearly started a trend.”

“I hope Fine Gael have the same kind of future coming their way as that other blue shirted side, the French!”

Urban v Rural myth

Much has been made of the so-called rural/urban divide within the Fine Gael party but we say – what a load of rubbish.

The so-called cappuccino-drinking brigade who launched the challenge to Enda Kenny’s leadership are no more the intellegentia of the party than Jackie Healy-Rae is Ireland’s next top model.

Denis Naughten is from Roscommon, Fergus O’Dowd from Louth, Simon Coveney from Cork, Olwyn Enright from Laois/Offaly, Billy Timmins from Wicklow, Michael Creed from North Cork and even Richard Bruton is a Meath man.

True – Fine Gael would want to be concentrating on Dublin in order to put on a few seats next time out but the failed coup had nothing to do with Dublin versus the rest of Ireland.

Even looking at the professional and political experience of both sides – neither is better than the other. Both have a raft of teachers, a handful of doctors and even the odd lawyer or two.

So let’s bury the theory that the so-called ‘country and western set’ won the day last week. Kenny and his supporters won the day and maybe taught a few itchy members of the party a lesson or two.

Cheers Sue!

Leinster House is losing one of its true ladies this week when staffer Sue Hanway bids farewell.

Sue is on first name basis with all politicians as she is the lady who has served them many a pint, many a short, countless cups of tea and delicious toasted sandwiches for the past number of years in the Dail Bar.

No doubt, Sue certainly has a book inside her of all the bits and piece she has seen and heard during her time behind the bar.

But she will be keeping her lips sealed. She is heading to pastures new in the UK.

Cheers, Sue – the very best of luck!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Probably.....the best implosion in the world!

Carlsberg don’t do political party implosions – but if they did, no doubt they would learn a little something from Fine Gael.

It has been all excitement in Leinster House over the past two days and the only smiles around the corridors of power are on the faces of Fianna Fail TDs.

As Tuesday arrived, all talk was about the Fine Gael front bench meeting at which Camp Bruton was going to stare down Camp Kenny to see who would go cross-eyed first.

As the media gathered along the plinth wondering what was going on, there was plenty of secret shuffling from other party members eager to get the inside scoop on the fate of Fine Gael.

As Bruton’s Gang Of Nine spoke to reporters on the plinth to explain their support for the former Finance spokesman, Fianna Fail’s Noel O’Flynn was lurking in the background giving a running commentary on the proceedings to someone on the end of a phone.

TDs driving in slowed down to see what was happening and to get a handle on which way the wind was blowing. Political staffers were busy texting their masters with the latest word.

Within minutes of the Gang of Nine speaking, it was time for Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin to take to the plinth but for a different reason altogether.

Fine Gael might have its own secret service, but his reason for being there was about another secret service – Mossad, to be precise.

While he said nothing about the implosion of the Fine Gael party, I’m sure the little devil on his shoulder was having a good laugh at the political circus that was playing out around him.

Tuesday was supposed to be ‘Get Cowen’ Day in the Dail but instead it turned into a political pantomime. The man claiming to have no confidence in Cowen actually had a party with little confidence in him.

Last week, the country was up in arms about the banking reports, the week before it was politicians’ expenses. This week is the implosion of the Fine Gael party.

It goes to prove the old adage – a week certainly is a long time in politics.

Cowen's Pride and Joy!

He may not have an All-Ireland medal, but that didn’t stop Taoiseach Brian Cowen from taking centre stage at Croke Park this week.

The occasion was the presentation of the first synthetic hurley to ever be used to the GAA Museum.

The Cultec hurley, which has been designed ‘to bring consistency to the game’, made history when three of the All-Ireland champs from Offaly’s junior camogie team took to the Croke Park pitch with a Cultec hurley.

And with the mere mention of Co Offaly - the hurleys are also made there - it was no wonder that Cowen hotfooted it down to Croker.

And so he might - it might be the only chance Offaly will get centre stage there again for some time!

“For most followers of Gaelic games, there is nothing to beat the sense of joy and pride felt at seeing one’s own county colours in this hallowed place,” he said.

‘Joy’ and ‘Pride’ - two words that one would not associate with Brian Cowen!

Don't Hold Back Caoimhghin!

In a week when the blueshirts turned on themselves and on the Government, it was left to Sinn Fein’s Caoimghin O Caolain to survey the mess that has been created on the political front.

“This should have been the week when the spotlight was on an appalling Fianna Fail Government which has been exposed as the principal cause of the recession in Ireland. It is a grossly incompetent Government” he said.

“But instead we have a situation where the pressure has been taken off one set of incompetents - Fianna Fail 0 by the political ineptitude of another set of incompetents - Fine Gael,” he said.

He said with the Fianna Fail Government on the ropes, Fine Gael has managed to deliver a knockout punch - to themselves.

Never one to mince his words is Sinn Fein’s O Caolain!

Dodgy Sports Agents

First it was the evils of Facebook and now Labour MEP Nessa Childers has set her sights on dodgy sports agents - particularly those involved in football.

As the country goes World Cup crazy (and deaf thanks to those damned vavazelas), Childers has called for new laws governing the conduct of professional sports agents.

She claims that for every ‘Jerry Maguire’ legit sports agent, there is ‘a shady agent lurking in the shadows whose stock-in-trade ranges from match fixing to money laundering to everything else in between’.

She wants an end to these dodgy agents targeting vulnerable young players - and rightly so.

She has called on the EU to step in to show the red card to these chancers.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Politicians - keeping it in the family

It is hard to believe that just a few days have gone by and there has been NO expenses scandal!

But one element of the perks that many politicians get and that is often gone unreported is the use of a parliamentary assistant.

This role is a valuable one - in financial terms - for the lucky appointee.

It carries a salary of around €45,000 a year and some insiders have suggested that it is the type of job one could take on in their spare time.

But what sticks in the craw is that a number of politicians employ their own family members as parliamentary assistants - therefore, keeping the money in the family.

There is absolutely nothing illegal about this and many of the parliamentary assistants are worth their weight in gold. But the fact that there is no open competition for these jobs is yet another hallmark of how out of touch our parliamentary system is.

There is nothing in the rule book to stop a politician employing his/her spouse, partner, son, daughter or best friend to the job - regardless of their qualifications.

A small handful of TDs advertise the jobs and hold interviews but this number is far outweighed by the number who employ family members in the job.

One former parliamentary assistant told this column that he could have done the job ‘with his eyes closed’.

“TDs have constituency secretaries and Dail secretaries, what do they need parliamentary assistants for? The job offers a good few euro and because of this - relatives should be disqualified from applying,” he said.

So what is the role of a parliamentary assistant? Well, according to official sources, the position of parliamentary assistant was
introduced in 2005 to help TDs in writing speeches, researching issues and legislation.

If that is the official job description, then it leaves the party press offices at a bit of a loose end as they are professionals
employed to do this work.

A recent Freedom of Information request - which dates back to 2008 - revealed that one in five TDs and Senators are employing a relative at the taxpayers’ expense.

It revealed that a total of 42 members of the Oireachtas have installed family members in secretarial and parliamentary assistant jobs.

And quite a few of these family members employed were also serving councillor at the time, meaning that they were already receiving a basic wage from the taxpayer of over €16,000 plus expenses.

This is yet another example of how out of touch the system of financing our parliament is.

The expenses system needs radical reform to stop the moral abuses taking place.

It also seems that the root and branch structure of employment should also be examined.

It goes to prove that politics does pay!!

Job Creation - FG-style!

When a TD is forced to resign, resigns voluntarily or simply retires - there is always some collateral damage.

Take former Ministers Willie O’Dea and Martin Cullen - when they resigned and retired respectively, key members of their staff were left without a job as a result.

When George Lee (pictured) resigned - very prematurely - from politics, two people were out of a job as a result.

But we are happy to say that one of his hard workers - his former parliamentary assistant Colm Fahey - has seen his talents being
retained and embraced by the Fine Gael party.

He is now working with the party’s Health spokesman Dr James Reilly.

Gormley is iPadding along!

It is not often that this column gets jealous - but right now, this column is VERY jealous......... of John Gormley, of all people.

The Minister for the Environment and the leader of the Green Party is one of the few people this side of the border to have gotten their hands on the must-have gadget of the year - the iPad.

And he is not just using it for entertainment purposes - he is using it as part of his everyday work and has been spotted toting it around the corridors of Leinster House.

Let’s not beat around the bush here - I WANT an iPad! So if Minister Gormley is ever thinking of doing a bit of recycling, you know where I am!!

Bets are on for new Dublin Mayor

So who will be the first directly elected mayor of Dublin?

A lot of names are being bandied about but Paddy Power claims that Dermot Lacey - a Dublin councillor - is the favourite to check into the Mansion House next.

There are plenty of other names making waves in the bookie’s office as well - Labour’s Ruairi Quinn at 3/1, Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell at 6/1, former Mayor Royston Brady at 9/1 and Bertie Ahern at 33/1.

But if you fancy a long shot, have a punt on these - Bill Cullen, Joe Duffy and Duncan Stewart at 20/1, Marian Finucane at 33/1, Bono and Bob Geldof at 50/1, Gay Byrne at 80/1 and Miriam O’Callaghan at 100/1.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Callely's two-fingered salute to Brian Cowen

Ivor Callely has a neck thicker than a rhinoceros’ rear end. If he thinks that the taxpayers of Ireland are going to stomach his mealy-mouthed explanation on his exorbitant expenses, he must be stupid as well.

When he once had a career as an elected politician, Ivor styled himself as Mr Dublin. He would swagger around his Dublin North Central constituency like the cat who got the cream.

He posed with his family on cheesy, sickly Christmas cards that he sent to his constituents and he made sure he was visible at all times - especially if there was a whiff of publicity in the air to be gained.

But all of a sudden - hey presto - it seems that Ivor is a Corkman, and a West Corkman at that when it comes to claiming his enormous and wholly unwarranted expenses.

The maths are simple - the farther away from Dublin you live, the more money can be claimed in mileage and subsistence.

The great businessman Ivor could not possibly refuse such an entrepreneurial temptation. He pounced on the money.

After getting a written roasting from Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Ivor The Engine finally agreed to break his silence yesterday in an effort to explain why - for expenses reasons - he claimed to be a Cork man and not a Dublin man.

But we got nothing. The only thing we got was unadulterated bullshit. The man from Clontarf - who nobody voted for - waffled and weaseled his way through his short statement to the Seanad.

His statement showed comtempt for the people of Ireland and was a two-finger salute to Brian Cowen

We are still at a loss to know why he managed to claim up to €81,000 over the past three years by using a West Cork address when the world and its mother knows that Clontarf is his home and always has been.

But should we really be that shocked? Our politicians have been dining out on our hard work for years. The expenses that they receive every year are mind-boggingly vulgar, not only by today's standards, but by any standards.

What we got from Ivor Callely was the 'Rody Molloy' defence - he was entitled to it.

A sense of entitlement has been borne out of the expenses regime in Leinster House - like pigs with their noses in the trough, they don’t know when to stop.

A new system of expenses introduced in March is expected to bring more transparency and accountability to the process.

But it is no longer about transparency and accountability - the sheer level of expenses such as mileage and subsistence that is paid beggars belief.

And the fact that it is tax free really rubs salt into the wounds of those who have been forced to default on their mortgages because they have no money or to those who are left languishing on a hospital trolley because of cutbacks in the health service.

Dublin TDs, for example, are given €1,000 a month in a ‘Travel and Accommodation Allowance. With no accommodation costs, just where are they going to clock up that amount in mileage? Are they driving to the moon and back every month?

If they were to spend this amount on mileage only, they would need to be driving 200 miles every day for 28 days out of the month. That's hardly happening.

It is a set amount and they get it automatically - regardless of whether they drive, cycle or walk into Leinster House.

And more so, what worker in Ireland gets paid mileage to travel to work? What worker in Ireland gets tax-free cash to feed and water themselves while they are at work?

This is a parallel universe - these wasteful creatures are living on another planet and don't even bother to try and mask it.

Expenses and allowances for politicians are a rip-off and this results in rampant greed.

Callely is a symptom of this outrage.

Was he not happy with his €65,621 a year he gets paid as a member of the useless Seanad - a Senator that was not elected by the people of Ireland but who was appointed to the job in the dying days of Bertie Ahern’s rule?

Unless Callely has a platinum explanation as to why he was claiming expenses from West Cork - the furthest point from Dublin - he should be forced to walk the plank.

He was not elected, he has no mandate.

If a proper explanation is not given by Callely, then Brian Cowen - if he is to retain a shred of credibility and authority - must cut Callely free. He will be no loss.

Seanad calls halt on mobile phones

It was nearly getting too much for Seanad Chairman Pat Moylan on Tuesday.

And the cause of his grief - that niggling, annoying interference that mobile phones generate when they are placed too close to a microphone.

It got so bad at one stage, that Senator Moylan threatened to adjourn the Seanad.

“I have asked members to leave their mobile phones outside the Chamber or turn them off,” he said, exasperated.

“It is not fair on the persons trying to record the proceedings of the House if a member comes in with a mobile phone turned on. It must stop. If it continues, I will simply adjourn until the members concerned remove their mobile phones from the Chamber,” he said.

His warning put a halt to Senator Jerry Buttimer’s trot for certain.

Jerry (pictued) is almost by-passing Green’s Dan Boyle as King of the Tweets in Leinster House.

Followers of Jerry’s get a day in the life of the proud Cork Senator almost every day.

Following the Chairman’s warning on Tuesday, Buttimer was quick to tweet ‘better stop tweeting after chair warning re phones’.

Such a pity, as Jerry’s views on life and politics has become highly entertaining reading on a daily basis.

“Bertie has found the Seand,” he claimed this week following a rare signing of The Bert close to the Upper House.

“Op transformation success continues, just bought 32w jeans in Kildare outlets,” he tweeted at the weekend.

Commenting on SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor’s on-screen spat with TV3’s Vincent Browne - “Jack O’Connor is like a tight corner back, hurling with gusto. Playing a blinder on VB TV3.”

And even last weekend’s Eurovision didn’t escape a regular commentary
from the Senator.

Jerry was not happy that Germany walked away with the title.

“If that is the best song, time to leave the Eurovision. That was puke in my opinion. Niamh was so so better.”

Also tweeting on the Eurovision was Labour’s Liz McManus.

“Not since Labour was in Government has Ireland triumphed at Eurovision. No wins since 1997. No surprise. Fianna Fail hit bum notes so often. What’s another year?”

Is Nessa losing Face?

Labour MEP Nessa Childers Facebook assault this week came as a huge surprise to a lot of people - not least the 100-plus people who are employed in Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin.

On Sunday, Nessa issued one of the most bizzare press releases this column has seen in a long time - calling for new laws to protect people from the dangers and addiction to sites such as Facebook.

Ms Childers, who is a psychotherapist by profession, admits to being a keen user of Facebook herself.

But she is afraid that the rest of us may be wasting our lives by logging on to the social networking site too often.

“Visiting Facebook rewards you with virtual connections and friends. These connections then expand to fill an increasingly empty internal world creating a vicious circle,” she said.

By the sounds of it, it is almost as if she were saying that Facebook was destroying the moral fiber of this country.

Facebook has created jobs in Ireland - much needed jobs at a time when they were badly needed.

And the people of Ireland would rather thank Facebook for investing in Ireland than criticise them for their ‘so-called’ addictive product.

Fan mail for Cowen!

In case Taoiseach Brian Cowen was feeling a little unloved, he received one massive bag of post yesterday.

Over 10,000 postcards from unemployed people across Ireland were delivered to Government Buildings yesterday by Sinn Fein Senator Pearse Doherty.

The postcards have been distributed by Sinn Fein over the past few months during the party’s campaign for jobs for the unemployed.

And to coincide with the release of the latest live register figures, the huge sacks of postcards were delivered to Mr Cowen with the simple message - ‘Greetings from the Dole Queue....... Wish You Were Here’.

Royston - Long time no see!

While out and about during the week, this column bumped into a political character not seen for a long while - Royston Brady, the young whipper-snapper former Mayor of Dublin.

It seems like an age ago that Royston was the Lord Mayor of Dublin. It was during his term that he tied the knot with his now-wife Michelle.

In fact, it is not an age ago, it is only six years.

Well we are glad to report that Royston is embracing married life with gusto and certainly has his hands full - with two children and another one on the way.

Will we be seeing him back on the corridors of power at any time soon?

Who knows!