Miriam Lord’s Annual Political Awards 2022

Who dug themselves into a hole this year? And who ploughed ahead regardless? We’ve got the winners and losers

Hit the Ground Running Award

Despite Leo Varadkar’s shameless pitch for this one, the winner is Simon Harris, who now has temporary possession of the Justice portfolio along with his existing Higher Education gig.

Two and a half years waiting to return to the Taoiseach’s office, plenty of time to hatch some big thoughts, what is the first thing Leo does on his first day back? He stars in a self-indulgent video of himself walking in slow motion around the corridors of power while punchy music pulsates in the background. It shows him leaving his old office in the morning and, having tootled around the Dáil chamber, Leinster House and Áras an Uachtaráin shaking hands, holding important-looking folders and looking decisive, he finally strides in slo-mo into the Taoiseach’s office at 5pm.

“I hit the ground running” is the caption at the start of this puffed-up piece of social media fluff. “Getting on with the job” is the closing line as the new Taoiseach approaches his desk. Hopefully he’ll speed up once he starts some real work.

On the other hand, Simon Harris was handed Justice on Saturday evening. When news broke on Monday of violence and lawlessness making life a misery for the residents of Rathkeale in Limerick, the locals appealed for help. One-man rapid response unit Harris landed in town on Tuesday evening, walking the night-time streets and meeting locals, reassuring them with a pledge of additional Garda resources and enhanced policing.


Now, that’s the way to do a video about hitting the ground running.

Patience of a Saint Award

Simon Coveney for keeping a stiff upper lip through months of speculation that Micheál Martin was after his job in Foreign Affairs and would snaffle it as soon as he stepped down as taoiseach. Which he did. Simon also had to contend with the revolving-door appointments of Northern Ireland secretaries, dealing with half a dozen incumbents in his five years at Iveagh House.

The first one was James Brokenshire, then Karen Bradley, Julian Smith, Brandon Lewis, Shailesh Vara and, finally, a politician who sounds more like a plumbing company, Chris Heaton-Harris.

“I’m sure I’m going to get on well with him,” sighed Coveney in September when Heaton-Harris landed.

He just shades Leas-Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly, who admirably held the fort when the Ceann Comhairle was absent in the latter part of the year following a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Seán Ó Fearghaíl (62) urged men of similar vintage to have themselves checked for the condition and returned to his duties following a successful operation.

Catherine always does her best to show some latitude to TDs pleading for speaking time, but more than a few of them try her patience in a way they might not do in front of Ó Fearghaíl

Never Said a Truer Word Award

Independent deputy for Wexford Verona Murphy for putting the imminent departure of Micheál Martin from the Taoiseach’s office into perspective: “Hasta la Vista, baby! (And I’ll be back next week as Tánaiste.)”

Most Awkward Photo Op

Robert Troy resigned as a junior minister in August and “apologised unreservedly” for failing to declare property and business interests on the Dáil register. But he had no time to lick his wounds. As Fianna Fáil’s Westmeath-based TD, he had to host the party’s Mullingar annual think-in a few short weeks after his fall from grace. The atmosphere was tense when a subdued taoiseach met media at the start of the gathering, with an ashen-faced Troy standing next to him and an extremely glum assortment of party colleagues looking like they were about to cry.

But at least there was some good news for another erstwhile FF minister of State, Barry Cowen, with news that an official investigation found he did not seek to avoid a Garda checkpoint in 2016. Might this mean he could be elevated again come the big reshuffle in December, some wondered?

“Every member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party will always have an opportunity in the fullness of time,” murmured Micheál.

Which meant No.

A few days later, Martin carefully avoided winning the most awkward photo award outright when he opened a new branch of Penneys in Tallaght. Keeping his wits about him and with the help of keen-eyed handlers, he managed to greet shoppers without ending up lost in the lingerie department. The photographers and hacks where inconsolable.

The Only Way Is Up Award

It’s Robert Troy again.

That’s the spirit! Robert is leaving the lows of 2021 behind and kicking off his new year with a trip to Tanzania and an attempt to conquer Africa’s highest peak. Deputy Troy and his wife Aideen Ginnell are hoping to scale Kilimanjaro (5,895m) on January 3rd to raise funds for Mullingar Rotary Club and local charities in the process.

Modesty Forbids Award for Quiet Humility

This belongs to Rural Independent from Limerick Richard O’Donoghue, who also retains his gong as the shoutiest TD in the Dáil. He even outroars the likes of Richard Boyd Barrett and Pearse Doherty.

“If you ran your business like I ran mine you wouldn’t be in business,” he told Micheál Martin, bemoaning the Government’s lack of understanding of how businesses are run. Then he repeatedly heckled the taoiseach as he tried to reply.

“I haven’t interrupted you,” protested Micheál.

“Because you can’t hold a candle to me!” riposted Richard, modestly.

Karma Award for Services to Public Protests

On the first day of the new Dáil term in September, People Before Profit’s Paul Murphy left Leinster House to join a protest against defective apartments. As he crossed the street he was “surrounded by a crowd of far-right activists shouting in my face and with one kicking me”. Gardaí escorted him to safety.

The TD later said he found it “bizarre” that some people were comparing his ordeal to the one suffered by Labour Party minister Joan Burton a number of years ago when she was trapped in her car for hours after it was surrounded by protesters, including Paul Murphy and his megaphone, at a water charges demo in Jobstown. They were brought to safety by gardaí.

The TD was cleared on a charge of falsely imprisoning the former tánaiste at a subsequent high-profile court case.

Of course, Joan and her assistant may have been very frightened when the angry mob shouted abuse at them and began rocking their vehicle, but they were not physically assaulted.

Deputy Murphy saw no similarities between the two episodes as what happened to Joan Burton was to do with a “community protest” while he was targeted by “dangerous members of the far right”.

Foot in Mouth Award

In September, while paying tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth, Leo Varadkar remarked that some people had grown up “wanting to be a prince or princess” but then found that the reality was different.

The hacks pounced. Did Leo grow up dreaming about becoming a prince?

“No, I grew up wanting to be taoiseach,” he quickly clarified.

Award to Beat All Awards Award

This goes to former cathaoirleach of the Seanad Mark Daly, who was awarded the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise (II degree), by president Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine in recognition of his work in support of that beleaguered nation. The star of the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise is made of silver and has the shape of an octagonal convex star with gilding and diverging silver rays. One can attach it to a blue ribbon with yellow stripes at the edges.

Daly’s gong should soften the blow of having to relinquish the chair of the Seanad to Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer as part of the rotation agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Mark has yet to wear the medal in public.

Survivor of the Year

Honourable mention to Jerry Buttimer, who had to step down as leas-chathaoirleach of the Upper House following the Golfgate controversy in 2020. The former TD for Cork South Central was deeply disappointed at the time but was one of the first politicians to fall on his sword when the story broke of the Oireachtas Golf Society’s totally legal but rather questionable dinner in a Clifden hotel during the pandemic. The long-running saga surrounding the golf outing finally came to a close when two officers of the society – former TD Donie Cassidy and Galway West TD Noel Grealish, along with two representatives of the hotel – were tried at Galway District Court and found not guilty of contravening the Covid regulations.

A delighted Senator Buttimer was installed this month as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad.

But the Survivor of the Year, if not the decade, is Tánaiste Micheál Martin, who survived Fianna Fáil’s post-recession electoral meltdown, rebuilt the party and then led it back into government, albeit into a once-unthinkable coalition with arch-rivals Fine Gael. Along the way he also became taoiseach, fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

Brass Neck Award of the Year

A tie between former minister Shane Ross aka Winston Churchtown, who milked every angle possible when flogging his long-heralded opus on Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

He even turned up at the Sinn Féin ardfheis, where he shook hands with fellow author and notice box Gerry Adams. Winston had been hoping his presence would cause a stir among the Shinners but, despite doing several laps of the catering areas and exhibitions, he was left disappointed.

“Only one person gave me abuse,” he shrugged. “A woman came up to me and said, ‘You have a neck like a jockey’s bollocks.’ That was it.”

Winston is joined by FG Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan, who managed to wring every last drop of publicity out of his decision to hand over the running of Dublin’s live animal crib to the OPW, thus saving the heartwarming tableau for the childer of Ireland.

Skibbereen Eagle Medal for Keeping an Eye on Russia

Rear admiral Senator Gerard Craughwell for threatening to lead a flotilla to confront Putin’s fleet as it planned war games off the coast of Cork earlier this year. “We must send a Naval Service vessel to the southwest with members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence observing what’s going on there,” cried Gerry.

The Russians fled.

Also honoured are the “52 representatives of the leadership and politicians of Ireland” blacklisted by the Kremlin for apparently conducting an anti-Russia propaganda campaign under orders from Brussels. The banned and delighted list included Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar, the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, and the minister for finance, Paschal Donohoe.

Most Coveted Must-Have Political Accessory of 2022

Your name on Russian ambassador Yury Fibalot’s “stop list” and a coveted place on Putin’s naughty steppe.

With a Whisper and Not a Bang Gong

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly was ousted by a group of parliamentary party colleagues – he called them “the lads” – who visited him and told him his number was up. He went quietly, which was a first.

Court Case of the Year

The much-anticipated Golfgate trial in Galway in January saw TD Noel Grealish and former TD Donie Cassidy acquitted on charges of organising an Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in contravention of Covid regulations. “I am a lawmaker, not a lawbreaker,” declared an emotional Donie on the steps of the courthouse after the judge exonerated them in double-quick time. Donie’s year got even better when he was elected vice-president of his beloved Fianna Fáil in October.

Most Overhyped, Underwhelming and Long-Drawn Out Reshuffle of the Year

Did you blink? You missed it, so.

Best non-Seamus Heaney Quote of the Year

To European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who quoted “the great Irish band” the Saw Doctors in her address to the joint Houses of the Oireachtas. She said when the EU sits down with the British, they would do so with “an honest heart and an open mind”. The lyric is from To Win Just Once from the Tuam band’s 1996 album Same Oul’ Town.

Kudos to People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith for managing to quote Jon Bon Jovi during Leo Varadkar’s election as Taoiseach.

Political Operator of the Year

Newly minted Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform (who makes up these ridiculous titles?) Paschal Donohoe, for endearing himself so much to his colleagues in the prestigious Eurogroup of finance ministers that they allowed him stay on as president of the group while admitting new Minister for Finance, Michael McGrath, as the member for Ireland.

Backbencher of the Year

This goes to veteran Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton, who is celebrating 40 years in the Dáil. Richard has been a government minister on a number of occasions and now chairs the FG parliamentary party. He gets the award because he is a rare example of a former cabinet member who still gets stuck into parliamentary and committee work, debating with well-researched points and undimmed enthusiasm. He has not joined the usual grumpy squad of former luminaries glowering on the backbenches.

Opposition TD of the Year

Mary Lou McDonald rules the roost here, but there are less-high profile TDs worth a mention, with Cian O’Callaghan of the Social Democrats, Aontú's Peadar Tóibín, Labour’s Ged Nash and Sinn Féin’s Claire Kerrane and Mairéad Farrell standing out. However, their Sinn Féin colleague Kathleen Funchion gets the nod. A very low-key operator, the policy-driven Carlow-Kilkenny TD has been doing excellent work as chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and deserves recognition.

Senator of the Year

Senators from the bigger parties are often overlooked in favour of their more showy Independent colleagues. One of the hardest workers in the Upper House is Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne, who does Trojan work on a number of committees. His big pushes were the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and increased funding for higher education, while he was also very strong in his support for Ireland to finally join CERN.

He also found the time to cycle around Ireland for charity, run numerous marathons and perform in Gorey Music Society’s production of The Sound of Music.

Minister of the Year

While Heather Humphreys has been getting plaudits for her astute handling of her social protection portfolio and ability to criss-cross the country handing out vast amounts of money, the winner is the Green Party’s Catherine Martin, who became the darling of impoverished actors everywhere when she brought in a basic income scheme for artists. As Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, she also approved a record €166.6 million in sports capital funding, announced a new dedicated children’s channel for TG4, extended the Creative Ireland programme until 2027 and led a shake-up of the licensing laws to support the night-time economy.

Politician of the Year

It has to be Micheál Martin, even though his term of office was dogged with bad luck – not least the Covid pandemic. But he saw the nation through it and joyously announced the lifting of restrictions. He was also unlucky not to get a chance to visit the White House for St Patrick’s Day when he tested positive for Covid on the day before he was due to meet US president Joe Biden. Micheál has worked has tirelessly on his “Shared Island” initiative and pushed for progress on the housing crisis.

When he handed over power to Leo Varadkar in December he was universally praised by those members of the Opposition with whom he regularly jousted for his hard work, fairness, approachability and decency.

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday