Miriam Lord: Ireland could learn from gay marriage Bill scrum

‘It would have done the Argies proud, the way they ploughed into us,’ says Labour stalwart

We put out the wrong team against Argentina last weekend. Front Row Frances and her Fine Gael team would have gone through them for a short cut. And Rucking Ruairí on the rampage for Labour would have seen them back to Buenos Aires with ease.

The Minister for Justice demonstrated a Zeboesque turn of foot on Thursday afternoon when she powered her way down the plinth to proclaim the passing of the Marriage Equality Bill. With backbench heavies Bernard Durkan, Alan Farrell and Derek Keating in support, Frances Fitzgerald drove impressively towards the cameras and microphones.

But they didn’t have a free run. Members of the Labour Party were already firmly ensconced in the centre of the plinth, awaiting the arrival of their captain, Jonah, sorry, Joan Burton. The Bill, after all, was their baby. And they had no intension of ceding an inch to the Blueshirt marauders. Ushers looked on anxiously as bone-crunching tackles went in.

"It would have done the Argies proud, the way they ploughed into us," says Labour's Kevin Humphreys. "There was a right gang of them. I still have footprints and stiletto marks on my back."


Labour TDs and Senators tried to hold their ground. Shoulders and elbows were flying. The valiant Humphreys made a lunge for Minister Fitzgerald. He managed to shake her hand and give her a hug before getting swallowed up in the stampede.

The action went on for a good 10 minutes before Labour’s tattered remnants were stretchered off. Then Elbows-of-Iron Fitzgerald smiled sweetly for the media, surrounded by her enforcers and reigning supreme in the FG line-out.

Suddenly, with exquisite skill, former Labour leader Ruairí Quinn nipped in and out from under Fine Gael’s controlled scrum. He popped up at the Minister’s shoulder. Frances and her squad pretended to look delighted.

“I’d like to thank the Fine Gael party, and you Minister, for agreeing to the Labour party proposal that marriage equality would be part of our joint programme,” declared Quinn, slipping over the line for a decisive try. Whereupon his battered comrades limped off happily for their ice-baths.

Ruairí Quinn, by the way, has the distinction of being the first TD ever to canvass in a gay bar. Many years ago he canvassed the George on a Saturday night on the suggestion of local party activist, the late Maurice Jones. No photos remain, but it was reported in the newspapers as a curiosity.

On Thursday night, we hear Frances Fitzgerald made a beeline to Pantibar for a celebratory photo opportunity. Sorry, it was to meet people from the marriage equality campaign. Leo Varadkar was being feted at the other end of the bar. Then Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordán turned up. Patrons were overjoyed at the passing of the Marriage Bill. It means they should be able to drink in peace now without being accosted by members of the Government.

Bertie hasn’t gone away, you know

It's a pity Deaglán de Bréadún didn't buy a Lotto ticket on Tuesday night, because his luck was most definitely in. Timing is everything, as Bertie Ahern pointed out when launching the former Irish Times journalist's latest book, which tells the story of the rise of modern Sinn Féin. But with the Christmas book season well under way, it's easy for new publications to get lost in the crowd.

Bertie noted that Deaglán could have been launching Power Play in the middle of an election campaign. This would have rightly scuppered his chances of getting any attention. Instead, it came out in the middle of a controversy over ongoing paramilitary activity on both sides of the border and suggestions that Sinn Féin is run by the IRA army council. Consequently, the launch in Hodges Figgis was crawling with journalists.

But curiously, given that Sinn Féin co-operated by allowing de Bréadún to interview senior party members (Mary Lou McDonald, Pearse Doherty, Martin Ferris, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams (via email) among them), the event was a Shinner free zone, apart from strategist and general election candidate, Cllr Eoin Ó Broin (partner of MEP Lynn Boylan), who left before Bertie's speech.

The Lord Mayor’s office had confirmed that Críona Ní Dhálaigh – Dublin’s first Sinn Féin mayor – would be attending, but sent word before the launch that she wouldn’t be able to make it. Something else must have cropped up in her busy schedule.

Some guests speculated that the dearth of Sinn Féin people may have been to do with a reluctance to face media questions about that day’s revelations about the Army Council. However, there might have been another reason. (Some Dáil votes were on at the time, but it didn’t prevent other TDs making the quick trip to nearby Dawson Street.)

It seems the party leadership was less than pleased with an extract from the book which appeared in this newspaper last Saturday. The author had no part in choosing it. It was an edited version of the chapter entitled “In the Eye of the Storm”, where de Bréadún looks at some of the recent controversies involving Gerry Adams, including his disputed response to rape victim Máiría Cahill, his conduct in relation to his brother Liam Adams – now serving a jail sentence for the sexual abuse of his daughter; and the ongoing questions over Jean McConville.

We hear the choice of chapter didn’t go down well at all with the top brass. Not least because it failed to list the many achievements of Gerry Adams, who is a very sensitive man. It’s a pity more of his colleagues weren’t at the launch because they could have bought the book and discovered that it’s neither a hagiography nor a hatchet job. Eoin Ó Broin did just that and tweeted his reasonable summation of the book on Friday: “a little superficial, but at least it’s fair.”

They also missed a good speech from Bertie – back in circulation again and charming everyone – particularly younger journalists who weren't around in his heyday. "Back 30 years ago when I was fighting election battles with Sinn Féin, I never had to worry too much about how many votes we were going to get because Christy Burke was the standard bearer in those days and I think he only took around 1 per cent to 3 per cent.

“But they used to give me fierce headaches because they followed me around most of the time in the constituency with a loudhailer shouting ‘No Extradition!’ and all kinds of other things at me and calling me everything,” he recalled, looking around at the political correspondents. “But that’s not new, there’s lots of people in this room called me lots of things over the years, so it was a good training for all of that . . .”

He’s off to Newry next week to take part in a major political debate on the economic implications for Ireland, North and South, of a “Brexit” decision.

Technical hitch in Tubercurry

There’s a tie for quote of the week. “A technical hitch in Tubercurry”: Heartbroken FG TD John Perry’s explanation as to why he came last in the selection convention for Sligo/North Leitrim.

"Ah, give over, Rónán. Jaysus": That's Senator James Heffernan proving during Tuesday's Order of Business that the Social Democrats are, indeed, a broad church.* He was reacting to Senator Rónán Mullen's remarks about Amnesty International's "virulent campaign for legalised abortion" after comedy writer Graham Linehan and his wife Helen spoke publicly about her decision to have a termination when their baby was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality.

And Heffernan again, this time to Rónán Mullen and Jim Walsh, nit-picking away as the packed public gallery waited for the Marriage Bill to finally pass: “If possible, can you allow these people present to go away for a well deserved drink and get this Bill passed as soon as possible?”

Press Release of the Week, headed: “Important legacy for Heather the Hen Harrier as new measures to be introduced.” Kerry Senator Paul Coghlan’s irresistible opening line reads: “Hen Harriers were catapulted into the public domain earlier this year when Heather the Hen Harrier was tragically shot down in the Waterville area.”

Fashion Update: It appears the attitude of the fashion police in Leinster House has softened since the summer recess, when a handsome young postman regularly delivering around the building was informed that his regulation issue An Post knee length shorts were not in keeping with the decorum of the House.

Since September, we hear Kildare Street’s po-faced fashion police (male, middle aged) have taken a huge shine to this postman, possibly because he now has an All-Ireland medal in his postbag along with the letters.

* This article was amended on Saturday October 24th, 2015

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