Miriam Lord: Ryan’s U-turn on Limerick road fails to keep Keating on board

Minister for Beer Gardens mortifies former hacks amid leaks of ridiculous proportions

It hasn't been a great week for the Greens.

But there is precious little sympathy for Eamon Ryan and his party from their coalition partners.

News of the Minister for Transport's embarrassing climbdown on delaying the completion of the Coonagh-Knockalisheen road in Limerick was greeted joyfully by Government colleagues in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Of course, they were delighted that the crucial stretch of road which will open up the Moyross estate to the northside of the city was finally approved by the Minister after he initially failed to sign off on it, saying other options should be explored first.


But they were even more delighted to see the Green Party leader “getting an awful kick in the ass”.

One Munster-based TD declared: “He needed to be put back in his green box. This wasn’t just about Limerick, there’s a lot of road projects waiting for the go-ahead and we needed to put a marker down.”

There was widespread welcome from all other parties in the Dáil for the decision to proceed and the fact that the Greens “saw sense” in the end.

“Ryan got a great introduction to good old-fashioned Junior B hurling. He never saw the political slashers coming and it was some onslaught. In the end, it was the most ignominious of climbdowns. We’re not talking Carrauntoohil here, more like Mont Blanc or Everest,” whooped a Fine Gaeler.

“We don’t feel sorry for him at all. He left the whole thing fester for weeks,” said a Fianna Fáil backbencher.

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste were left in no doubt by their troops that the final phase of the road must go ahead, as agreed in the programme for government.

“Imagine coming out against something you already agreed in the programme? These lads haven’t a clue,” marvelled another backbencher.

On Wednesday morning, the Green Party leader backtracked on breaching Europe’s biggest cul-de-sac and said the work would commence immediately.

His earlier pronouncements caused consternation in Moyross. And the upshot on Tuesday was the loss of yet another elected representative. Former Green Party general election candidate for Limerick County Claire Keating resigned from the Greens on Tuesday. When her party leader changed his mind, she said she would not be returning as it was "too little, too late".

The Green Party is badly damaged in Limerick city. Independent Cllr Frankie Daly, displaying a colourful turn of phrase, told the Limerick Post the Greens were "a cult" and "a bunch of spacers" who think they can ride in at the last minute and change a plan that took 13 years to design.

“All we are short of here is Star Wars, they’re spacers, they are living on another planet.”

And the parish priest of Moyross called on Ryan to resign.

Back in the Dáil, there was no doubting where the Taoiseach’s sympathies lay. Confirming to the House that the plan was back on track, he singled out his Limerick TD for special mention, smilingly recalling Willie O’Dea’s “interesting” presentation to the parliamentary party in “his inimitable way”.

O’Dea was in high dudgeon over the threatened delay to the Moyross road. He quoted Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales: “Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining.”

Leaks in real time

The level of leaks from the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings has reached such ridiculous proportions that people wonder why they aren’t just livestreamed from the party rooms to stop all the faffing about.

Some political correspondents are specialists in this area, priding themselves on their ability to relay the rows and recriminations in real time to readers while the politicians are slugging it out behind closed doors.

This is a huge source of irritation to members who very much frown upon the damaging practice of leaking private party business – except when they are the ones doing it.

On Wednesday, a number of former media terriers turned political poodles surfaced at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, much to the amusement of the members. Their erstwhile persecutors, who used to torment them for info, now work as Government advisers.

People think the first pandemic of 2020 was the coronavirus outbreak. But no. It was the latest mass infection of members of the media who fall victim to the blandishments of chequebook-waving Ministers promising more money, respect, easier hours and better prospects.

But we’re not bitter.

This was one of Leo Varadkar's ideas. The Tánaiste, dubbed "Minister for Beer Gardens" during the week by Labour's Aodhán Ó'Ríordáin, thought the new Oireachtas intake and the slow on the uptake should meet the advisers – including the former hacks – as they are often the first point of contact when trying to get time with a Minister. The former hacks weren't over the moon but they had no choice.

Included in the group were Fiach Kelly (Helen McEntee) and Sarah Bardon (Simon Harris) both late and lamented of this parish; Niall O'Connor (Heather Humphreys) and Paul Melia (Hildegard Naughton) formerly of the Indo; and Chris Donoghue (Simon Coveney) ex-Newstalk.

We hear they were mortified.

First up was the former Oireachtas press gallery chairman Kelly, who was greeted with a chorus of boos and shouts of “Get off the call!”

Heather Humphreys welcomed him to his first "official" meeting of the parliamentary party.

“Hello, my name is Fiach Kelly. You might know me from a previous life…”

Chris Donoghue couldn’t turn off the mute button so he had to ring in and appeared on the screen talking into his mobile phone.

Sarah Bardon said that after spending years trying to get into it, she thought the meeting was a bit of a disappointment.

When they all said their piece (phone us anytime, we’re here to help you with queries and stop you annoying our Minister), Leo thanked them and said he hoped everyone would be able to meet each other face to face in a nice beer garden in the not too distant future.

The man is obsessed with beer gardens.

And then the advisers were kicked out of the meeting so that the TDs and Senators could get down to the regular business of leaking to the comrades they left behind.

Passionate takedown

Labour's Duncan Smith hit the headlines with his broadside against the Healy-Raes in the Dáil on Wednesday. The 37-year-old TD for Dublin Fingal worked as parliamentary assistant to party veteran Brendan Ryan and served as his director of elections in 2011 and 2016 before successfully retaining the seat for Labour upon Ryan's retirement.

Smith’s passionate takedown was met with the approval of deputies from all sides who were quietly pleased to see the continually grandstanding Kerry independents taken down a peg or two. However, his scathing reference to the brothers being “sons of Fianna Fáil privilege” didn’t go down well with many FF TDs and Senators.

“Their father, Jackie, was a self-made man who came from very humble beginnings,” one TD told us. “Most of us are from very ordinary backgrounds and we had to work our way up like everyone else.”

So why not point this out? “No chance. Not going near it. That’s one argument we’d never win.”

Leinster House observers with long memories have floated the theory that the Healy-Raes' Dáil outburst against the Labour party, which prompted Duncan Smith's angry response, was about settling old scores. Michael Healy-Rae was furious when then Labour minister, Joan Burton, booted him off the Citizens Information Board in 2011, citing a conflict of interest. He had refused her request to step down, suggesting the minister just wanted to appoint her political cronies. Joan Burton informed him it was "standard practice'' and a feature of "good governance on all State boards that when a member becomes a TD, they resign''.

Meanwhile, Smith’s Labour colleagues have given him a new nickname after his “I am the son of a carpenter” speech. They’re calling him Jesus.

Healy-Rae trademark

Enjoyed a very good humoured and pleasant conversation last week with Sinn Féin's Mark Ward about the Healy-Rae style black cap he wore in the Dáil during the debate on his party's motion calling for an extension of the €28 fuel allowance to all recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

The unexpected appearance of this familiar cap somewhere other than on the Healy-Rae head raised eyebrows and a few laughs among politicians and observers starved of Dáil diversion in these strictly controlled Covid days.

Why was he sporting Michael Healy-Rae’s trademark titfer? Did he snaffle it when Michael took it off to scratch his head? People were asking questions. We resolved to get to the bottom of the mystery.

A quick call to the TD’s mobile number reached the voicemail of his parliamentary assistant. We dispatched a message to Joseph saying we had a nice photo of Mark and were sure he would want to “deny scurrilous allegations in political circles that he mugged Michael Healy-Rae on the way into the auditorium and stole his cap” or, for that matter, that he has been outed as a big fan of the Kerry TD’s fashion sense.

Could Deputy Ward please get in contact on “this urgent issue of national importance” as the people were demanding an answer? The deputy for Dublin Mid-West generously obliged within half an hour.

He laughed about making a serious speech in the Dáil and then getting a call about his cap and we had a lovely aul chat. Nice bloke. On Saturday, after this column appeared, Mark Ward helpfully tweeted a link to the piece along with a screenshot and the message: “When you are highlighting the need for food banks in your area to combat poverty caused by Government policies and mainstream media focus on a cap! Usual jibes about my working class routes too.”

Ah here.

He must have missed Marie O'Halloran's report on Sinn Féin's motion headed "Elderly staying in bed, refusing showers because of cold in homes, Dáil told." She quoted two of his colleagues, Claire Kerrane and Mairéad Farrell.

What is it about Sinn Féin TDs and Twitter – public angels and social media devils? Maybe because it gives them a chance to have their cake and eat it too?

Science lessons

The Oireachtas Friends of Science Group (who knew!) meets informally from time to time to discuss and examine science and tech-related issues. Science graduate and former minister for communications Denis Naughten chairs the group and meetings attract a good cross-section of what one regular calls "Oireachtas nerds and others who might be interested".

Members have heard presentations recently from experts on topics including vaccines and climate change. On Wednesday, they held an online meeting with some of the winners from this year's BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. It was organised by Naughten and Wexford-based FF Senator Malcolm Byrne, who used to work in communications for the Higher Education Authority.

The group competition winners from Moate Community School talked about sheep and how their wool could be used to clean up major oil spills. The farmers in the group were particularly fascinated.

Next up was the subject of AI – not in the ovine or agricultural sense, but artificial intelligence.

Gregg Tarr from Bandon Grammar School in Cork, who won the overall prize, discussed "deep fake" technology. He put the wind up the politicians by explaining how they can be impersonated and how their images can be faked and distorted online, misleading the public into believing the deep fakes are the real thing.