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Miriam Lord’s 2021 Awards: Coalition had to Sinn and bear it in the year of Mary Lou

Danny Healy-Rae left to his own device as Zapponegate saw Government rocked by a role

So say all of us soundbite of the year

Senator David Norris for this simple truth: "The trouble with Covid is it would bore the knickers off a saint."

Careless whispers award for muttering darkly

Honourable mention to Stephen Donnelly, who didn't appreciate Leas-Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly telling him politely to resume his seat when his speaking time was up. How dare the woman! He sat down in a major sulk, huffing underneath his breath: "Unf***ingbelievable."

Winner: The Taoiseach for almost buckling under extreme pressure from Danny Healy-Rae roaring across the chamber at him about the national herd.

“Aah shut the fu...,” mumbled Micheál, biting his tongue and the last two words.


Best Q&A

Séamus the Dog for grilling the Taoiseach on RTÉ's Home School Hub last March.

“And you are . . . ? Who are you?” enquired the inquisitive puppet on behalf of all the boys and girls at home.

“I don’t know. I’m still trying to find out,” replied his guest. “But they say I’m Micheál Martin. I’m the Taoiseach, in charge of the Government and all of that.”

So what animal would he like to be and why?

“I think an elephant,” said Micheál. “Elephants have great memories, and I need a good memory.”

Fast forward to November and the Taoiseach loses his rag with Labour leader Alan Kelly over their different recollections of a private off-mic conversation about teachers.

Kelly’s version went up almost immediately on social media. Martin was disgusted.

“I learned something about you yesterday that I will not forget. And that will govern our relationship from here onwards,” he informed Kelly at Leaders’ Questions the following day.

U-turn of the year

"Is your climbdown on the vulture funds the most spectacular climbdown in the lifetime of this Dáil?" Solidarity-People Before Profit's Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach after a new tax on investment funds buying up lots of new houses for the buy-to-let market was watered down embarrassingly soon after it was announced. "If climbdowns and U-turns were an Olympic sport I suspect that Paddy Power would have you at short odds for a medal in Tokyo."

Sinn Féin reversed engines on its long-standing opposition to the Special Criminal Court as its glossy government-in-waiting ardfheis, despite a small pocket of resistance in the ranks. This was no surprise in an event meticulously designed not to frighten the middle-class horses.

But the best backtrack of 2021 was the swift redrawing of plans to distribute free antigen tests to all workers in the Oireachtas (including TDs) when other members of the public were expected to pay for their own. When details of the proposal were leaked horrified politicians ran a mile from it. Within an hour, the Oireachtas officially tweeted that these tests were not free to TDs and Senators, but only to Oireachtas staff.

Most overused phrase

“There is no silver bullet.”

Campaign of the year

Bernard "tear down those balls" Durkan's crusade to ditch the rollovers and make the Lotto more winnable was a truly inspired piece of self-promotion. Better still, the National Lottery now wants to tweak the competition so the big prize can be won more often. The Fine Gael veteran hit the jackpot.

He hasn’t gone away you know

President Michael D Higgins for his decision not to attend an ecumenical service in Armagh to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the establishment of Northern Ireland. After being cooped up and off the radar for an unbearable length of time due to the pandemic, Michael D finally managed to start a national conversation (he must have been thrilled), correctly gauging the public mood in the process.

She hasn’t gone away you know

Former Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell saw the writing on the wall and decided not to seek her party's nomination for the Dublin Bay South byelection because its eventual candidate, councillor James Geoghegan, was the nailed-on choice of the local organisation. While not in the running, she still managed a high-profile presence as candidates from other parties flocked to her Rathgar pharmacy for photo ops.

And, of course, she went out of her way not to take pleasure in Geoghegan's loss to Labour's Ivana Bacik.

Just last week, the local Fine Gael organisation met to review July’s campaign. Kate O’Connell, to the surprise of some of those present, turned up and took a seat in the front row. Apparently her presence, we hear, led to “muted” contributions.

It seems Kate said nothing, which is hard to believe.

Bord na Móna award for most dramatic byelection exit in Dublin 4

Kate O'Connell. The Westmeath-born politician declared she was bowing out of the byelection race during a riveting radio interview with RTÉ's Claire Byrne, revealing that some of the local Blueshirt worthies did not like "the cut of her jib" and mocked her rural background.

She said one member of the southside old guard intended to embarrass her at a party event by presenting her with a sod of turf (which she had concealed in her handbag) but her little ruse was rumbled in the nick of time.

Toe-curling photo-op award

Very crowded field, but the gong goes to Minister for Culture Catherine Martin, eh, "hitting the decks" before a pilot nightclub event at the Button Factory in Dublin's Temple Bar in October. Down with the kids.

That went well.

Just asking award

In July, Clare Independent Michael McNamara wasn't happy with the new indoor dining rules being rushed through the Dáil. "Last summer you supported peaceful civil disobedience in Belarus. At what point is civil disobedience acceptable and legitimate if democracy is not adhered to?" he asked Micheál Martin.

The Taoiseach was gobsmacked. Was Deputy McNamara comparing Ireland to Belarus? “We are not comparable, in any shape or form, to the Lukashenko regime.”

Oh no, said McNamara. He was merely posing the question.

Shock exit of the year (not really)

Fianna Fáil dissident Marc Mac Sharry left the parliamentary party. The political world was rocked to its foundations for a millisecond and then life went on as usual in Leinster House (minus some valuable leaks from the FF front for the pol corrs).

Device of the year

Danny Healy-Rae's mobile phone. His Nokia keeps going off in the Dáil chamber.

“Is it ever going to stop, Ceann Comhairle?” pleaded Labour leader Alan Kelly. “Every. Single. Day. Are you ever going to do anything about it? It’s just continuous.”

Did Danny care? No he did not.

“Who’d want to ring you? Because you’d do nothing for them anyway,” he shouted at Kelly.

Michael Healy-Rae backed his brother.

“That’s your answer. There’s no one ringing you anyway, you do nothing for no one. You’re not doing anything for anyone. Only here yapping. If you minded your own business you’d be a great man.”

Know your place award

To Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin for ever so tentatively suggesting that laugh-a-minute Gerry Adams should apologise for his creepy "Tiocfaidh ár lá, lá-lá-lá-lá" Christmas video. It wasn't long before senior party colleagues were backing gas man Gerry and Eoin was rowing back faster than the O'Donovan brothers in an Olympic final.

Most unlikely political appearance

Former minister Shane Ross on manoeuvres at the Sinn Féin ardfheis. In a sign of the changing times, nobody paid any notice to him. Lord Ross, aka Winston Churchtown, wandered around the stands and stalls before settling down in the auditorium for Mary Lou McDonald's keynote speech. He's writing a book about her, as he keeps saying.

Surprise of the year

The award goes to Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney for deciding to give former minister Katherine Zappone a job as a UN special envoy and then springing their decision on the Taoiseach in the middle of a busy Cabinet meeting. "It's definitely not a makey-up job," said Coveney, of the makey-up job.

He subsequently apologised to Micheál. “’Twas an oversight,” said the Taoiseach, grudgingly, as all hell broke loose and “Zapponegate” became the story of the summer.

Best slogan, or so it seemed at the time

This goes to Paul Murphy of Solidarity-People Before Profit, paying homage to David Bowie with his "We Can Be Zero" campaign to lick Covid with strict travel controls and early lockdowns. That was back in February.

Sleepyhead of the year

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, champion of the people who get up early in the morning, for sleeping it in on the morning after the October budget and standing up RTÉ's Justin McCarthy in the Morning Ireland studio. The Tánaiste was flagged up for the prestigious slot after the 8am news, but Independent TD Verona Murphy, in RTÉ to give Opposition reaction, filled the breach. Leo finally made the airwaves 40 minutes late.

Most mentions of Cromwell

Mattie McGrath of the Roaring Independents. Along with most mentions of apartheid, Germany in 1933, existential threats to our democracy, Putin and state-sponsored terrorism. Along with first mention of the word "condemic".

Hissyfit of the year

Paschal Donohoe for getting ridiculously indignant over an RTÉ interviewer's understandable reference to Fine Gael's unfortunate past association with children's shoes (Fine Gael minister John Bruton's tax on children's shoes famously brought down a government in the '80s). The Government was under fire in April because infants could not be measured for new shoes due to lockdown restrictions on shops.

Apologies were demanded (both the Minister’s people and Fine Gael complained) and, regrettably, RTÉ apologised.

Rent-a-quote of the year

Senator Regina Doherty, former Fine Gael TD and now her party's leader in the Seanad. Regina hasn't been behind the door in criticising some of her Government's decisions, among other things. She must be running again for a Dáil seat.

Opposition TDs of the year

Labour’s Duncan Smith for his masterful takedown of the millionaire Healy-Rae brothers, taking their “what would ye above in Dublin know about the poor hard-working country people” routine and shoving it where the sun don’t shine on behalf of all non-millionaire hard-working people, rural or urban.

Gino Kenny of Solidarity-People Before Profit gets an honourable mention for his low-key work on behalf of the marginalised in his Dublin Mid-West constituency, and his tireless campaign on medicinal cannabis. He's one of the quieter TDs, universally liked and respected around the Dáil.

The Social Democrats' Catherine Murphy was strong on the housing issue and the contributions from party housing spokesman Cian O'Callaghan stood out during the many debates on the crisis.

Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin put in an impressive performance as his party’s education spokesman.

As for the effective constituency operators on all sides of the House, Fianna Fáil’s Jennifer Murnane O’Connor gets our vote. She’s always on the case for Carlow-Kilkenny but is careful to stress that her arguments apply nationally. She also sticks around longer in the big debates, unlike others who say their piece and go.

Senator of the year

They delighted us all equally, but the unaligned Independent Senators, unconstrained by constituency and party political interests, continue to outpace their colleagues with their range of interests and legislative output. Alice Mary Higgins remains a powerhouse, while the "Independent Group" of chalk and cheese Senators with their wildly divergent views (Victor Boyhan, Michael McDowell, Gerard Craughwell, Rónán Mullen, David Norris and Sharon Keogan) are usually worth a listen, even if some of those views can be hard to take.

Junior minister of the year

A tie between Fianna Fáil's Anne Rabbitte (Children and Disability) and Mary Butler (Mental Health and Older People). They don't have the most glamorous posts but they are hard-working and strong advocates for their portfolios. And they aren't afraid to take a swipe at their senior Ministers either. It is noticeable that when Opposition TDs are attacking Government policy they tend to make a point of exempting the two Ministers of State.

Butler and Rabbitte, they sound like a TV detective duo.

Minister of the year

Heather Humphreys – the Coalition's unspectacular Mrs Pragmatic. For much of the year, with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on maternity leave, Humphreys held three portfolios – Social Protection, Rural and Community Development and Justice – and avoided dropping the ball on any of them.

Politician of the year

The clear winner is Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald. Under her leadership, the party has opened up an impressive lead over Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The latest opinion polls have her within respectable striking distance of the combined figure for both parties.

While her Dáil opposition routine is unashamedly populist and unswervingly negative, it works and should continue to do so unless the Government can deliver substantial results on the housing crisis.

Mary Lou – the first-name recognition status is priceless – is a politician of substance. Her polished and assured ardfheis performance cemented that position but her increasingly sarcastic and disdainful attitude to the Taoiseach in the Dáil does her no favours.