Miriam Lord’s Week: A black pudding paean at controversial SF event

Commemoration for IRA volunteer featured the famous Clonakilty breakfast product

Tense moments at a cemetery in west Cork last week after Martin Ferris concluded his controversial graveside oration at an event to honour "the last IRA volunteer to die on active service".

Speaking at the annual Sinn Féin commemoration for Diarmuid O’Neill, who was shot dead in London 25 years ago by British police, the former Kerry TD told the crowd that Irish republicans who gave their lives for Irish freedom were not criminals and attempts to demonise them should be challenged.

He said O’Neill and his fellow Provisional IRA member Edward O’Brien, from Wexford, who was killed when a bomb he was carrying exploded on a bus in London in 1996, were among those IRA members who helped bring the British government to the negotiating table.

Ferris, a former IRA prisoner who famously collected the killers of Det Garda Gerry McCabe from Portlaoise Prison after they were released, added that O’Neill “continues to inspire us in the political struggle” and in the struggle against “the oppressors who have demonised and tried to criminalise”.


He was loudly applauded by his audience when he declared: “We were no criminals. We gave up our liberty and many of us gave up our lives for that struggle, to continue that struggle and to follow the way that was laid before us from 1798, from 1867, from 1916 right through to the present day.”

The commemoration was organised by a sub-committee of the Clonakilty branch of Sinn Féin, with a piper and three flag-bearers leading the way into the cemetery in Timoleague. There were messages of solidarity followed by a wreath-laying ceremony, after which the piper played a lament.

This wasn’t Ferris’s first time to deliver the oration at the event, and the “former Republican POW” went down a storm with the crowd of about 100 people, including a number of serving and former Sinn Féin TDs and party officials.

MC for the occasion was Clonakilty branch chairman Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin. As proceedings drew to a close, he took to the microphone again.

“Finally, we are going to have the national anthem played now by Norman O’Rourke. And when the national anthem finishes I would like you just to stay where you are for just one minute.”

He paused.

“There is something going to happen that I would like everyone present here to witness.”

Would a masked figure emerge from behind a tree, step forward and do the deed? Would a shot be fired above the grave to mark the 25th anniversary of O'Neill's death?

Anxious glances were exchanged between the Sinn Féin luminaries at the graveside. A reporter in the vicinity discreetly took out his phone and hissed an urgent message to the photographer, who had left minutes earlier.

“Get yourself back here quick! Something’s going to happen!”

A frisson of anticipation and apprehension gripped the crowd in those moments between the national anthem and whatever “something” they were urged to stay and witness.

Would a masked figure emerge from behind a tree, step forward and do the deed?

Would a shot be fired above the grave to mark the 25th anniversary of volunteer O’Neill’s death?

The party luminaries – no strangers to republican funerals and graveside commemorations – held their breath.

The music stopped. The colour party stood to attention. The branch chairman then thanked Norman the piper for coming at such short notice and for refusing to accept any financial payment.

The hushed crowd and the Sinn Féin bigwigs waited.

“And so to show our gratitude to him today we are going to present him with a gift of some Clonakilty black pudding. Norman, many thanks for helping us out and playing here today.”

And then Cionnaith presented the piper with a big bag of delicious black puddin’.

Great applause. Relieved smiles all round.

“I was a bit worried there for a while,” admitted one of the comrades, the colour back in his face again. “We didn’t know what was going to happen there.”

A very high-visibility job

The good news is that a job opportunity has come up in the public service.

The bad news is that the closing date for applications was on Thursday.

Head of transparency.

At the Department of Justice.

That should be a handy enough number. What could possibly go wrong?

For some reason, the politician who drew our attention to this vacancy seemed to find the very idea of such a position hilarious. Then again, when we mentioned it to other people around Leinster House, they found it funny too.

It’s a senior executive job.

This unique role was created in 2018 after a string of policing controversies including the Garda penalty points scandal and the Maurice McCabe saga rocked the department, leading to the complete overhaul of the St Stephen's Green operation. Ministers Alan Shatter and Frances Fitzgerald – subsequently vindicated – lost their jobs at the height of the furore over whistleblowers.

It was introduced as part of what then general secretary of the department Aidan O’Driscoll described as “the most radical restructuring of a department in the history of the State”.

Neil Ward, the former Labour advisor and chief of staff turned senior civil servant, is the acting head of transparency until a suitable candidate is appointed.

"The transparency function is responsible for all public affairs activity, including creating and communicating information required by the public, Ministers and the Oireachtas, as well as delivering consistently excellent standards of internal and external communications and public engagement in support of the department's mission."

It’s all about “coherent narratives”.

On the other hand, there’s a huge demand for HGV drivers at the moment.

Living in cloud cuckoo land

The motion tabled by the Social Democrats to pause the construction of energy-guzzling data centres until a proper examination into how they are affecting the country is carried out was supported by the other Opposition parties in the Dáil on Wednesday, with some Government TDs more gung-ho than others in their rejection of the proposal.

Fine Gael backbencher Fergus O'Dowd led the charge. The suggestion was "nonsensical, out of touch and hypocritical", he thundered, comparing it to "picking up individual grains of sand to try and combat the tide".

The veteran TD argued that if people “operate in a more digital manner” by conducting more of their business online, this would ensure less driving and fewer emissions. “What allows this? Data centres.”

He had a question for supporters of the motion.

“Do any of you use debit/credit cards? Our banking facilities don’t use steam power, they are facilitated by data centres to process high-volume transactions.”

O’Dowd is one of the small minority of TDs in the Dáil who don’t spend the lion’s share of their time in the chamber looking at their mobile phones. He said the Soc Dems are hypocrites for their attitude to data storage.

It seems Fergus wants the Social Democrats to go back to issuing press releases on paper and ditch their tablets and laptops

“The backup systems for your phone and computer live in the cloud. Our world and economy functions on the cloud. The Social Democrats’ hypocritical attitude to cloud storage is a lot like their hypocritical attitude to housing: ‘Build it somewhere else, please.’”

It seems Fergus wants them to go back to issuing press releases on paper and ditch their tablets and laptops. They have no problem sharing clips from their Dáil debate online, content which has to be processed by servers. “Most Social Democrat representatives use social media sites which are streamed from clouds or data centres. None of these accounts are powered by their own abundant self-righteousness,” he thundered.

“The motion today is a slight against the country, our futures and the public that those who supported it purport to represent.”

He said these centres enable investment and provide employment, allowing people to live and work in their local communities. And he gave an example: “Amazon Web Services in Drogheda are a major employer. They are also innovating to preserve water and reduce energy usage in its data centres worldwide, including in Ireland.”

Good man Fergus, TD for Louth, with a very strong constituency base in his hometown of... Drogheda.

Kiss and makey-uppy

No more makey-uppy jobs.

We can't be doing with them anymore after that whole Katherine Zappone unpleasantness, with the knees-up in the Merrion Hotel which nobody attended apart from the ones who were found out.

What was the job that Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar approved for their former cabinet colleague in the last government?

Special envoy for freedom of expression with a focus on LGBTQI issues.

Mary Lou McDonald had a thing or two to say about it at the start of last month via her column in the Irish Sun.

"Here we go again. It's like a bad case of deja vu," wrote the Sinn Féin leader. "It's just the latest episode in the cosy jobs for the boys and girls culture that dominates Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. "

She soundly dismissed the proposed – eventually abandoned – special envoy role as “a very well paid, makey-uppy job”.

But Thomas Gould, the Sinn Féin poll-topper for Cork North Central, is not so sure now. On Thursday morning in the Dáil he pressed the Minister for Foreign Affairs "for an update on the status of the progress of securing a special envoy for freedom of expression".

Coveney chose not to mention Sinn Féin's recent no-confidence motion in him for trying to appoint a former colleague to that makey-uppy job

Simon Coveney said he was glad to answer the question. He’s quite the authority on special envoys now.

“I have asked my department to undertake a review of the role and appointment of special envoys, given the public commentary and debate on this issue in recent weeks,” he replied, with touching understatement. He chose not to mention Sinn Féin’s recent no-confidence motion in him for trying to appoint a former colleague to that makey-uppy job.

Gould called on the Minister to take action on filling the role as it is an important issue for the estimated 500,000 members of the LGBTQIA community in this State.

“Many of them were probably heartened to hear that the position of a special envoy for their freedom of expression was a priority for the Government and were disappointed when it fell through,” he told the Dáil, without a hint of irony in his voice.

“The position of a special envoy, not alone in Ireland or Afghanistan but globally, is one that is worth filling.”

Fair play to Simon Coveney for keeping a straight face.

“I also believe it is worthwhile” he began, “which is why I was looking to create the position and appoint somebody suitable to it...”

“An awful lot of people” would be qualified to do Mary Lou’s makey-uppy job and would be interested in doing it, observed deputy Gould. “Sometimes we need to look outside the box of the usual suspects. A special envoy in this specific case for the LGBTQIA community is such an important role.”

So it seems the job is a good ’un now in this sudden case of kiss and makey-up for Sinn Féin.