As Christmas morning approaches the Government has assured children that Santa Claus will not be affected by ongoing Brexit supply chain issues, insurance requirements or the elves' immigration status.
Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú brought up this important matter during the last Dáil sitting of the year on Thursday on foot of enquiries from younger constituents.
"There are worries in regard to a certain Santa Claus," he told Minister of State Seán Fleming during Department of Finance questions. He hoped the Minister and his colleagues would engage with all the relevant stakeholders to ensure Santa was not impacted by problems arising from the Northern Irish protocol with any potential visa difficulties ironed out in good time.
“We assume that public liability insurance issues which may arise in relation to Santa Claus and his workers have been looked at and dealt with, and that the Government can assure my younger constituents that the difficulties we are facing in the wider world will not be impacting in relation to the supply chain and Santa Claus.”
Fleming thanked Deputy Ó Murchú for raising this timely issue and provided him with the latest news from Merrion Street.
“Before I came in here, we made a phone call to Lapland and the government in Lapland has told us there is no insurance required whatever for anybody in Lapland who ever has an accident.”
But as Santa Claus and Mrs Claus are meticulous about making sure all the helpers are fully protected they have never been involved in one anyway.
"I think the United Nations made that clear decades ago. I think all children will be quite satisfied that the domestic border between Ireland, or between Russia, Mongolia, China or any other country, doesn't exist with the sat navs that are used from Lapland," said Seán.
“All the children can be fully assured they will get their presents when they wake up on Christmas morning.”
In the chair was Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who became known for wearing a musical Christmas tie in the chamber on the last day. The tie broke, which is probably just as well because a blast of Deck the Halls from Aengus might not have been the best move for a Sinn Féin TD this week, so he wore a Daidí na Nollag face mask instead.
He was also delighted that Santa and his sleigh have official clearance for next weekend’s big trip to Ireland. “I think he’ll be okay once he doesn’t damage my roof.”
Politicians’ pet projects
A spate of cute animal photos featuring politicians hit social media this week in the wake of the Government’s announcement of a €3.7 million funding package for animal welfare organisations.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue marked the occasion by getting his photograph taken with a donkey at Farmleigh Estate and a little puppy at the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals headquarters in Rathfarnham. Ninety-eight groups around the country are getting grants – good news for the animals they care for and good news for the welfare of Government TDs and Senators who rushed out details of local allocations as soon as head office gave them the nod.
The announcement coincided with the inaugural Animal Welfare Awareness Day described as “an initiative of the Minister to raise awareness of animal welfare” while recognising “the fantastic effort and commitment of our amazing animal welfare organisations” and the many volunteers working with them.
“These awards mark the largest award of grant funding to animal welfare bodies ever made by my department. This additional support will make a real difference to the welfare of animals nationwide.”
The Minister also urged people “to think carefully before deciding to buy a puppy this Christmas and take responsibility for your choice”.
While this injection of much needed funding was warmly welcomed by the hard-pressed organisations, the Minister’s long statement about promoting animal welfare included no mention of live exports, puppy farms or the ongoing influx of racing greyhounds into animal shelters.
Nonetheless, McConalogue's initiative is a good one. Fianna Fáil produced a video of the Taoiseach announcing the funding in the company of his venerable old Bichon Frise Setanta along with a winsome walk-on cast of puppies and kittens.
Minister of State for Trade Promotion, Robert Troy, was filmed at home with his dog Winnie while Cork TD Aindrias Moynihan was outdoors with his dog and four cats. Former Fianna Fáil minister Willie O'Dea posed with Snowy, his favourite cat, above details of the money allocated to Limerick welfare organisations. It was hard to tell from the photo whether Willie was posting a good news announcement or a ransom note.
Dáil Howlin about a special anniversary
The year ended on a happy note for the Ceann Comhairle on Thursday, his final Dáil day of 2021. Tánaiste Leo Varadkar was in the hot seat for Leaders' Questions and he faced Sinn Féin's Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Labour's Ged Nash, Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats and Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.
“This is quite a remarkable event” declared Seán Ó Fearghaíl when the session finished. “It is the second time this week that we have concluded Leaders’ Questions in the allocated time.”
Quite an achievement to round off the year.
After what had been “an inordinately difficult and challenging year for many of the people whom we have the great privilege to represent” he thanked the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, members of the Government, leaders of the Opposition and all the members for their unfailing courtesy and co-operation. (The unfailing courtesy and co-operation bit was a clear white lie but understandable in this season of peace and goodwill to all political messers.)
The Ceann Comhairle urged his colleagues to “take some downtime and time off” during the break.
“Maybe those deputies who never turn off their phones when they come to the chamber might consider turning them off for a few hours over Christmas before they have to be surgically removed.”
He also thanked the staff of the Dáil and Oireachtas Service, including Teresa Doolan, the Superintendent of the Houses and all her staff of ushers.
He had a special word for Dáil bar supremo Darren Brady, catering manager John Walsh, “the inimitable Julie Lyons” and the rest of catering team. “I may make more use of the catering section than many members” confessed Ó Fearghaíl. “They deliver a fantastic service.”
He later wished Brendan Howlin a happy anniversary when the former Labour Party leader's Proceeds of Crime Bill, aimed at seizing the Irish assets of international human rights abusers, came up as the last item of business.
During the debate, Minister of State for Justice James Browne, who also represents Wexford, mentioned that someone told him it was the anniversary of Howlin entering electoral politics.
“I won’t say which anniversary but he has a very proud record in that period of time, so he does, both in this House and in Co Wexford,” said James.
Ó Fearghaíl wasn’t going to let that nugget go.
“Happy anniversary, by the way.”
“I’m not sure what anniversary it is” flapped Brendan.
“Are you going to tell us what year?” pressed the Ceann.
“I’m not sure what anniversary it is, I don’t eh . . .”
“It’s hardly that long, is it?”
“Oh, oh, sorry, well, eh, I was co-opted to Wexford Corporation. Maybe that was the anniversary” he mumbled vaguely, as Ivana Bacik chortled away beside him. “But I’ve had lots of anniversaries since; I served in many positions. But thank you for recalling whatever anniversary it is. It gives me another cause for celebration tonight.” The other, presumably, being that his Bill has cross-party support and the Minister indicated broad Government support for it too.
That would be 40 years, Brendan. Forty years. How time flies etc.
Minister’s reply is all Greek to Flanagan
Former Fine Gael minister Charlie Flanagan tabled a parliamentary question for written reply to the Minister of the Environment earlier this month asking about what he is doing to ensure "the security of electricity supply this winter".
He got a comprehensive response on Tuesday. Slight problem though: it was printed entirely in Greek.
“With Greek not widely spoken in Laois-Offaly my constituents will be in the dark over the Minister’s response. I’m not sure they’ll see the bright side,” said Charlie.
As a Gonzaga old boy, Éamon Ryan may have had the benefit of a classical education but the Greek his department sent to Charlie wasn't even ancient.
But a welcome change from the usual double Dutch.
Still on PQs, Tuesday’s long list for the Minister for Justice included the usual queries from all sides of the House on subjects ranging from private security contractors to Garda recruitment to immigration issues to court backlogs.
Question number 513 was from Social Democrat co-leader Catherine Murphy on the scheme to regularise long-term undocumented migrants.
Question number 515 was from Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív who asked about the new independent Parole Board and when a permanent chief executive would be appointed to it.
And sandwiched between them was a question about “the continued delays in getting appointments using the online booking system for Burgh Quay registration office and the non-answering of emails from persons seeking appointments.”
It was from Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the former Fine Gael junior minister who lost her Dáil seat nearly two years ago in the February 2020 election.
She won’t be holding her breath for the reply.