Miriam Lord’s Week: Love is in the air in Seanad as politicians tie themselves in knots

Lisa Chambers in a dither, Sinn Féin with a softened cough, and a pair of Senators who wouldn’t take ‘ladies, please’ for an answer

Congratulations all round to Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers, who took over as Leader of the Upper House when the Seanad resumed for the new year on Tuesday.

Senators are not behind the door when it comes to singing each other’s praises. After the parliamentary pecking order changed before Christmas, with Leo Varadkar taking over from Micheál Martin as Taoiseach, Lisa switched places with Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty while her party colleague Jerry Buttimer ascended to the chair vacated by outgoing Cathaoirleach, Fianna Fáil’s Mark Daly.

The move precipitated a massive outbreak of long-winded speeches lavishly praising Daly’s magnificent couple of years at the helm and proclaiming Buttimer’s outstanding suitability to fill his predecessor’s shoes. There were more kind words this week for the freshly installed and the newly departed.

“I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Leader on their appointments. The changing of the guard seems to have been seamless, which is great. I’ll see what I can do to disrupt that as time goes on,” said Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell.


But that wasn’t the end of it, with Buttimer knocking the new leader off her stride as she prepared to announce the Order of Business on Wednesday.

“Can I congratulate our leader, Senator Lisa Chambers and her fiance Jarlath Munnelly, who have announced their engagement. We want to wish them many, many happy years of marriage and many, many years of happiness and love together.”

Lisa was speechless.

“I assume Jarlath does know?” laughed Buttimer.

“He does, yeah” she replied, all of a dither. “You’ve kinda thrown me there, Cathaoirleach.”

Senators from all sides congratulated the mortified politician, who is a former TD for Mayo and seen as a strong performer nationally for the party. Her party colleague from Clare, Timmy Dooley, wished his “good friend” all the best for the future.

“It’s a difficult one, juggling the roles of wife, mother and national politician, which you are, but I have no doubt, knowing your capacity, you will do it with great skill and to great success,” smiled husband and father of two, Timmy, who has been a national politician since 2007.

Just how does he do it?

Can men really have it all? And all the while sticking to a strict skincare routine, batch-cooking for the whole family and maintaining his slim figure.

With Timmy for a role model, Lisa cannot fail.

She will be entering into a mixed marriage as fiance Jarlath is Fine Gael councillor and has represented the Ballina electoral area for nearly 20 years. A teacher by profession, he works with Tusla as children and young people’s services coordinator for Co Mayo.

The couple have one child, Louis, who will be three when they tie the knot in April. They are planning a small wedding just across the border in Galway’s Cloghan Castle.

Lisa tells us they got engaged over Christmas. “Jarlath proposed and then brought me to get the ring made by goldsmith Tiffany Budd, who has a workshop in Ballintogher in Sligo. She is a super talent, so creative. Her father was a blacksmith and so is her brother.”

The couple have known each other for many years and first met when they served together on the county council.

Their different party allegiances are not an issue. “We were the original coalition before it was cool,” said Chambers. “It makes for interesting conversation around the dinner table.”

Multitaskers take each other to task

Thank heavens for the return of the Seanad. At least it was able to provide some serious diversion from the Dáil grandstanding over Paschal Donohoe’s posters. Sinn Féin made the biggest racket in the chamber and across the airwaves. Its highly indignant star performers roared blue murder over the Minister’s imperfect election expenses returns, absolutely outraged by the “scandal” and growing “cover-ups”.

Threats of a motion of no confidence in Donohoe were mentioned. Mary Lou and her lieutenants were said to be strongly considering it.

But even as Pearse Doherty, Louise O’Reilly and Mairéad Farrell were still gamely shouting the odds, intimations of imperfection began nibbling at the holier-than-thou toes of Sinn Féin’s incandescent contingent across the floor from the villainous Donohoe.

Perhaps they hadn’t fully thought through the consequences of this all-out onslaught.

Hacks are a weaselly bunch. “Astonish them with your ingratitude” is a well worn watchword.

If Donohoe’s declarations were yielding good returns, what about the forms filed out by beatific Sinn Féin politicians and their party? They were always going to come in for scrutiny too.

With some embarrassing consequences.

Suddenly, the threat of motion of no confidence was dropped.

Suddenly, the sound of silence – a softened cough.

What a palaver.

So thank heavens for the sane and sensible Seanad.

They have proper spats.

This week’s outburst happened during the appropriately named Wind and Energy Bill, when a highly exercised Róisín Garvey, Green Party Senator from Clare, got hot under the collar when she saw another Senator on her mobile phone while she was speaking.

Róisín was in full fight on the subject of renewable energy and said her own county is leading the way by exploring options for unlocking the wind potential of the Shannon Estuary.

“We have many good traditions. The west is awake. We have always led the way. It is why Co Clare is called the Banner County since the banner is at the front. We have always been innovative. We are ready to do this for Clare and west Clare.”

She said many debates about data centres and their use of energy are “simplistic, low-bow and unintelligent” with a narrative that they are “evil” and to blame for depleting energy reserves.

“Being realistic, if we are to have a data centre, let us put it where the offshore wind energy will be available,” she said, before stopping mid-flow, distracted by Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan, who was sitting some distance away in the near deserted chamber.

“There is no point in all of us being on our phones morning, noon and night even in the Seanad chamber while people are speaking, and then giving out about data centres being evil, as my colleague Senator Boylan is doing at the moment. I know she has been objecting to data centres left, right and centre, yet she is on her smartphone while I am speaking,” fulminated Róisín.

Lynn was taken aback.

“I was multitasking. Some of us are capable of multitasking!”

The two women argued at each other, neither completing a sentence as the acting chair, Fianna Fáil’s Eugene Murphy, tried to keep the peace.

As Lynn tried to make a Point of Order, Róisín tried to say how she thought it ironic that her Sinn Féin colleague thinks data centres are evil and yet it is thanks to data centres that we are able to use our smartphones.

“Seriously, we are trying to carry out our business here. Some of us need to multitask whether Senator Garvey likes it or not,” bridled Lynn.

“I’ve no problem with you being on your phone” bristled Róisín.

Lynn said she was being called out for using her phone when she was trying to answer a very important message.

“No, I am not.”

And it was a call of a personal nature too.

Poor Eugene was losing the battle to maintain order.

The Green Senator said the Sinn Féin Senator was missing the point.

“I am not missing the point. I am just saying you should just grow up and have a mature debate.”

“Ladies, pleeease….,” beseeched Eugene, who is a very nice man.

“That’s what I’m looking for,” sniffed Róisín.

“Then you should try practising it,” retorted Lynn.

On they went.

“Sorry, the Chair is here now,” squeaked Eugene, rather plaintively.

He was ignored.

Every time Senator Garvey comes into the chamber she causes a row, huffed Lynn.

“I never row!”

“Senator Boylan, I beg you,” pleaded lovely Eugene.

“It is absolutely true. We get petty rows every time Senator Garvey comes in.”

The two women tentatively agreed to move on, if only to help the acting chair, who looked like he was about to burst into tears.

So. Off you go, ladies.

“Senator Garvey should proceed and Senator Boylan will have her time.”

Up gets Róisín again.

“The point I was making is ...”

Eugene nearly fell over the desk.

“No. Don’t make the point again now, just continue with your speech. You were doing fantastic.”

To which Róisín dripped: “I won’t mention her on her phone all day while I’m speaking; that’s grand.”

Finally, the chair called on the next speaker.

Michael McDowell rose to his feet. Never did a man look more relieved than Eugene Murphy.

McDowell behaved impeccably.

A short time later, Senator Boylan tweeted a photo from the chamber while Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan was on his feet making his closing remarks at the end of the debate.

And there, in the centre of the shot, seated in the front row facing her party leader, was Senator Garvey. Completely engrossed in her mobile phone.

No more careless whispers about radio stations

Last week, when describing Simon Harris’ appearance on Matt Cooper’s weekly Culture Club radio slot, we inadvertently said his show was on another radio station. Matt, of course, rules the evening roost on Today FM.

He has been featuring politicians regularly in his Wednesday Culture Club segment. Recent guests have included Bríd Smith of People Before Profit and the Fianna Fáil TD for Cork South West and wildlife expert Christopher O’Sullivan.

This week, he had Labour leader Ivana Bacik in the hot seat. Ivana has been doing the rounds this week, she must be seeing microphones in her dreams.

She told Cooper that she thinks the first record she bought was Last Christmas by Wham! “It blew my mind. It was amazing.” She was a huge George Michael fan and even went to see him in concert. She remembers trying to chase him up to Jurys Hotel with her friend, although they never caught sight of him.

Other musical loves included Ska – she is a big fan of The Specials, while her first concert after the lockdowns was in the Olympia where she saw “the incredible” Denise Chaila.

Her favourite musical is Mama Mia, the favourite book is The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists and her favourite TV shows are Sex in the City, US political comedy Veep and Motherland.