Miriam Lord’s Week: Mary Lou McDonald and Jeffrey Donaldson learn there’s no partition in economy class

Sinn Féin leader is seated in the same row as DUP leader on their way home from Washington

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald got through a hectic schedule of engagements in New York and Washington DC before reaching the final event of the St Patrick’s week political jamboree in United States – the traditional shamrock bowl bunfight in the White House.

She attended the presentation ceremony in the East Room with party vice-president Michelle O’Neill, having earlier attended the House Speaker’s Friends of Ireland lunch on Capitol Hill.

As soon as the Friday evening gig was over, Mary Lou swapped her heels for a pair of trainers and rushed from Pennsylvania Avenue to Dulles airport to catch the overnight flight to Dublin. She had tickets for Saturday’s Grand Slam decider against England and was determined to make it home in time.

She was tired – on the go for the entire week – and looking forward to sinking into her seat for a few hours of quiet relaxation.


A sizeable number of the visiting Irish contingent had a similar idea and were booked on the same Aer Lingus flight. The aircraft wasn’t a big, wide-bodied one but a smaller Airbus with three seats on either side of a central aisle.

The plane is packed. Mary Lou, travelling in economy with her colleagues, is one of the last to board. She potters down towards her aisle seat before stopping dead in her tracks.

“Of all the seats, on all the planes, you sit beside mine,” she exclaims, channelling her inner Humphrey Bogart to the amusement of some passengers watching on.

Meanwhile, Michelle O’Neill and Mary Lou’s chef de cabinet Dawn Doyle are reportedly “falling around the place laughing”.

They probably succumbed when the Sinn Féin leader uttered the words “There you are, Jeffrey!” before slipping into her seat beside the equally surprised-looking DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and his special adviser. Jeffrey was in the window seat.

Brief pleasantries are exchanged across the adviser.

At this point, we are reliably informed, the Sinn Féin WhatsApp group went into meltdown.

The Sinn Féin president bought the DUP leader a drink as soon as the drinks trolley appeared. Jeffrey had a glass of white wine and then immediately appeared to fall asleep, seemingly deep in slumber for the rest of the flight.

Mary Lou chatted with the adviser and watched some telly before everyone settled down for a snooze. In Dublin, the two politicians exchanged polite goodbyes before disembarking. Jeffrey headed away swiftly. Mary Lou bumped into a journalist on her way out. He asked if she enjoyed the flight.

“You are not going to believe this,” she croaked. “I have literally been, if not sleeping with the enemy, asleep with the enemy for over 6½ hours. Jeffrey Donaldson. Honest to God. Six. And. A. Half. Hours. ”

The journalist fell around the place laughing too.

Still, at least the republican leader can look on the bright side.

There may be more space and privacy in business class but there is no partition in economy.


Paschal Donohoe sandwiched a visit to Co Clare this week in between his St Patrick’s Day obligations in Germany and his high-level eurogroup duties in Brussels.

The Minister for Public Reform and Expenditure delivered the keynote address at Ennis Chamber’s annual president’s lunch, which was hosted this year by Colin Ryan and Chamber chief executive Margaret O’Brien.

The event’s main sponsor was the Simply Blue Group, which is an offshore wind energy company as opposed to a Fine Gael breakaway sect.

Paschal’s speech in the Temple Gate Hotel went down well with his audience of businessmen and women as he praised companies for playing their part in revitalising the local and national economy while bigging up the Government’s supports for small and medium-sized enterprises.

He acknowledged the difficulties some businesses are facing. “The country is on a sound financial footing despite the major challenges presenters by the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the war in Ukraine,” he said.

Local politicians in attendance included Fianna Fáil senator Timmy Dooley and Green Party senator Róisín Garvey. The chamber sent its best wishes were sent to Fine Gael TD Joe Carey, who is recovering from a major health scare.

Senator Garvey, a proud daughter of the Banner county, took it upon herself to give the Minister from Dublin a few hurling tips when he tried one of Sean Torpey’s “Bambú” hurleys at his company’s trade stand. But to the surprise of many, Paschal was more than able to hold his own.

Two other successful local businesses were showcased – the Wix and Wax candle company and Western Herd Brewing Company. Paschal went home with a scented candle, a bamboo hurley and a bottle of Blue Jumper beer. They’ll have to rush out a Blue Shirt beer now to commemorate his visit.

It did not go unnoticed that the Minister visited every table in the room before embarking on a walkabout in the town after the lunch, popping into a number of local businesses for a chat.

Not the sort of enthusiastic behaviour one might expect of a politician often tipped for a big job in Europe after the next election, whenever that may be.

It could be sooner rather than later, if Paschal’s Ennis blitz is anything to go by.


Irish, French and Basque locals joined forces at their St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Biarritz last weekend to honour Brigitte Porte, the recently retired media and cultural director at the Irish Embassy in Paris.

She retired in January after more than 40 years working with 12 Irish ambassadors, developing a very positive image of this country in France by showcasing Ireland’s rich contribution to culture and the arts.

Madame Porte was the hero of the hour a few years ago when Michael D Higgins’s spectacles were broken shortly before he was due to deliver an important speech at a Battle of the Somme commemoration in Amiens.

She tracked down a local, small-town optician and persuaded him to run up a quick copy lens and frame. Now the emergency spare glasses travel as backup on all presidential tours.

One of Brigette’s Irish friends in the south of France thought it would be fitting to mark her retirement by asking the President to write a letter to her which would then be presented at her retirement do in February at the embassy in Paris.

His request was bounced from the Áras to the Department of Foreign Affairs and after almost two months of emails back and forth he was told by some rather cautious and conservative mandarins that Mme Porte could not receive a presidential letter of gratitude on her retirement.

Their reasoning – very Civil Service – was that if this happened every Foreign Affairs retiree would have to get one to keep a diplomatic peace.

The retirement reception in the embassy would be more than enough.

“In any other country she would awarded the medal of honour,” says our miffed expat.

But then everybody would want one.


Among the gifts presented by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to US president Joe Biden last week was a book on St Patrick by Derry-born Columban priest Fr Aidan Larkin SSC.

The Spiritual Journey of St Patrick provides an insight into Patrick’s values, inspirations, spiritual journey and legacy through a re-examination of his writings. The author argues that his letters, rich in theological and spiritual content, have been scoured for historical information on dates and places but not properly examined to give his inner life and thoughts.

Fr Aidan died in 2019, not long after he completed the book.

However, there is also a political connection.

Aidan Larkin was ordained in 1985 but he led a very interesting life before entering the priesthood. He was an SDLP representative for Mid-Ulster in the powersharing Stormont Assembly in 1973. He qualified as a barrister and went to work for the European Council’s legal service in Brussels.

After his ordination for the Dublin archdiocese, where he was chaplain to Trinity College, he went on to join the Columban fathers and served for many years in a shanty town in Chile.

Fr Aidan’s scholarly work will be added to the collection in the US president’s guest house, in accordance with the long-standing tradition of heads of state and governments presenting books on their countries to the library in Blair House.

Back in the White House for the shamrock ceremony last Friday evening, Oireachtas members were thin on the ground.

Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd was present, along with his brother Niall, the US-based publisher.

James O’Connor, a Fianna Fáil TD who is the Dáil’s youngest deputy, also attended.

James was the only member of the Oireachtas US-Ireland friendship group to travel. The Cork East TD paid his own way and was delighted to do so.

He said the trip was one of the highlights of his life.

Meanwhile, former Seanad cathaoirleach Mark Daly never misses as opportunity to visit Washington and hang out on Capitol Hill.

Senators are a big deal in Washington and above mere members of Congress in the political pecking order. Senator Daly gets a big welcome on his frequent visits to schmooze American politicians.

As the crowd gathered for the main event in the East Room, all the dignitaries were seated – including President Biden’s Irish relations, assorted members of the Kennedy family and top-ranking politicians. They watched the double doors, which opened with a fanfare, and awaited the appearance of Joe and Leo.

And as the drums rolled, a smiling Mark Daly emerged through them from the marbled hallway.

That went down like a lead balloon with the Irish contingent.

Potus and the Taoiseach followed after the groans died down.