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Miriam Lord’s political awards for 2023

Gongs go to Timmy Dooley, Mary Robinson, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Louise O’Reilly, Thomas Pringle, Michael Collins, Mary Lou McDonald and Helen McEntee, but will they be thrilled?

Miriam Lord

The Glitterballsup Trophy for Dancing with the Cars 2023

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley waltzed away with the prize for fancy footwork after he engineered one of the most dramatic “gotcha” moments of the RTÉ Inquisition, only for his triumph to turn to dust.

There were gasps in the public gallery when the Clare-based Senator established that an unnamed Montrose employee had a car on loan from Renault for five years. He then discovered that said vehicle was sent back just before the Oireachtas media committee’s hearing began.

It soon transpired that the mystery driver was none other than GAA guru Marty Morrissey, a fellow son of the Banner County and a man for whom Timmy’s admiration remains forever undimmed.

For the next 24 hours the appalled Senator quick-stepped, sidestepped and back-stepped across the airwaves of Ireland insisting he did not have the sainted Marty in mind when framing his probing questions.


Truth is, Timmy got a tip-off before the meeting and had a few management types in mind when he asked about car-related perks.

Stop your Jibber-Jaber award

Step forward, Mary Robinson, for sticking it to The Man during an online webinar nine days before the start of the climate summit in Dubai last month.

She called out Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the controversial oil-tycoon boss of Cop28, for his seeming lack of urgency in seeking an agreement for the phasingout of fossil fuels to halt the rise in global warming.

He didn’t take it well, dismissing her comments as “alarmist”.

“Show me the solutions ... stop the pointing of fingers. Stop it,” he ranted, insisting “there is no science” behind claims that phasing out the use of fossil fuel will address the problem.

Al Jaber’s comments caused uproar and before long, he was unconvincingly backtracking.

Mary Robinson wasn’t.

He claimed his remarks had been “taken out of context”.

Furthermore, the boss of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company says he has “incredible respect” for Mrs Robinson and he also respects climate science.

Of course he does.

Armageddon out of here award

No. Not all the TDs who will not be contesting the next election. Fine Gael has eight departing and counting, while Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster and Labour’s Brendan Howlin are also among the ranks of the soon-to-be-leaving.

And it’s not Paschal Donohoe, whose dimples may soon be gracing the salubrious halls of the IMF headquarters in Washington, DC.

Our solid gold gong goes to the National Party. Because when the balloon goes up, the Nappies know what to do.

They won’t be hoarding baked beans, batteries and bales of toilet paper. Anybody who is anyone is getting into gold. Because one never knows the day nor the hour when money as we know it ceases to exist.

The ever-vigilant boys (they’re nearly always boys) in the far-right National Party are on the case. They have – or at least they had – an enormous stash of gold bars in a vault in Ballsbridge as protection against a currency collapse.

The bullion is worth over €400,000, according to party co-founder Justin Barrett, who complained to gardaí in July that a gold bar had been allegedly snaffled from its reserve by an erstwhile colleague.

Barrett was also embroiled in a leadership wrangle this year and has since been ousted as top banana.

But while some of this gold may belong to the National Party, it seems some of it also belongs to individual National Party members.

Gardaí are minding the stash and keeping an open gold mine on the matter.

This certainly puts Paschal Donohoe’s free postering and complimentary man with a van in the ha’penny place.

These Nappy lads are nearly as rich as Sinn Féin.

Grace under pressure award

The Ceann Comhairle does his best, but trying to keep the peace in the Dáil chamber is a tough gig, with competing egos and headline hunters in full flow. Most of the time, Seán Ó Fearghaíl has the patience of saint.

He wasn’t even spared on the last day of this year’s Dáil when festive roaring erupted between the Tánaiste and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty and Eoin Ó Broin.

The Ceann looked towards the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery, where the outgoing South African ambassador to Ireland was seated.

“Good God! Do you know what, could we at least behave ourselves when there are visitors present?” he spluttered.

Answers on the back of an Order Paper to ...

Still, the Ceann keeps his spirits up by holding regular charitable evenings in the Oireachtas, and he has also unveiled a bumper number of busts in Leinster House. This year saw former residents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese celebrated in bronze while the late John Hume, the former SDLP leader, and David Trimble, the former Ulster Unionist Party leader, were also recently honoured.

Clean air award

This goes to a “heartbroken” Louise O’Reilly of Sinn Féin when she stood in for Mary Lou McDonald at Leaders’ Questions earlier this month, repeating her party’s call for the Minister for Justice to resign.

Speaking as a “proud Dubliner” she wondered how a mob bent on destruction was allowed to take control of the city centre. With admirable restraint, she said the Minister’s assertion that nobody saw it coming was “a water-weak defence”.

Fellow Dub Mary Lou would have said “piss-poor”.

She knows the value of a salty soundbite.

Toxic air award

Thomas Pringle, the Independent TD for Donegal, lost his rag in the face of a barracking from Rural Independent Danny Healy-Rae, who had earlier declared himself “very hurt and out of sorts” following the arrival of a large number of male asylum seekers on the Muckross Road in Killarney.

Healy-Rae took great umbrage at what he felt was personal criticism from Pringle.

“Well, it’s obvious you don’t f**kin’ listen to what anybody says because that’s not what I said ... if you open your ears instead of your mouth you might f**kin’ understand what people are saying ...”

Pringle was fortunate that Fianna Fáil backbencher Pádraig O’Sullivan was standing in for the Ceann Comhairle at the time. He didn’t seem to notice Pringle’s F-bombs detonating in the Dáil chamber.

Best new party of the year

Independent Ireland arrived in the latter half of 2023 with the time-saving addition of an inbuilt split. Founded by members of the Rural Independent Group Michael Collins (leader) and Richard O’Donoghue (general secretary), the new arrival was welcomed by fellow RIGers the Healy-Rae brothers who immediately said they wouldn’t be joining it as they want to remain fully independent independents for the independent people of independent Kerry.

Michael (Cork South West) and Richard (Limerick County) probably felt they had to do something after all the talk during the year from Michael Fitzmaurice (Galway East) about establishing a rural arty came to nothing.

All Rise! award for outstanding services to the legal profession: Mary Lou McDonald and various members of Sinn Féin

Time was when politicians understood that the phrase “moving the writ” was all about calling a byelection. Not any more. At least if you’re a member of Sinn Féin, where the party motto has been reworked for the modern age.

“With a ballot box in one hand and an affidavit in the other.”

Best Opposition TD

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane continues to impress as his party’s spokesman on health. Well informed, on top of his brief and an assured and incisive performer at committees, he doesn’t let Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly away with anything.

Cian O’Callaghan, the Social Democrat TD for Dublin Bay North, is a low-key performer and not given to showboating, but his contributions on the housing crisis display a genuine interest in the subject and a real desire to help find constructive solutions to the most pressing social issue facing the Government today.

Senator of the year: Tom Clonan

The Upper House’s newest recruit impressed his colleagues and onlookers during a tense vote on his Disability Rights Bill, which the Government was trying to kick to touch.

But an impassioned speech from the army whistleblower and disability rights campaigner was enough to sway his Seanad colleagues, who voted to keep his Bill on the burner. The fact that Tom’s son Eoghan, who is a third-level student and a wheelchair user, was watching from the public gallery added urgency and heft to his argument.

He told Senators to think of Eoghan, who has a neuromuscular disease, as they were passing him to cast their votes and to reflect on their action.

And they did.

Best Government backbencher

media committee screen shots RTE

This goes to Niamh Smyth of Fianna Fáil for her handling of the media committee’s hearings on the RTÉ debacle.

She asked difficult questions politely, maintained order and kept quiet control over some of her more excitable charges.

She also displayed patience with questioners when contributions occasionally rambled all over the place. Like when she gently inquired of Tipperary Independent TD Mattie McGrath: “What are you trying to ask?”

While proceedings elsewhere could be confrontational, Niamh’s committee took a more measured, less robust approach with witnesses.

This will have pleased the windy Oireachtas legal people.

Politician of the year

Twenty twenty-three was not looking good for Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Two years earlier, he achieved his life’s ambition to become Taoiseach. Now, as part of a Coalition rotation agreement, he would have to play second fiddle to Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar for the second half of the 33rd Dáil.

The usual rumblings of discontent among his less-than-stellar ranks of TDs and Senators intensified as the Tánaiste moved into Foreign Affairs. Would their leader get carried away with hobnobbing around the world and lose touch with his parliamentary party and national politics?

Would he try to steal the new Taoiseach’s thunder? (Leo having helpfully written the playbook during his time languishing in the Tánaiste’s office.)

To his credit, Micheál, already one of the great survivors of Irish politics following Fianna Fáil’s post-crash implosion, has thrown himself into the job abroad while still putting in the hours at home in the Dáil.

And there isn’t any sense of him stepping on his Taoiseach’s toes.

His principled leadership on the unfolding crisis in Gaza has been strong and measured, a firm stance which has been mirrored by an equally impressive Varadkar who had just one small communication misstep during this diplomatically fraught period.

If anything, it could be argued at the end of this year that the country’s most able Government politicians have done much of their best work outside the country rather than within, which might not butter too many ballot-box parsnips.

Star of Nobber medal for bravery

Awarded to fearless Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, a young woman out on her own who courageously walked around the block in broad daylight near Store Street Garda station in September to prove that Dublin’s inner-city streets are safe.

Cross of Templemore medal for gallantry

Awarded to the brave Assistant Commissioner, Chief Superintendent, plain clothes protection officers, rank-and file Garda members, sundry ministerial advisers and Paschal Donohoe, who walked the mean streets together to support a young woman out on her own around Talbot Street and Busáras, selflessly ignoring the threat that they might be photographed at anytime during their low-profile excursion.

Fine Gael perpetual trophy for attacking the Shinners

This one is always and forever a hotly contested category within the party. Minister of State Jennifer Carroll MacNeill emerged as the most ferocious critic of the main Opposition party, just elbowing out Limerick’s Patrick O’Donovan, who put in his usual caustic performance from the junior ministerial benches. Their colleague Josepha Madigan made a late run with her “Mary Lou Trump” jibe, but it lost its bite in delivery.

Embarrassing the nation Award

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett lift the gong here.

During a St Patrick’s week event in Washington, Leo put his foot in it by making a joke that was a clear reference to Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.

He told his American audience how he was once a young Washington intern “when some parents would have had cause for concern about what would happen to interns in Washington”.

A spokesperson said later he “made an ill-judged off-the-cuff remark which he regrets. He apologises for any offence caused to anyone concerned.”

Meanwhile, Leo and Matt attended the coronation of King Charles in May. Matt entertained himself during the service by posting funny observations to the many followers of his private Instagram account, despite an instruction not to use phones in Westminster Abbey.

Some of his insta-quips were leaked to this newspaper.

A lot of people were not amused.

Do the right thing award

Unlike other Opposition leaders, Labour’s Ivana Bacik resisted the populist urge to call for the Minister for Justice’s resignation in the wake of the Dublin riots. It would have been the easy option. That didn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do.

The cynical and wilfully angry grifters who stoked the mayhem on that night in November would have been delighted to see a Government minister brought down as a direct consequence of their actions and encouraged them in their hateful enterprise.

Labour still voted against the Government.

Jennifer Whitmore’s decision to stand up (and not be counted) in that vote on Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence against Helen McEntee earned her a lot of stick on social media and was criticised (rather halfheartedly) by some political opponents.

But the Social Democrat TD for Wicklow, who has long campaigned on environmental issues, recognised the absurdity in forcing Green Party leader Eamon Ryan to jet over and back from the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai for a Dáil vote which the Coalition was expected to win.

She offered the Minister for the Environment a Dáil pairing arrangement, undertaking not to vote so he could remain in the Middle East for the negotiations.

It was the grown-up thing to do.

Gentleman prefers bland award

Just how does he do it?

That is the question on everyone’s lips as busy father of seven, whispering Michael McGrath, juggles a high-powered job as Minister for Finance with speculation over a possible move to Europe. He shuttles between his spotless offices in Dublin and Cork, maintaining his blond tresses in tip-top condition, curating a capsule wardrobe of dark suits while never being pushy or a notice-box.

An inspiration to harassed politician dads everywhere.

Modest Michael also carries off our Lucky 13 award as Fianna Fáil’s first minister for finance in as many years.

Will he get to present another one?

Does he want to?

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