Subscriber OnlyPoliticsMiriam Lord's Week

Miriam Lord’s Week: Maria Walsh fires early shots in skirmish with Barry Cowen

TD for Laois-Offaly sees off Niall Blaney and Lisa Chambers to run for Fianna Fáil in the Midlands North-West constituency in the EU elections, but he won’t be riding into the sunset just yet

When the European election smoke cleared on Monday night it was Barry Cowen who emerged victorious from Fianna Fáil’s Gunfight at the Mullingar House Hotel – the last candidate standing.

Niall Blaney’s ambition, shot to ribbons, lay in tatters on the floor.

Lisa Chambers’s aspirations, roughly shouldered aside by the other two early on in the proceedings, were badly bruised but intact.

After a monumental engagement, the TD for Laois-Offaly saw off Blaney, the former senator from Donegal, by a narrow margin and was chosen to run for Fianna Fáil in the Midlands North-West constituency. Chambers, the party’s Seanad leader, was eliminated on the first count, leaving Cowen and Blaney to fight for a place on the ticket for the newly enlarged Midlands North-West constituency.


That was Monday night. By Wednesday night, Barry was already squaring up to one of his big rivals in the June election.

But it was crack markswoman Maria Walsh who fired the opening shots in this early skirmish. As a member of the Reserve Defence Forces, she is proud of her firearms skills.

The Fine Gael MEP took aim at Fianna Fáil’s trio of confirmed candidates from her bunker in Strasbourg, describing them as “male, pale and stale” when asked to comment on the FF line-up thus far (three 56-year-old men).

Maria Walsh is no stranger to stirring things up in the early days of a campaign. In 2019, she ran with party colleague Mairead McGuinness, and it wasn’t long before she was accusing McGuinness of flouting orders from headquarters by canvassing in parts of the constituency allocated to her rival.

The former winner of the Rose of Tralee was unhappy with the new EU commissioner for financial services for not sticking to her half of the constituency.

“It’s disappointing from the perspective of a new female candidate because the inclusivity line is important to focus in on and it is a shame because we are both trying to win two seats for the party,” she told the Sunday Independent at the time.

They won both seats.

“As a 31-year-old woman I have a crown and sash from the Rose of Tralee in one hand and in the other hand my marksmanship is 37 out of 40 shots with a Steyr rifle. I’m not here to be pushed over.”

Neither, it seems, is Barry Cowen, even if he never won the Ballybunion Bachelor Festival or fired as much as a spud gun.

He scrambled for his tweet machine and pumped out a short volley. “After 5 years that’s all you have to say? Personal insults about incomplete tickets?”

It could have been worse. Maria could have added that this incomplete ticket comprises three complete Bs – Billy (Kelleher), Barry (Andrews) and, eh, Barry.

Or the Billy Barrys, as they shall henceforth be known.

We asked Barry Cowen if, like Maria, he has any shooting experience. He said he does not and muttered something about “firing sods of turf up into the air to dry them”.

Both Barry Andrews (Dublin) and Billy Kelleher (Ireland South) subsequently pointed out that Fianna Fáil’s full line-up has yet to be announced and more names will be added very soon. Barry A admitted to RTÉ that the current line-up “isn’t a good look”.

All of which bodes well for Lisa Chambers, who is now the favourite to become the party’s second candidate in the newly enlarged five-seater Midlands North-West, despite Niall Blaney’s strong showing.

As for Barry C, he might want to brush up on his sharpshooting skills.

And watch his back.

Birthday bashed

A large number of ministerial advisers, along with a sizeable cohort of convivial political correspondents of a certain age, received an intriguing email on Thursday evening.

It was from none other than Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Health Hildegarde Naughton.

The email was headed “My Roundy Birthday”.

Oooh. They read on with great interest.

“Dear all, You are welcome to come along for a drink ... to celebrate my birthday. Hope to see you all there.” Date (March), Venue (Lemon & Duke) and time enclosed.

“Regards, G.”

A strange way to sign off, perhaps, but then there is only one G in Hildegarde, mused her new VBFs.

They had only begun thinking about what they might wear and whether the Minister of State, a trained singer, would warble a few show tunes on the night when their in-boxes pinged again. It was another communication from Hildegarde.

This time the heading said “Cancelled”.

But the disappointed spads and hacks cheered up in no time when a missive arrived from Hildegarde’s right-hand man, Gavin McSpadden (a great surname for a special adviser), apologising for making a total hames of inviting them to his 50th birthday bash and re-extending the invitation from his own email address as opposed to his Minister’s.

Hildegarde was highly amused, even though she is a mere babbie at 46.

Bark in the park

President Michael D Higgins was delighted to host his old friends from the Irish Seed Savers Association in Co Clare at the Áras on Wednesday.

They came bearing a special gift for Michael D and Sabina: a Lough Key crab apple tree, which will be planted at Áras an Uachtaráin in memory of their beloved Bernese mountain dog, Bród Higgins.

His death in April of last year at the age of 11 made national headlines, because Bród was a very good boy most of the time and everybody loved him.

He was a cherished member of the Higgins family since arriving in the Phoenix Park as an eight-week-old puppy. Over the years he brought joy to the thousands of visitors who came to meet him by introducing them to the President.

The Lough Key crab apple tree is a significant part of the Seed Savers Association’s national heritage apple tree collection. This unique tree, discovered in Lough Key Forest Park in Roscommon within the stump of a birch tree, boasts beautiful, deep pink blossom, dark purple-tinged foliage and deep crimson crab apples.

The President said the planting of a Lough Key crab apple tree in the Áras grounds “serves as a poignant tribute to Bród and contributes to the protection of Ireland’s apple tree heritage”.

The sapling will be planted in a lovely little spot beside the two other trees he planted in memory of his other two faithful Bernese mountain dogs, Shadow and Síoda, who also spent their lives in the Áras.

Trees make wonderful memorials for dogs. Dogs love trees.

The late queen of England preferred small granite headstones when her beloved corgis popped their paws. The grounds of Buckingham Palace are full of them.

Maybe Michael D should put up a little inscription beside the trees.

“Bide a wee while and cock a little leg.”

Only for the dogs, mind.

Don’t cross the Ceann

Anybody tuning into proceedings from the Dáil in recent weeks will have been struck by the large silver St Brigid’s cross gleaming on the black velvet collar of the Ceann Comhairle’s gown.

It’s hard not to notice.

If any TD gives him grief, Seán Ó Fearghaíl could whip it off and fling it like a ninja star at the offending deputy.

We made some enquiries and suspect it might be a less-than-subtle statement from the Ceann that St Brigid belongs to Co Kildare and any other counties claiming otherwise can back off now.

This issue has become a particular bone of contention between Kildare and Louth.

A newsroom colleague from Kildare icily told us on Friday: “She was born in Louth but she is not from there.”

We understand that there are ongoing ructions in the Ceann Comhairle’s office as his parliamentary assistant, Seán Kelly, is the mayor of Dundalk.

We further understand that another member of his staff removed the cross from his gown on Friday, telling him that Nasa had complained because it was interfering with their satellite signals. Seán wore the same St Brigid’s cross last year and told the then taoiseach that he wanted to have the biggest one in the chamber.

What is the provenance of this most impressive cross?

“It was sourced from Newbridge Silver,” said an official, slowly.

This makes sense as Newbridge is in Co Kildare.

Did the company make one specially for the Ceann Comhairle?

They hesitated.

“Eh, nooo. It’s from their Christmas decorations section.”

Good man, Seán.

Not exactly lit up like a Christmas tree but showing off the bitta glitz for Biddy.

From Cork to Malmö

Micheál is backing Bambie.

But the Tánaiste refuses to be drawn on whether Ireland should boycott the Eurovision Song Contest if Israel is allowed to participate.

At a wide-ranging media briefing in Cork recently following Fianna Fáil’s selection convention for Ireland South, he was asked by reporters about the possibility of Ireland joining other countries such as Belgium and Spain in supporting the South African genocide case against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

Our man Barry Roche then went in with the local angle: “Cork is providing this year’s Eurovision entry, Bambie Thug from Macroom – should Ireland boycott the Eurovision if Israel participates?”

“If I’m honest, I’m focused on the political side of this and focused on trying to use any influence we have with like-minded countries in Europe to get this terrible war ended. That’s where I haven’t given too much thought – and I hope Bambie doesn’t mind – to Eurovision. There will be time to focus on that later.”

Bambie Thug is the first singer from Cork to represent Ireland in the Eurovision since Cathal Dunne in 1979 became the city’s first, and until last month, only performer to fly the Leeside flag at the song contest.

Cathal (72), who now lives in the US, told John Dolan of the Echo this week that he will be watching Bambie with interest when they perform at the finals in Malmo. “I’m happy that it’s a Cork person. I’m with Bambie all the way!”

He has some advice for the London-based singer. “Don’t listen to the begrudgers and knockers,” he says. “They have always been there. Although something tells me this Bambie can handle it. And don’t change a thing about yourself. That is what has got you this far, so don’t change anything.”

Interestingly, Cathal is a nephew of the late Jack Lynch, former Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil.

Jack was the first person to ring him when he won the National Song Contest.

“When I got to the green room at RTÉ after winning the Eurovision sing-off, he was the first call I got. We spoke to each other in Irish and he said, ‘Congratulations, I never knew you could sing like that.’”

And if Macroom’s finest pulls off the win in Sweden (Bambie’s father is Swedish so that might bolster their support base), Micheál Martin will be on the blower with the cúpla focal faster than you can say “real Taoiseach”.

But he’ll have to wrestle the phone off Eurovision superfan Leo Varadkar first, unless the Taoiseach is already over in Malmö. This is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

In which case he’ll probably storm the stage and call a general election for the end of May.

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