Subscriber OnlyPoliticsMiriam Lord's Week

Minister would have thrown Siún under a bus, but RTÉ's heavy vehicles are all clapped out from overuse

Miriam Lord’s Week: More of Catherine Martin’s Prime Time dramatics and RTÉ's licence woes would disappear

Least said, Siúnest mended, as they didn’t say in the Department of Media.

Catherine Martin’s astonishing star turn on Thursday night’s Prime Time made for riveting television. More of the same and RTÉ’s licence fee woes would be no more.

The Minister for Media rocked up to the studio in Montrose and calmly performed a clinical hit job on the chairwoman of the RTÉ board.

She would have gone the traditional route and driven a bus into the studio before throwing Siún Ní Raghallaigh under the wheels but all the heavy vehicles in RTÉ are clapped out from chronic overuse.


The detail surrounding the latest shambles enveloping the national broadcaster is extensively covered in The Irish Times today, but whatever way one looks at it, Catherine Martin does not come out well from it.

Having gone to town on the chairwoman for not disclosing information to her (the director general, Kevin Bakhurst was in the loop at this time too, but he gets a free pass) and passed her the metaphorical glass of whiskey and revolver live on television, she left with no option but to resign.

The Minister’s risible line that she had arranged to meet her the following morning to discuss the situation was plain silly. Why would anyone go to a meeting with a person who gave them their marching orders behind their back the night before and in full public view?

After it emerged that Ní Raghallaigh had, indeed, informed the Minister’s department about the controversial exit package for one of the leading lights of last year’s Tubs and flip-flops fiasco, Martin went into survival mode on Friday and some of her colleagues rallied to her defence with varying degrees of conviction.

She denied that what she said in that interview with Miriam O’Callaghan was tantamount to dismissing the chair of RTÉ live on air. And it was not premeditated.

It only looked like that.

So why didn’t she simply pick up the telephone and call Siún before going down the showbiz route with Miriam?

Instead, the chairwoman resigned in the early hours of Friday morning and the Minister’s attempt to appear strong and in command of the situation detonated in her face.

The RTÉ board has fully backed their former chair’s version of events and the fact that she promptly reported to the department about the controversial exit package. The board has receipts (minutes).

The Minister is relying on her former secretary general, who broadly supports what she is saying but “has no recollection” of a crucial aspect of this disputed version of who-knew-what.

Meanwhile, perhaps the person with most reason to smile as this slow motion car crash continues is David McRedmond, the high-achieving CEO of An Post and the former boss at TV3.

McRedmond had been one of the favourites for the job of director general, the one which eventually went to Bakhurst. However, after an interview with the chair and two directors he was told he hadn’t even made the shortlist.

Dodged a bullet there, Dave.

Breaking the mould

“You can’t beat the aul’ hot dinner in the middle of the day,” said Heather Humphreys to universal agreement in the Dáil on Wednesday night.

TDs had a lively discussion about providing hot meals to children in primary schools and there was general praise and encouragement for the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys, who said it is her “overriding ambition that every child born today will be able to benefit from a hot school meal when they start school”.

Marc Ó Cathasaigh, the Green Party TD for Waterford, informed her about his recent school lunch experience.

“My kitchen table yesterday morning was a disaster. Everything was going well. I had the sandwiches made and then someone spotted a little bit of mould on the crust.”

“Cut it off,” said the Minister.

“I could have cut it off if I had copped it first, but sure that was it. They were in the bin then. I had to get up to Centra and buy the chicken rolls and that was €7 lost on the day, so I am self-motivated.”

“Thank you, Minister, for your work on this,” said Fine Gael’s Brendan Griffin.

“On the mouldy bread?” asked the Ceann Comhairle.

“No, not the mouldy bread, although I think that’s how they discovered penicillin,” replied Brendan.

Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe also complimented the Minister on her work and her comprehensive statement to the House on how the school meals programme is progressing.

“Never mind about the mouldy bread, we often get mouldy answers in here,” he said, but on this occasion Heather’s answers were good ones.

She was delighted with all the praise.

“There’s not too many measures that are universally popular in this House, but I think the hot school meals is certainly one example.” She said only 30 primary schools were serving them when she became Minister and more than 1,600 will have them by this April.

“I am a firm believer – you can’t beat the aul’ hot dinner in the middle of the day.”

She saw the benefits last year when she visited a school in Dublin and saw the children having their lunch. “They were sitting around the table and they were chatting away and they had the lasagne and shepherd’s pie and they had chicken curry as well ... It was a great leveller because everyone got the same.”

The Minister said she would have loved that when her two girls were going to school. “Because despite my best attempts there was blue moulded bread by the end of the week, I assure you, and soggy sandwiches, and despite my best efforts to sneak crisps in to try to entice them to eat it, you got it back – return to sender.”

She was also pleased to see that the six TDs asking the questions about hot school meals were all men.

“And making sandwiches as well,” added the Ceann Comhairle, clearly impressed.

Sure they’re only great.


Oh look. There’s Finian McGrath in Leinster House on a Wednesday night, putting himself about in the bar and in the Members’ Restaurant.

Would that be the former Independent TD Finian McGrath, the one who announced on Sunday that he is throwing his hat into the ring and will be contesting the European elections in June?

The very one.

When he walked into the bar, his arrival was noted by a group of Fianna Fáil TDs including Ministers Darragh O’Brien and Dara Calleary. They greeted him in French or, for some of them, what they thought sounded like French.

Finian fled to the restaurant.

He is already talking down his chances in the election. “It’s a very big ask because I’m up against it – all the big parties who will be running big campaigns. But I want to bring the disability issue to Europe and I am hoping that the 13.5 per cent of people in Dublin who have a disability or have someone in their family with a disability will come out and support me.”

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who has already started his campaign for Europe, will be delighted to see his former constituency rival in Dublin Bay North on an already crowded ticket.

Bad behaviour

A speaker’s lot is not an ‘appy one.

And no, we are not talking about the current travails of Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the Mother of All Madhouses across the way but our own Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who has his hands full trying to keep TDs on the straight and narrow.

He wrote to all Dáil members this week reminding them to observe the rules of the House.

“Since the resumption of parliamentary business over a month ago, there has, regrettably, been a further disimprovement in the decorum in the House,” he writes, requesting deputies to arrive in on time when they are scheduled to speak, to switch their mobile phones to silent and cease making and taking calls in the chamber and to avoid walking between the Chair and the speaker when leaving or entering.

“In short, it is important to adhere to certain long-established rules which are in place to ensure decorum in the House and respect for its members.

“I have tasked the Superintendent with restoring a high level of decorum to the Chamber. I trust he will have your support in this regard.

Or he will clap you in irons and throw you in the brig.”

We may have made up that last line.

Anyway, good luck with that, Superintendent. They don’t like being told what to do.

And there is a preservation order on Danny Healy-Rae’s phone, which has a mind of its own.

Chivalry’s not dead yet

Nothing like a good old fashioned political ding-dong to liven up the Dáil day.

Wednesday’s rather strange squabble between Leo Varadkar and Richard Boyd Barrett wasn’t the usual verbal bust-up over contrasting ideologies. Instead, it happened because the Taoiseach got it into his head that the People Before Profit TD had insulted his Minister of State at the Department of Finance by “talking down” to her.

He didn’t. He merely told Jennifer Carroll MacNeill to keep her nose out of his private argument with Leo.

“I’m not talking to you,” he snapped when his constituency rival in Dún Laoghaire interrupted their disagreement with a few heckles. Standard parliamentary fare.

Whereupon the Taoiseach took it upon himself to be her knight in shining armour. “I’ve never talked down to somebody like that, particularly a female deputy,” he huffed at a bemused Boyd Barrett.

The very capable Carroll MacNeill, like her fellow women TDs in the national parliament, is no shrinking violet. She’d ate you without salt if riled – as Sinn Finé’s Pádraig MacLochlainn discovered when he made an ill-judged remark in her presence at a budget day debate in RTÉ.

The Taoiseach’s touching concern for the delicate feelings of a colleague – particularly because she happens to be a woman – baffled many observers of Leo’s spiky exchanges with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

The gloves come off regularly and he never appears concerned about the effect this might have on the demure Deputy McD.

Others recalled how he has a tendency to talk down to Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns. During one session of Leaders’ Questions he thrice accused her of being “precious”.

Meanwhile, media colleagues were quick to point to the Taoiseach’s tetchy exchange with the Indo’s Gabija Gataveckaite on the day before he rushed to defend Jennifer’s honour.

She had written a reaction piece about the result of Sunday’s European elections selection convention in Dublin when the party’s preferred candidate, Josepha Madigan, came last and Senator Regina Doherty topped the poll.

“Fine Gael crisis as ‘stunned’ TDs blame Leo Varadkar for Josepha Madigan Europe selection mess” was the headline as she wrote about TDs complaining that the party has lost touch with the grassroots in Dublin.

He didn’t like that.

At a press conference on Tuesday morning following the Government’s announcement of a large funding package for cross-Border projects, the journalist asked the Taoiseach about the fallout from the convention and his plans to “energise” Fine Gael.

“I’m not sure if you were there, Gabby. Were you at the convention?” he asked.

“No, but I have spoken to many sources.”

Leo said he had been wondering about those “sources” as there was a huge crowd at the event, where candidates were “selected by democratic means”, and while a lot of TDs may not be contesting the next general election there are “huge numbers” of people who want to run for the party.

Then he told the reporter: “I saw the piece that I think you are referring to in the Independent today. And never a weaker piece of analysis and lack of insight and nonsense have I read in politics in a very long time.”

Clearly riz by it, though.

He wouldn’t talk like that to Jennifer.

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