Subscriber OnlyPoliticsMiriam Lord's Week

Theatre-going Fianna Fáilers would like to create a drama of their own

Greens should be celebrating the beginning of summer with the welcome addition of a new Senator Mal O’Hara

We wouldn’t like to unsettle Michael D now that he is out of hospital and in flying form after taking a bit of a turn last week. Although there was a brief frisson of concern on Thursday when notice went out that he would be voting on Friday in St Mary’s Hospital. Then everyone remembered the hospital is in the Phoenix Park and his polling station is situated there.

However, President Higgins should know that four members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, masquerading as innocent theatre-goers, were overheard in deep discussion during the interval of a play in Dublin on Tuesday night about an assassination attempt on a popular president.

Three are members of the Oireachtas Media Committee and word is that they are desperate to create a drama to equal, if not surpass, the roller-coaster highs of last year’s RTÉ hearings.

Committee chair Niamh Smith, Christopher O’Sullivan and Malcolm Byrne were joined by party colleague, Paidi O’Sullivan, who may not be a member of the committee but is a great man for the drama.

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Their discussion was interrupted by the arrival of the Green TD Brian Leddin, who is standing in the June election for Limerick’s first directly-elected mayor.

The politicians were in Cavendish Row to see Thomas Bernhard’s The President which is about a plot to take out the head of state and the first lady of an unnamed small country.

The cultural wing of Fianna Fáil was due to be joined by one other member of the committee until he realised he was double booked. Senator Shane Cassells weighed up the options: an acclaimed co-production between the Gate Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company or a date with cheesetastic crooner Rick Astley: “One of the unexpected cult darlings from last year’s Glastonbury,” according to reviewer Lee Campbell in these pages this week.

Astley won hands down. Cassells was never gonna give him up.

Sorry.

The Senator even tweeted a photo of himself at the 3Arena, clutching a copy of his idol’s latest album. “A dash from Leinster House to see 80s legend Rick Astley,” writes Shane (45).

O’Hara is the ‘other candidate’

If all goes according to plan the Greens should be celebrating the beginning of summer with the welcome addition of a new Senator Mal O’Hara. The party’s leader in Northern Ireland has been nominated by its Seanad election taskforce and executive committee to run in the byelection to replace Sinn Féin’s Niall Ó Donnghaile, and members were informed by email of the decision on Friday.

The vote will be held at the end of April, and the last day for nominations is the 22nd of this month. Ballot papers go out on April 15th, and the polls will close at 11am on April 29th.

A select electorate of sitting TDs and Senators will choose Belfast-based Ó Donnghaile’s replacement. As the Government holds the Seanad majority, O’Hara, who is from north Belfast, should take the seat in a straight geographical swap with his predecessor.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will back the Green candidate because the party supported a voting deal in 2021 which saw Maria Byrne (FG) and Gerry Horkan (FF) returned in byelections caused by the resignations of Fine Gael’s Michael D’Arcy and Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion.

Now it’s the Green Party’s turn and, barring a major upset, O’Hara is home and hosed.

There has been some talk of a rapprochement in the ranks with Green councillor Hazel Chu’s name mentioned as a possible candidate. But Chu, a former lord mayor of Dublin, burned her bridges when she ran unsuccessfully as an independent in Seanad byelections in 2021 and 2022.

Pauline O’Reilly, the leader of the Greens in the Upper House, moved a motion on Thursday setting in train this latest byelection. In 2021 she was one of three Green Senators to propose a motion of no confidence in then party cathaoirleach Chu after she announced her intention to run as an independent. Senator O’Reilly was elected cathaoirleach later that year and she is running for the Greens in the Midlands–Northwest constituency in the European elections.

In his email to members director of elections, Waterford TD Marc Ó Cathasaigh, described Mal’s nomination as an “exciting moment” for the party.,

“As a Senator Mal will add a strong voice for all communities across the divide in the North as well as the disadvantaged, the LGBT community and, of course, the environment. If elected he will make history by being the first Northern Senator who is an “other” rather than a unionist or a nationalist.”

Phelan’s hat is back in the ring

Former Fine Gael minister of state John Paul Phelan was one of the first in Leo Varadkar’s ever-diminishing parliamentary party to announce he will not be contesting the forthcoming general election. John Paul decided to bow out of the pressurised world of national politics on health grounds.

When he announced his decision last April he said he was bowing out on doctor’s orders in a bid to reduce his stress levels. The TD for Carlow-Kilkenny said at the time: “Almost three years ago, at the height of the pandemic, it nearly all came to an end for me. Very few people get a second chance. I’ve gotten one. I’ve been one of the lucky few.”

However, we see that he hasn’t lost his appetite for the game entirely. JP will be taking a keen interest in the election of members to Fine Gael’s executive council at next month’s ardfheis in Galway. He currently serves as FG vice-president and he sits on the executive council.

Is he leaving all that behind too? No. His hat is back in the ring. He wants to be elected vice-president again.

This is being taken as a sign by some of the more optimistic Blueshirts around Leinster House. Could the Kilkenny man be set for a remarkable comeback?

Eh, no.

Fine Gael relations need restoration

Word has reached us of a flaming row between two Fine Gael Junior Ministers last week in the corridor near the ground floor entrance to the Dáil chamber, near the bar and restaurants.

OPW Minister Patrick O’Donovan, who is TD for Limerick County, has been publicly critical of his party’s MEPs for going against the directive of their EPP group in the European Parliament and voting in favour of the controversial Nature Restoration Law which was passed after years of heated debate. Their decision was roundly condemned at the time by the Dáil’s Rural Independents, with Mattie McGrath telling the House that farming and fishing families “are devastated” by the result of vote.

“Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens are going around lobbying and canvassing every day for the European Parliament. They should be ran from every door in the country because they have absolutely neglected and abused the farmers and the people of rural Ireland, and they won’t stop until the people are hungry and the people of Dublin and other cities will be hungry also… you claim to be the parties of rural Ireland. You’ve abandoned them, but abandoned isn’t bad enough, you want to kill them off altogether.”

Fine Gael’s five MEPs strongly defended their decision, saying the final agreement achieves a balance between action to improve biodiversity while safeguarding food security and guaranteeing that restoration measures will be voluntary for farmers. They were backed by the party leadership.

But with elections looming some Fine Gael TDs from rural areas were less than pleased with their MEPs. Junior Minister Patrick O’Donovan, who represents a mainly rural constituency, broke ranks and criticised his own MEPs for supporting the passage of the landmark environmental legislation.

“I am disappointed, to put it mildly” he told Radio Kerry, claiming that law would make it harder to protect properties at risk of flooding. “I am worried about it… If anybody tells me this is going to come without consequences and it is just public land that is just not true.”

His remarks were picked up by opponents of the law which is designed to restore at least 20 per cent of the EU’s land and sea areas by 2030 and all ecosystems by 2050.

The Junior Minister for Agriculture Martin Heydon, who is a farmer, has been holding the line and defending his colleagues in Europe, hence the angry exchange of words with his fellow Minister.

“They were having a stand-up row. Martin wasn’t happy at all, accusing Patrick of fecking the MEPs under a bus,” says our informant who was hanging around outside the bar.

Meanwhile, we hear that Brian Murphy, the Taoiseach’s chief-of-staff, also give the defiant TD a ticking-off for his insubordination.

That’ll do him no harm in the constituency.

Mary’s holy visit

Mary Butler, the Fianna Fáil Minister of State for Health, missed out on the St Patrick’s week airlift last year having volunteered to stay back home while her colleagues dined for Ireland across the globe. She didn’t mind as she wanted to recharge her batteries after a difficult year when she finally got the all-clear after two bouts of surgery for skin cancer. She then caught Covid.

This year Mary is off to Cyprus, Italy and the Holy See. She asked if it might be possible to present the Pope with a bowl of shamrock. She couldn’t believe it when she got back word that the Pontiff is most agreeable to the proposition.

So the TD for Waterford will be presenting Pope Francis with a bowl of the green stuff when she visits the Vatican.

She’s thrilled.

Perhaps when she is there she might say a few prayers for her constituency rivals Independent TD Matt Shanahan and Fine Gael Senator John Cummins, who are currently providing lots of political entertainment in Waterford city as they slug it out for column inches and radio exposure in the run-up to the general election.

Meanwhile Mary will be glad to escape the toxic environment of Irish politics for a little while. She has spoken out on a number of occasions about threats that politicians and their staff have been receiving over the past year. Journalist Damien Tiernan of WLF FM in Waterford broke the story on Friday evening that local gardaí are investigating what they believe to be a targeted attack on the Minister’s private car on Friday afternoon. She parked it in the Barker Street area of the city.

Mary’s car had one of its tyres slashed and punctured with a knife and screwdriver. She was speaking at a National Women’s Day event against racism in nearby O’Connell Street.


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