Mary Lou beats ‘as láthair’ Tiktok Taoiseach at his own game

Your essential end-of-week politics catch up from Ringer’s ghostly ministry to gaily-painted cupcakes

the Politics Fix

Story of the Week

On Tuesday morning, Julie Lyons and her team in the Oireachtas catering division began work early, baking and preparing. In a small reception room, they laid out the product of their work on a long sideboard.

It was an impressive display. Dozens of gaily-painted cupcakes and a centre piece, a locomotive-shaped chocolate cake with a face at the end of it.

The room was set aside for the family of the new Taoiseach that was to be elected to the Dáil that day. And the nice touch was in deference Simon Harris’s two children: five-year-old Saoirse; and Cilian (3).

It is the first time that the political leader of the State has had very young children. Indeed, at 37, Simon Harris is also the youngest Taoiseach.


While the process for the election of the Taoiseach is pro forma, it is still a very special occasion in the political calendar. All of the elements – Dáil vote, the symbolic journey to Áras an Uachtaráin, the choosing of the Cabinet, the formal photocall with the President – remind us that these occasions lie at the heart of our democracy and also remind us of the burden of responsibility held by the person who holds the office of Taoiseach.

Bust up

Harris’s honeymoon did not last long. Indeed, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald was in attack mode on the day of his election by the Dáil, with some Government TDs complaining about a lack of generosity on her part towards him, by refusing to congratulate him, or distinguishing the person from the politician.

Anyway, that’s not the way the Sinn Féin leader is made up. On Wednesday, the leader of the Opposition was primed to take on Harris for the first time at Leaders’ Questions.

There was no sign of him, however. McDonald went to town on it, working her way through the thesaurus of ‘outrage’ and ‘indignation’ to drive home the new Taoiseach’s misstep. It was left to the unfortunate Chief Whip Hildegarde Naughton to explain to McDonald why Harris wasn’t there. He was having phone conversations with British prime minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “Three phone calls” exclaimed McDonald with arched eyebrows and an incredulous tone. The implication was clear. The Taoiseach who had promised to hit the ground running had not even made it to the starting line. He was: “as láthair”, she declared.

The row didn’t end there. To add insult to injury, Harris did have time to put out a TikTok to his audience telling them all the exciting things he did in his first day of office. Not to be outdone, McDonald responded with a TikTok of her own, again berating Harris for his no-show. The video even showed the empty space in the chamber, circled with a red marker. The result. Harris got 140,000 views. McDonald got a cool 290,000.


Hello from Government Buildings. First full day in job. And a busy one - chaired government meeting, appointed ministers of state, set up new cabinet committee on disability & key calls with political leaders including the British Prime Minister and the President of Ukraine #irishpolitics #fyp #irishtiktok #foryou #wednesday #firstday #foryourpage #dayone #foryoupage #ukraine #unitedkingdom #uk

♬ original sound - Simon Harris

Taoiseach Simon Harris yesterday: "I'll move mountains!" Taoiseach Simon Harris today: "Sorry, I can't come into the Dáil today, I have to make 3 phone calls!" #irishnews #simonharris #dáil #missing

♬ original sound - Sinn Féin

That’s all very well but does any of this affect me?

There was a ghostly ministry that appeared on Wednesday. That was the day the Government announced the new ministers of State. The meeting took place at 12. There were three vacancies at the junior ministerial level, two caused by the promotion of Peter Burke and Patrick O’Donovan, the third caused by the resignation of Josepha Madigan.

The three people in line for promotion were well flagged: Alan Dillon; Colm Burke and Eimear Higgins.

But then at 10 that morning, two hours before the meeting, veteran Mayo TD Michael Ring (and former minister) gave an interview on Mid West Radio to say that Harris had offered him not one, but a choice of two ministries. But he had turned them down because neither had spending power.

Wow. Where did that come from? Ring said that when he turned them down he had suggested that his Fine Gael constituency colleague Alan Dillon might make a good choice of junior minister. He would not say, when later asked, what he had been offered. Harris kicked for touch when asked about it, simply saying Michael Ring was a good colleague.

There’s a lot of reading between the lines here. And there’s definitely a bit of devilment going on. As for Alan Dillon, he did not to play on the Mayo senior football team for a decade on the recommendation of anybody. He got there on merit. And of all the backbench TDs that have come in since 2020, he has been one of the most impressive, particularly as a member of the Public Accounts Committee. He might be thankful for his constituency colleague’s recommendation but he certainly didn’t need it.

Banana skin

And another junior ministerial banana skin. Fine Gael handed back the Gaeltacht junior ministry to Fianna Fáil because Simon Harris could not find a Minister of State who had sufficient Irish to do it, or one that was actually willing to do the job. Patrick O’Donovan had done the job. His Irish was not bad but you never sensed he would go through the hobs of Hell to stand up for the Irish language or the State’s Gaeltacht communities.

Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne wanted the role in early 2023 but was not given it and was delighted to be handed it this week. At least, we know there is one clear line of distinction between the two big Coalition parties – one cares about the Irish language; the other does not give it a second thought.

Winners and losers

Winners: Peter Burke, Patrick O’Donovan, Alan Dillon, Emer Higgins, Colm Burke

Losers: Hildegarde Naughton; Jennifer Carroll MacNeill. Both would have expected further elevation.

The Big Read:

Miriam Lord’s column on all the week’s events is one thing in our lives that is guaranteed to hit the ground running

Jennifer Bray has a piece looking at the direction the Harris administration may want to go over the next six months.

I have a preview of the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis which begins tonight in the Royal Convention Centre in Dublin.

Hear here

Things got very out of this world on Wednesday’s Inside Politics Podcast:

Hugh Linehan: The slogan at the Fine Gael ard fheis was ‘A new energy’, which I think was almost like title of one of the worst Star Wars films

Inside Politics by Audience Team