Miriam Lord’s Week: Bruiser Barry’s sensible response to Paschal furore leaves Claire Byrne at a loss

Barry Cowen started off by saying very nice things about Paschal. Then moved on to say even nicer things

Disappointment of the Week: Barry Cowen.

Sound Man of the Week: Barry Cowen.

Political carnivores were deeply disappointed on Friday morning when backbench bruiser Barry went on national radio to talk about the Paschal’s posters controversy and didn’t throw them as much as an ounce of raw meat.

The Fianna Fáil TD was sacked from cabinet in 2020 by Micheál Martin for refusing to make a second Dáil statement about matters relating to a drink-driving ban he received in 2016. He made an unreserved apology in the Dáil the previous week when details of the conviction emerged. He was backed by his party leader, but then further reports surfaced suggesting the new minister might have tried to avoid a Garda checkpoint during that episode.


Despite his leader’s request, Barry insisted he would make no further comment as he was entitled to due process and he wanted to await the outcome of a Garda Ombudsman inquiry into this alleged incident.

And so, after the political high of achieving a cabinet seat he was fired just over a fortnight into his new job as minister for agriculture.

He was gutted.

Last September, a GSOC report concluded he did not attempt to perform a “U-turn” or seek to “evade or avoid” gardaí.

Since his dismissal, Barry has become an entertaining member of the party’s discontented crew, shooting zippy one-liners across the floor at the Opposition when he isn’t glowering for Ireland from the back row ranks of Micheál’s awkward squad. He has always felt hard done by.

And now Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe is on the rack over his election expenses because of the non-declaration of sums of money involving eye-watering figures such as €140 for the rent of a van for 10 hours. There is also the matter of his millionaire businessman friend to whom he personally sold almost €2,000 worth of Fine Gael raffle tickets. And the six-man team of workers the businessman made available to hang up a strangely small number of election posters given the time they spent in the constituency, with Paschal assuming they were all giving their services for free.

Was this hanging offence solely committed during the 2016 general election, as the Minister stressed at the beginning of this controversy, or were similar campaign dig-outs made available to him during the 2020 general election. Sinn Féin has bombarded Paschal with the same questions for days now: did businessman Michael Stone also pick up part of the postering tab for 2020 and why has the Minister been so reluctant to answer detailed questions on this matter?

Barry Cowen got the chop for refusing to answer questions and was subsequently vindicated.

Donohoe has his Government’s full support. Although now that he has announced he is going to answer questions, he has landed himself in a lot more trouble.

Having given his definitive account to the Dáil on Wednesday evening and declared the matter closed until a SIPO inquiry was complete, the Minister did a complete U-turn on Thursday, discovered he has more issues to address and would be issuing another statement.

But not until next week.

This can only indicate that he did not give the full story on Wednesday. And why does he need to take the best part of a week before he can tell the rest of it?

The longer he leaves it, the worse it looks.

Enter Cowen. He goes on Claire Byrne’s morning show to give his opinion on this worsening situation for the Minister, although at least Paschal still has his job. Unlike Barry…

Much licking of lips as the political carnivores gathered around their radios.

Barry started off by saying very nice things about Paschal. Then moved on to say even nicer things about Paschal but changing tack to say what a nice bloke Paschal is.

The carnivores are now drooling, waiting for the that all-important “but” to come next. But there wasn’t one, for Barry has also clasped Phibsborough’s poster boy to his governmental bosom.

As it stands, he purred, it’s not a major offence. The man should not be hounded from office because of a relatively minor infraction.

“Is it that he’s too big to fail?” repeated Claire hopefully, sounding a bit put out, like she had ordered a ravenous hyena on Amazon only to find a fluffy pussycat in a cardboard box on her doorstep.

But Barry wasn’t biting. Even when reminded about how he lost his job in similarly controversial circumstances.

Nope. Deputy Cowen remained calm and reasonable. It is not a case of Donohoe being too big to fail, it is because he does not deserve to fail over these particular issues.

In Barry’s book, two wrongs don’t make right. What happened to him should not be taken as a template for future dismissals.

It was a refreshingly non-partisan, sensible and fair response from the Fianna Fáil TD.

But a lean day for the political carnivores.

They can wait.

The word around Government circles on Friday is that there is “another thing” that Donohoe has to address on Tuesday but that he should survive it. Nonetheless, you can sense the nervousness.

It’s a waiting game.

The Dáil will be jammed on Tuesday.

Or maybe not. Because the cavalry arrived on Friday evening to save the day for the beleaguered Minister.

“Paschal Donohoe is one of the best Ministers I have ever worked with in the Dáil. Competent, fair, kind and inclusive. Calm down.”

A tweet from former minister and retired TD for Dublin Bay North, Finian McGrath.

That’s that, so.

The Bard of Greystones

Readers recovering from the excesses of the festive season may have missed Matt Cooper’s Culture Club programme on Newstalk at the beginning of the year.

His first guest of 2023 talking all things cultural was the Minister for Higher Education and Stand-in Minister for Justice, Simon Harris. This was quite the coup for young Cooper as the taciturn Harris is notoriously private. It was nice to see him come out of his shell.

Apologies. We were thinking of somebody else entirely who is not, in fact, called Simon Harris.

Unsurprisingly, the Minister and TD for Wicklow, who is never stuck for a word proved an engaging interviewee. However, even for a man who was elected to Dáil Éireann in his early 20s and became a cabinet minister before he was 30 years old, it seems Simon was a precocious youngster well before he caught the politics bug.

He revealed that he wrote and starred in his own play when he was a teenager. It was staged with a full cast and a paying audience in the local hall in Greystones and with a paying audience and a five-night sellout run.

“On the Run” was Harris’s playwriting debut. And his only play.

In 2018, the local Greystones Guide got wind of his theatrical past and ran a tongue-in-cheek report about “The Play What He Wrote” which tackled issues such as “alcoholism, child abuse and death” and other aspects of the darker side of life.

“It did not. It was about two kids who go off on a little adventure,” the author told us on Friday.

The 13-year-old second-year student from St David’s Secondary School landed himself a big write-up in the local paper.

“Many of the discerning punters who turned up at St Patrick’s Hall… would have difficulty telling that the production they were witnessing was entirely the fruits of the work of an enthusiastic group of young supporters,” read the unbylined report which also told us that the playwright recruited a cast and crew of almost 50 friends and supporters.

Before he unleased his masterpiece on the world, Simon visited playwright Bernard Farrell who lived nearby and asked him for advice.

“I was knocking on doors a lot earlier than people think” said the Minister.

Farrell was extremely helpful to the young writer and gave him a lot of advice. He also arranged for him to meet his colleague Hugh Leonard, who was also very encouraging.

And on the opening night, Farrell was in the audience with then artistic director of the Abbey, Ben Barnes.

Then it all went wrong.

Simon Harris found politics.

“I haven’t written a thing since.”

Party time

The imminent denting of the Donohoe dimples dampened the mood somewhat in Dublin 4′s Schoolhouse restaurant on Tuesday night when the Fine Gael parliamentary party sat down to dine following its day-long pre-Dáil session think-in.

The TDs and Senators held their policy discussions in the party rooms in Leinster House before adjourning to Ballsbridge for a few drinks and a bite to eat.

There wasn’t much schmoozing to be done with the new Taoiseach, who spent much of the Christmas and new year break meeting many of them individually. “He wasn’t offering us jobs or anything,” sniffed one PP member, clearly unimpressed with a Taoiseach who arrived with one arm as long as the other.

We hear Dún Laoghaire-based yachtsman, bon viveur and Senator, Barry Ward, was in tremendous form after he broke the news to colleagues that he is about to become a father for the first time.

Barry and his wife Aoife are expecting their new arrival in early June. The couple were married last August.

A starry-eyed Barry, who got married last August, had some of his more grizzled colleagues smiling when he told them: “It happened so quickly.”

He tells us there will not be a gender reveal party and they aren’t expecting twins.

The former Fine Gael TD for Limerick, Tom Neville, recently posted scenes from the gender reveal party he and his wife Jenny Dixon held in Dublin’s Croke Park Hotel before Christmas, breaking the happy news that they are expecting twin girls after a difficult road to pregnancy.

Tunnel vision

We hear four Cabinet hotshots took a leaf from the Brussels negotiations playbook at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting when they entered the Merrion Street “tunnel” to hammer out the finishing touches to contentious draft legislation on a remediation scheme for defective Celtic Tiger-era apartments and duplexes.

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Attorney General remained closeted in the Cabinet room to rewrite some aspects of the draft Bill, away from the disapproving gaze of windy Civil Service mandarins who were strongly opposed to moves to provide retrospective funding for people who have already paid to repair their properties or where work has already started.

The scheme, which is expected to cost up to €2.5 billion, is giving cautious departmental money crunchers palpitations. But the high-powered political quartet found a way to sit down and finish the draft legislation for presentation to Cabinet without being disturbed.

They had entered the Merrion Street tunnel and the civil servants could get their hands on them.

And so the deed was done.

This could catch on.