Miriam Lord’s week: Lavish praise for Micheál Martin prompts sulking, then politicians acknowledge they’re all great

Holly Cairns hasn’t put a foot wrong, apart from when buying her first single

A quaff of diplomats. An eavesdrop of excellencies. A nosebag of ambassadors.

Leinster House was heaving with them this week.

Over thirty of them visited on Wednesday, the majority there to support Senator Sharon Keogan’s coffee-morning in aid of Unicef Ireland’s emergency fundraising appeal for children and families affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

Sharon, along with the Seanad Technical Group’s minder, Samantha Long, and Dáil restaurant live-wire Reka Szocs, laid on pots of strong Turkish coffee and platters of Middle-Eastern nibbles for the ambassadors who were joined at the packed fundraiser in the Ceann Comhairle’s diningroom by TDs, senators and Oireachtas staffers. And while the guests grazed on baklava (baked in house) and trays of Turkish Delight, Senator Mark Daly conducted a brisk auction for a selection of hampers and stung their excellencies for a few bob.


There were lots of speeches, so the visitors felt very much at home. Speakers included Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Jerry Buttimer, The Turkish Ambassador, Mehmet Hakan Olcay and Peter Power, the former Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick East and minister of state for overseas development who now heads up Unicef Ireland.

Best-selling novelist Cathy Kelly also spoke – not a member of the cocktail sausage and vol-au-vent brigade but doing sterling work as a Unicef ambassador since her appointment in 2005.

Last year, Sen Keogan held a similar function for the Red Cross in Ukraine and raised over €13,000 in just over an hour.

“I think we are well on target to exceed that this year and the coffee-morning also helps to keep the focus on the work being done for the children in Turkey and Syria for Unicef. Cash is king in these emergency situations and they need our help,” said Sharon.

The Bulgarian Ambassador Gergana Karadjova paid a visit to the Upper House later in the day and was given a warm welcome by the Cathaoirleach, who is continuing predecessor Mark Daly’s tradition of marking the national days of countries around the world.

As Wednesday was the first day of Spring, he wished her a Happy Baba Marta in advance of her country’s national day on Friday.

Justice for Whatshisname

The British Ambassador was also in the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery, although if Paul Johnston was hoping to hear the views of our esteemed senators on the new Windsor Framework he was too late. Most said their piece the day before.

It’s just as well His Excellency wasn’t around to witness the rather petty and partisan carry-on from Fine Gael senators sulking over who is getting credit for the agreement.

The Simon Community – not the charitable but the highly precious one – was out in force on Tuesday.

They saw red, sorry, blue when Fianna Fáil’s Fiona O’Loughlin wanted to add her “voice of congratulations and support” for the Windsor Framework which marks a new phase of EU-UK relations and Irish-UK relations.

“Congratulations, in particular, to Tánaiste Micheál Martin as minister for foreign affairs who was central in relation to these negotiations,” she added innocently, before appealing to MLAs to return to Stormont and get the institutions up and running again.

After five more speakers and a break in proceedings to welcome a delegation from Moldova, it was Fine Gael’s Mary Seery-Kearney’s turn to speak. The South Dublin senator was absolutely ripping.

“I want to begin by saying it’s quite a despicable piece of politicking that we would begin by calling out a Minister for Foreign Affairs who’s been in place since last December and completely ignoring the incredible amount of work that was done by the incumbent who was in there since Brexit for seven years beforehand and it’s quite shameful that anyone would use this [forum] to do that” she fumed without pausing to take a breath.

“However, I’m here to talk about apartment defects ...”

Her party colleague Garret Ahearn was similarly exercised.

If the Seanad was going to acknowledge the Framework then the work of everyone involved in bringing it about should be recognised.

He acknowledged the Tánaiste’s role “but, you know, Minister Coveney has been in that portfolio for five and a half years”.

Then the Tipperary senator turned to the Cathaoirleach, his fellow Fine Gaeler Buttimer. “You know the amount of work he put into it. You know the patience and the sacrifice he’s personally given to finding a solution ... there is nobody in this country who has played a bigger role than Simon Coveney.”

Next to join FG’s sulking senators was Micheál – “We cannot write people out of history!” – Carrigy from Longford who was followed by Galway’s Seán Kyne who “concurred” with the comments.

Limerick’s Maria Byrne rounded off the Simon Community’s passionate tribute by “complimenting not only the Tánaiste but Minister Coveney as well “for the amount of work he’s put into it over so many years. It’s been the combination of both men’s work and various other parties as well that has brought this forward.”

House Leader Lisa Chambers called them out on their nonsense.

“Clearly there are many people involved, not just the two men – Ursula von der Leyen as well.”

In a clear reference to Mary Seery-Kearney picking up on Fiona O’Loughin’s remarks, the former Fianna Fáil TD for Mayo urged senators not to make personalised comments. They shouldn’t be “taking pops” at each other.

“I very often listen to Members lavish praise on party colleagues for work they have done, and sometimes stuff they haven’t done ... It’s kind of par for the course to acknowledge the work of party colleagues.”

“You’re abusing your position,” thundered Mary.

Sen Chambers repeated that the good work was done by multiple people, many of them civil servants. There was also collective Cabinet responsibility, not forgetting involvement from former Ministers from different parties. She recognised all the effort they put in, including the “key role” played by Micheál Martin “who was the Taoiseach for the past two and a half years, not simply the Minister for Foreign Affairs since December 2022″.

“Everyone’s great,” shrugged Sen Carrigy.

Lisa said all the members acknowledge that.

“Everyone’s great. Everyone’s great, isn’t that the point we are making?”

Not really.

Justice for the Cork South-Central One.

Justice for the Forgotten.

We must all stand in solidarity with Whatshisname, the former minister for foreign affairs.

Budding Holly’s musical embarrassment

So what else do we know about the new leader of the Social Democrats?

(For those who are asking, the elegant yet casual flowing green satin trousers and top worn by Holly Cairns for her maiden speech is from Zara. And no, we don’t know who did her make-up.)

Just over a year ago, the first-time TD for Cork Southwest featured in the Culture Club slot on Matt Cooper’s TodayFM show, The Last Word.

She talked about the cultural influences on her life and her fledgling career in national politics.

Leadership ambitions didn’t figure in the mix.

In January 2022, the Social Democrat’s USP was the fact that she is Cork City and county’s sole female TD out of 18 deputies representing five constituencies. Not only that, but she told the host she is the only woman from Cork in the Oireachtas as the county doesn’t have any female senators either.

She proved an engaging guest, well able to talk and with lots of interesting things to say. In going on Cooper’s show, Holly was following in the footsteps of the likes of Mary Lou McDonald, Simon Harris and Paschal Donohoe.

“We were very impressed by her at the time. Some of the politicians find it a bit out of their comfort zone, but she was well into it” one of the producers recalled this week after deputy Cairns was elected unopposed as the new leader of the Soc Dems.

She chatted about music and books and TV shows. Her favourite album is Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and favourite bands are Florence and the Machine and Beóga, a young traditional outfit from Kerry.

The best – and first – big gig she ever attended was The Rolling Stones in Slane. Her mother, Madeline McKeever, is from the town and her granny used to get free tickets for the concerts.

Asking for It by Holly’s fellow West Cork woman, Louise O’Neill, hit all the right notes for favourite book and author. She didn’t have a favourite play: “I’m afraid I’m not cultured enough”.

Two movies came to mind, the comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Philomena, a film which has informed her work on Mother and Baby homes.

As a kid, she wanted to be Spider-Man until Zena Warrior Princess came along. Current TV favourites are Catastrophe with Sharon Horgan and “the doubly brilliant” This Way Up with Horgan and Aisling Bea.

But we’ve saved the best until last.

With commendable honesty, Holly said she bought her first single in the year 2000 and confessed it a novelty song called Who’s in the House? by journalist Brendan O’Connor’s trading as Fr Brian and the Fun Lovin’ Cardinals.

She remembers going into Bantry with her father to buy it. O’Connor visited their house at one point “and I was so star-struck”. She and her stepbrother had their photo taken with him and they were so excited they insisted their two rabbits had to be in the picture too.

“I can’t believe I bought that single.”

Bonkbusters not pertinent to Foreign Affairs

Fun times ahead at the Department of Foreign Affairs’ book club, which is being “reignited” for 2023, according to a recent circular.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin must have lit a fire under them in Iveagh House when he took over from Simon Coveney in December.

Forget the shame and all that unpleasantness over cheeky Proseccos at the height of the pandemic.

It’s safe again to enjoy a social drink again in Iveagh House. Time to rip the cling film from the artisan nibbles, uncork the Montepulciano and explore the deeper meaning within the covers of the latest diplomatic bonkbuster to hit the shelves.

“We have selected three books on issues pertinent to our work,” say the organisers, “and ask that you vote for the book of your choice [which] we will discuss on March 10th.”

Pertinent to the work of Foreign Affairs. Plenty of scope there.

Perhaps a Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum or John LeCarré? A deep dive into James Bond before the sensitivity readers go mad completely?

Not quite.

The mandarins must choose between these tempting page-turners: My Fourth Time, We Drowned, the award-winning study of migration by Sally Hayden; The Economic Weapon by Nicholas Mulder, an analysis of sanctions; Making Sense of a United Ireland, by Brendan O’Leary and Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling! by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen.

The DFA Book Club members were told that the first three books mentioned above have 464, 448 and 384 pages respectively.

You could call it a Civil Service approach to reading.

That’s Foreign Affairs for you. Mad as a box of frogs.

They didn’t actually mention the Aisling book (305 pages). Far too serious for them.

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday