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Miriam Lord: We came to Leinster House with a heavy heart to remember Michael O’Regan

Danny Healy-Rae struggled to find the right words to convey his admiration for Michael O’Regan, ‘one of the best Kerrymen that ever came out of Kerry’

Dáil Éireann may come across as one big castigation chamber, but praise is never in short supply either. It’s all part of the job. Most politicians could soft-soap for Ireland and frequently do. When they aren’t telling off people, they like nothing more than paying a good tribute.

But sometimes, a special commendation comes along which goes above and beyond the usual superlatives, outshining the tried and tested testimonials regularly bestowed from the highest reaches of the Dáil benches.

It happened on Tuesday.

A downhearted Danny Healy-Rae, struggling to find the right words to properly convey his respect and admiration for a hard-working journalist from his own beloved county, finally found the perfect line.


“He was one of the best Kerrymen that ever came out of Kerry.”

There is no higher praise.

It’s such a pity Michael O’Regan wasn’t there to hear it. He would have died and gone to heaven.

On Tuesday, we came to Leinster House with a heavy heart.

Up the ceremonial staircase to the press gallery, a narrow corridor of pokey rooms behind the back wall of the Dáil chamber. To the small Irish Times room, where Michael was stationed for more than 30 years until his retirement in 2019.

The laughs we had.

Our former parliamentary correspondent died suddenly on Sunday.

A large cohort of TDs and Senators remember him from his time here. “I’ve been in this House for nearly 26 years and he has been a feature of political commentary all of that time and longer,” said Simon Coveney, who was filling in for the Taoiseach during the Order of Business.

Many of the younger members came to know him through his subsequent television and radio work, not to mention his entertaining and prodigious output on Twitter.

In an unusual move, the Ceann Comhairle proposed holding a minute’s silence for the late journalist. He thought it would be “appropriate” if the House marked Michael’s unexpected passing over the weekend.

“He was one of our pre-eminent and much-loved political journalists, renowned for his meticulous research, his encyclopedic knowledge and his innate sense of decency and fairness,” said Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

“Many people, including fellow journalists, benefited over the years from his wisdom, his kindness and his great sense of humour.”

Here’s one sentence we didn’t hear because it’s never been spoken: “It may not be widely known, but Michael O’Regan is from Co Kerry.”

He may have lived and worked in Dublin but the Kingdom was the centre of his universe. Everybody knew that.

If a Kerry-based politician as much as broke wind above in the Dáil or Seanad or below in the constituency, he knew. And then he told all about it in his weekly Call from the Dáil slot on Radio Kerry.

Is there such a thing as the Kerry Mafia? There sure is – albeit a benign one.

There it was in action between the Order of Business and Questions on Promised Legislation when the Healy-Rae brothers, along with Minister for Education Norma Foley, paid heartfelt tribute to a “giant among journalists”.

Earlier, at the start of Leaders’ Questions, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar began with a brief tribute, expressing his sympathies to Michael’s “friends, colleagues and indeed the people of Kerry who will mourn his loss”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald saluted the memory of “a gentleman and a truly fine and fair professional”.

Then she grilled Leo on the ongoing ructions in the top echelons of RTÉ where the latest big row is about the gold-plated exit packages enjoyed by some departing executives after the payments, perks and dud musical chits began hitting the fan.

This scandal is rumbling on for months yet he talks about it like “some detached, inconsequential observer”, she told him.

“If RTÉ is guilty of drip-feeding information, and they are, then you are guilty of gross indecision and slowness and, sometimes, an alarming but telling lack of curiosity.”

She suggested one step he could take towards establishing accountability would be to order the immediate publication of all details relating to severance packages.

Sitting next to the Taoiseach was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Simon Coveney. His brother Rory, the mastermind behind RTE’s €2.3 million Toy Show The Musical flop, is one of the departing executives who enjoyed a handsome pay-off when he “resigned”.

To her credit, Mary Lou resisted the temptation to shout the catchphrase of this catastrophe across the floor to Simon (not his brother’s keeper): Who are ya loyal to?

Michael O’Regan would have been chuffed to get a mention in the middle of a Dáil argy-bargy on RTÉ. He was riveted by the twists and turns in this never-ending yarn.

Social Democrat leader Holly Cairns and Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik also took time to pay tribute to him. But it was the politicians from Kerry who really pushed the naomhóg out.

We knew that his passing was a profound occurrence for the Healy-Raes when Michael removed his trademark cap for the minute’s silence. Their fellow Rural Independent, Mattie McGrath, laced his fingers together in solidarity, his lips moving in prayer.

The press gallery filled up with Michael’s media colleagues, anxious to pay their respects too.

The Minister for Education, who hails from Tralee, said he was much revered, much respected and much loved. “He was the consummate journalist. He was well researched, well informed and he was impartial. He was incredibly fair.”

(Not like the impudent ingrates in the gallery these days.)

“He certainly carried all things Kerry in his heart and, indeed, in his voice,” said Norma. The sound of his “particularly strong, beautiful Kerry accent” was a reminder “that one of our own was doing so well and had such a distinguished career in the world of journalism”.

Michael and Danny both recalled the time Michael came down to cover the funeral of their father, Jackie. He came to Kilgarvan and stayed “for three days and for three nights”.

This meant the world to them.

MHR spoke on behalf of the “army of followers” who tuned into his weekly morning political slot – “one of the most sought-after political events in Kerry”.

But then, Michael O’Regan “was a tower of strength, a fine cut of a man” and now he is “above in heaven” reporting on the goings on “and maybe in other quarters below”.

DHR marvelled that Michael, who came from a rural townland near Blennerville, “knew where everyone came from and what they started out in”.

He was lost in admiration for his vast local and national political knowledge.

“He may be gone but his voice will live on... He was one of the best Kerrymen that ever came out of Kerry. We are so proud of him.”

And so we are. Says the dyed-in-the-wool Dub who sits today in his old chair in that small office in Leinster House.