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Irish envoy’s UK election bet comes in at 9/1

Sky’s Kay Burley reckoned election would be called in November, but Irish ambassador Martin Fraser was on the button

Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK is a shrewd operator.

As secretary general to the Department of the Taoiseach, Martin Fraser was Ireland’s top civil servant before his move to London. Having spent 20 years of his time here working on Anglo-Irish affairs, he has a finely tuned knowledge of UK politics and a network of first-rate contacts.

So if the ever-cautious Fraser pronounces on a Westminster-related matter, it’s probably a good idea to take what he says seriously.

On May 16th, he hosted a reception in the Irish Embassy in Grosvenor Place for the Journalists’ Charity, which was founded by Charles Dickens in 1864 to help journalists and their dependants going through tough times.


The event was to recognise and celebrate the work of British and Irish journalists at a time when journalism has never been more important to society.

Guest of honour was Kay Burley of Sky News, who was interviewed about her life and career by the BBC’s Frances Finn.

The conversation turned to the possible date of the next election and Kay, with the utmost confidence, declared that Rishi Sunak would go to the country on November 14th. Swore blind that this would be the case.

She proceeded to tell the gathering in the packed ballroom that Ambassador Fraser predicted to her that the election would take place in July. Bless his little Irish socks.

Martin looked a bit embarrassed. “I got 9/1!” he exclaimed, to much hilarity.

After the formalities, many of the assembled hacks and diplomats repaired around the corner to the Star Tavern in Belgravia and carried on honouring the Fourth Estate. The establishment is famous as the pub where the plan for the Great Train Robbery was hatched.

Kay Burley, sensibly, didn’t join them. But she later tweeted about her evening at the Embassy.

“Talked, amongst topics, about UK elections. The ambassador has done (sic) his money on a 9/1 bet with Paddy Power that the election will be in July. Nah!”

Roll on a week or so, and Martin Fraser was right.

And we hear he really did get 9/1 in the bookies.

But fair play to Kay. On Wednesday, when news broke of the snap election, she tweeted a photo of Martin Fraser and wrote “4th July for next general election – if confirmed @IrelandEmbGB Ambo called it”.

Interestingly, during that interview in the Embassy, broadcaster Burley revealed that she has “never voted”.

She said this means that she can look all politicians squarely in the eye, secure in the knowledge that she has never voted for them or any of their rivals.

Tip for Europe

Wonder if Ambassador Fraser has placed any wagers on the outcome of the European elections in Ireland South.

We are hearing that independent TD Michael McNamara is going well, with more than one senior politician telling us that he looks on course to take a seat. The bookies have shortened their odds on him too.

This is where it gets interesting. Should McNamara, a TD for the Labour Party in another existence, be elected to Europe, will he run again for the Dáil? And if the barrister/farmer retains his seat in Co Clare, who will slip in to his seat in Brussels?

In an interesting geopolitical marriage of convenience, none other than Mairín McGrath from Clonmel, daughter of Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath, is Michael’s first named substitute.

Independent councillor Mairín is running again in the Cahir local electoral area and looks set to retain her seat.

But she could soon be representing the European wing of the McGrath political operation.

Return to sender

And Mattie wins our award for best email of the week, pipping Fianna Fáil’s deeply disgruntled Ireland Midlands-North-West candidate Niall Blaney.

On Friday, Donegal-based Senator Niall produced the hissy fit of the campaign so far at his party’s European campaign launch in Dublin. He didn’t just throw the toys out of the pram; he pegged them squarely at Micheál Martin’s head.

Wonderful footage from the media briefing sees Senator Blaney complaining bitterly about the poor level of support he is getting from headquarters compared to the other candidates. As Niall lets fly, the slim pink buffer zone of Cynthia Ní Mhurchú (Ireland South) is all that stands between him and a mortified, simmering Tánaiste.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, mouth clamped shut, is standing next to Niall. He looks petrified, like he wants the floor to open up and swallow him.

Blaney arrived peppering for a row.

On Thursday, his team re-sent the statement he issued giving out yards about being used as second-preference fodder for more favoured rivals. “We are not some sort of bolt-on, Division 2 region.”

The reissued email on “emerging divisions with the party leadership” helpfully added: “Senator Blaney is obviously very annoyed at the conduct of the campaign and is available for interview.”

Great stuff.

But the Mattie McGrath emails were in a different league.

The first dropped at 2.19am on Wednesday headed with a quote attributed to Mattie: “Government Priorities [sic] Middle East over Middle Ireland”.

It dismissed Ireland’s recognition of Palestine (which happened later that morning) as “a political stunt” while pressing Irish Issues remained buried and unaddressed.

“Speaking from Leinster, Deputy McGrath shared his concerns” when he “strongly criticized [sic]” the announcement, describing it as “an attempt to seek attention on the world stage”.

The statement, sent by Brian Ó Domhnaill, economic policy and communications adviser to the Rural Independent Group, gave the Government a right lash.

Then the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Green Party leader took to the steps of Government Buildings and made the historic announcement.

It must have gone down well in Tipperary because a second, rather bizarre email arrived more than 12 hours later from Ó Domhnaill, a former Fianna Fáil turned Independent Senator. He moved to Canada a few years ago, which might explain the 2am email.

“Upon reflection and considering evolving circumstances, we have decided to withdraw this press release. This decision is not due to inaccuracies in the content, but a strategic choice made after careful consideration.

“We appreciate your understanding and co-operation in refraining from further dissemination of this press release.”

But if it was already out there, what was the point? (Although it appears to have been ignored.)

A good example of the Streisand effect.

And the fulminating statement they didn’t want publicised was suddenly making news.

Gotcha moment

Louise O’Reilly was a woman on a mission in the Dáil on Tuesday.

The TD for Dublin Fingal had just one objective in mind when she asked the Taoiseach for his view on €550,000 houses being described as “affordable”.

It was to land a “gotcha” moment for Sinn Féin’s social media.

And she succeeded.

After a routine build-up when she called for new vision, new ambition and new policies on housing because the Government’s plan isn’t working, Louise pounced.

“Taoiseach, do you seriously consider that €550,000 can be classed as an affordable home? Because that’s what people in my constituency are being expected to pay and they are being told by you, the Minister and your Government that it’s affordable,” she ventured, laying out the groundwork.

“We have many, many affordable housing schemes ...” began Simon Harris, only to be stopped in his tracks immediately by Louise, jumping in to petition the chair because she had specifically referred to Fingal.

“Just the one I asked about, Ceann Comhairle, thanks,” she said to Seán Ó Fearghaíl, before eyeballing the Taoiseach from her seat across the floor and repeating the question.

“€550,000 – do you think it’s affordable?”

Up he gets again, ready with another reply.

Now, Louise had to move fast here because Simon Harris speaks very, very quickly.

“Five hundred and fifty thousand euro is not affordable for very many people ...”

She was in like lightning.

“Thank you!”


“Excuse, Sorry. Excuse me ...” protested Simon.

“It’s on the website. You called it an affordable home,” said Louise, well satisfied.

The Taoiseach looked puzzled. “Can we have a little bit of decorum. You can either ask the question or answer the question; you can’t do both.”

But Louise was done because the job was done.

“I got the answer.”

“No. You didn’t get the answer. You cut me off.”

“I did. You said it’s not affordable. That was the answer I was looking for.”

The Ceann Comhairle groaned.

“Aah, please.”

Back and forth it went.

Simon, flummoxed, repeating “You cut me off!”

Louise, triumphant.

Just one more thing. She had to deliver the killer line.

“Five hundred and fifty thousand euro is not affordable and the Taoiseach has confirmed it,” she emphatically declared.

Then she gave a big wink.

Mission accomplished.

The Taoiseach sighed and commenced his reply about the Government providing a variety of different affordable housing schemes and supports in Fingal.

Not that it mattered.

And not long after, the exchange – neatly topped and tailed – went up online.

The clip ended milliseconds before the wink.

Muppet show

They have a diverse cast of witnesses rolling in and out of the Oireachtas arts and media committee.

Wednesday saw appearances from Elmo and Peppa Pig.

They had Connemara-based company Telegael in for the session on regional film, TV and animation production. They put on a showreel as part of their submission.

So not only did Elmo and Peppa Pig appear in Leinster House, they also featured on Oireachtas TV.

“They weren’t the first muppets to appear before our committee,” remarked one member afterwards.