Wednesday, October 31, 2007


There are three political correspondents' rooms in Leinster House, all at the top of the House. The Indo and RTE are in one room; the Times and TV3 in the second and the third room is the Craggy Island one - housing us from the Examiner, the Irish Daily Mail, one half of the Sunday Business Post political team and the Sunday Times.

Well, we in the third room were given the bum's rush out of Leinster House last week. The floor in our room was collapsing (yep, all those porkie pies!) and the Office of Public Works Engineer told us that we had to get out by the end of the week.

We are now on the fourth floor of a (relatively) modern office block behind the Kilkenny Design shop on Nassau Street. It takes about six minutes to get to the chamber from here. But for all the world we could be at the North Pole. We are completely isolated.

The reporters from the different papers were in different rooms but were on the same floor. And contiguity is important; for briefings; for co-ordination and to keep your antennae up to pick up vibes that your rivals might have a story that you haven't. Missing a trick (and then getting a kicking from the editor) is the greatest fear and motivator of all journalists!

We felt a bit like the hind rump when shifted last week. But then the OPW condemned the entire floor. It means that all political correspondents are now to be shifted outside of the Leinster House campus.

This is going to be difficult for some of our colleagues. And naturally there are worries that once we are all out of Leinster House, we will stay out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Senan Moloney in the Indo this morning got one of the details wrong (the amount) but it was still a cracking story. Retiring Ministers had to claim their pensions within six months or else they could only claim from the time of their first claim. Obviously, Woodsie missed his deadline. By how much? A couple of months? Or a couple of years? Anyway the helpful section inserted by Brian Cowen into a totally separate Bill (one that regulates money markets) has solved all that for the Minister for Education since his retirement in 2002.

Really, is there any length that politicians won't go to to make sure they're all looked after. And when it comes to pensions, there is always a muted response from the opposition. I wonder why!

Saturday, October 27, 2007


Below is my Irish Examiner column from this morning. As you can guess, I'm utterly outraged at the generous pay rises awarded to Ministers, judges, Garda and army top brass, and civil servants. Bertie Ahern was interviewed yesterday and was implacable and 100% unapologetic.

He threw in a couple of red herrings about the White House and Chequers but he's the leader of a country of 4 million people, not of 250 million or 60 million. At least he's not yet as bad as the leadership in Singapore ($3.1 million annual salary) but almost as bad. The greed of our politicians - and their lust for money - is breath-taking.

People shouldn't accept this. Somebody should take a stand against this naked money-grabbing.

Incidentally, Stephen Collins over in the Irish Times wasn't too happy about it either. You can see his column here (subscription). He extends the argument to talk about the unbelievably generous pay and pension and expenses packages that all politicians get.

There's no other way to describe it: it's a disgrace.

Anyway, here is the column:

It hasn’t been a bad week for Government. This Government just doesn’t have bad weeks.

They can be caught in the act, bang-to-rights, up to their neck in it, red-handed, with all their fingers stuffed into the cookie jar.

The first thing that happens in such a situation is they forgive themselves.

The second thing that happens is the public forgives them, gives them general absolution every five years.

And so this hasn’t been a bad week for Government. Nor for the permanent Government (the civil service). But it’s been a very bad week for politics.

Ten days ago Tánaiste and Finance Minister Brian Cowen held a pre-Budget briefing in Government Buildings where he gave an updated version of Haughey’s famous 1980 speech that ‘we were living beyond our means’.

Ok, it’s not that dramatic or that dire yet. But Cowen intoned in dull serious tones: “It is clear from this scenario that the position is very tight. Given this position

I will focus on ensuring a sustainable financial position as we move into the future.”

Yep tight. Those middle and low-ranking civil servants would have to trim their sails when it came to benchmarking, he warned. And on departmental spending, he boldly declared that there would be no “double digit increases” this year.

Except for himself and for Bertie Ahern. Double digit increases are the order of the day too for all their Cabinet colleagues. Cowen gets a 15% increase that brings his salary up to E270,000. And his boss gets an incredible E38,000 increase to make him just about the highest paid political leader in Europe. It’s enough to allow him – like an Arab Sheikh –have bespoke anoraks with gold thread.

And the standard excuse. It was an independent review body. Yea, sure. I’ll guarantee you one thing. The review body is never ever going to recommend a pay cut.

It has a grand sounding title – Review Body on Higher Remuneraton – but it is no judge and jury. This is a body that is given riding instructions and terms of reference and will come to the task with its own preconceived ideas.

And it benchmarks public servants and politicians against private business. There is one major difference. Civil servants don’t get the heave-ho if they underperform or don’t reach targets.

And why aren’t our politicians benchmarked against other politicians in Europe, and not against entrepeneurs and executives involved in the cut and thrust of business?

If they want private sector salaries let them go into the private sector. Public service, serving the people, should not be about the money. Some might have taken exception to the candid home truths expressed by the German ambassador. But I and a lot of other people believed he was spot on? Is Ahern worth more than Gordon Brown? Is he worth more than Angela Merkel? Is he worth more than Nicolas Sarkozy. No, no, and no. But this Government, and especially the politician at its head, are obsessed with money and wealth.

This might surprise you but the Cabinet this week adopted the recommendations of the review body. That was big of them.

Now that might seem like the bitter word but there is an important principle at stake here. Our over-represented and over-paid political class have always had a knack of being insulated from the cold winds of hardship to which the rest of us are periodically exposed. The cardinal principle of politics in Ireland is to feather your own nest first before turning your attention to others.

And that extends to the civil service too, where senior officials got another grand hike in pay this week. And the quid pro quo? A lot of over nebulous performance indicators.

And there is no better example than this of the debacle over the Shannon Heathrow slots. On foot of records released to the Irish Examiner under an FOI request it emerged that senior officials in the Department of Transport were aware as early as June that Shannon’s Heathrow slots were vulnerable but failed to inform the Minister.

The Minister than got the top civil servant in Transport Julie O’Neill to draw up a report.

Gobsmacked is a pretty tame description of our reaction on Thursday night when we all found out that the star of Julie O’Neill’s report was Julie O’Neill herself.

When the famous ‘Memo for the Minister’s Information’ surfaced a couple of weeks ago on foot of the Irish Examiner’s FOI request, neither she nor John Murphy could remember the memo or any of the events surrounding the memo.

But then when they began to retrieve emails – including deleted ones – it emerged that John Murphy had sent her versions of that very email not once but twice on June 14. And that on foot of the second email she had contacted John Sharman, the chairman of Aer Lingus, such was the urgency of the situation.

Seemingly, the Secretary General says that Sharman’s reassurance was such that the Shannon slots were put on the back burner, So reassuring that a collective amnesia overtook the whole Department as if the possibility of Shannon losing its slots had never arisen. And then like a bolt out of the blue it happened. It was Julie O’Neill’s Bertie-esque moment.

Noel Dempsey is a politician for whom I have a lot of admiration. But his bland Pontius Pilate comments that they had apologised and we should all move on isn’t good enough. We were here before with nursing home charges.

Why were recommendations of the Travers report ignored by senior civil servants in Transport? Why were key conversations on matters of political sensitivity not noted down in writing? Why was the DAA desperate enough about the situation to be looking at ways of incentivising Aer Lingus to keep at least one slot in Shannon on June 14? And why was it all suddenly dropped the very next day on June 15? What exactly did John Sharman say to Julie O’Neill? And how could she and John Murphy recall nothing four months later of the flurry of emails, memos and phone calls made on June 14?
The only way the Minister can move this on is by granting a full and frank independent report.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


This is the kind of fun you can have on the bus on the way home. It's brilliant.


Saddo that I am, I was looking through the Programme for Government this morning (available at the Department of the Taoiseach here)to ascertain the details of the agreed policy on waste between the two parties.

This followed the so-called '2-4-6-8 what do we incinerate' split between the Government parties. Now John Gormley still says there is no conflict between himself and Bertie Ahern on incineration. But any reading of the Bert's contribution to the Dáil yesterday (and I know - sometimes it's hard to know what he's saying) would have to conclude that he is saying that four will be needed, not two.

The problem for Gormley is this. Planning applications for four incinerators are in the process and he can't turn back the clock on those. What he is doing is trying to fight a rearguard action that pushes all the alternatives hard and reduces the incentives for incineration to such an extent that promoters will walk away from it.

Instead, Gormley is stressing a higher recycling rate (50%) and the introduction of MBT facilities (Mechanical Biological Treatment). Now there is a commitment in the Programme for Government on MBT but critically there is no target date. The review of waste policy by international consultants will not start until the beginning of next year and take a year. Realistically, its going to take until way after 2012 before the all of these facilities are up and running.

A lot of the Greens input into the programme for government have either no dates or very long run-in times. They have already taken so many hits on compromise that they will need to show a whole lot of tangibles... and soon. (For my read on it from RTE's DriveTime yesterday click here

2. PAY
See my rant from yesterday on this. The details of pay awards for Taoiseach, Ministers and higher civil servants is being announced today. If they are sizable in any way, expect a whole lot of flak because it flies in the face of everything that Brian Cowen has been saying over the past couple of weeks.

That wonderful old phrase comes to mind: feathering their own nests.


In Ireland's multi-seat constituencies, the most heated rivalries of all are between so-called constituency colleagues. Witness the spats between the three FF TDs in Cork North West and the Fergus O'Dowd versus Mairead McGuinness battle in Louth. But none match the intensity or enmity between the two Fianna Fail TDs in Cork East. Below is my story about it from this mornings Irish Examiner:

The battle will go down in history as The Battle of the Tearoom, the latest episode in the longstanding, and poisonously bitter, feud between two prominent Fianna Fail TDs.
Junior minister Michael Ahern and former junior minister Ned O’Keeffe are ostensibly constituency colleagues in Cork East.
But the enmity between the two men is well known and catalogued. There have been a number of altercations, including one incident during the 2007 election campaign.
Constituency rivalries are one thing but as one other FF TD said yesterday, Ahern and O’Keeffe are involve din internecine warfare.
“These guys are the most bitter of rivals. There’s massive tension between the two characters. There’s nothing quite like it in Irish politics.”
The latest incident occurred yesterday morning, ironically around the same time as the Government was releasing its latest crime figures. The ‘action’, such as it was, happened near the door of the self-service restaurant when both men happened to arrive at the same time to get a cup of tea.
What is clear is that Michael Ahern addressed Ned O’Keeffe. The two men have not been on speaking terms for a long time and Mr O’Keeffe took exception to what Mr Ahern said. It led to an intense verbal altercation between the two men, a schemozzle of insults that lasted no more than 30 seconds, according to Pat The Cope Gallagher who was also present.
What exactly occurred after that is open to dispute. Ned O’Keeffe claimed that Michael Ahern pushed him. The Irish Examiner understands that that claim was strenuously denied by Ahern. Gallagher said that there was no physical dimension to it, other than one of the TDs (Mr Ahern) placing his hand on the shoulder of the other (Mr O’Keeffe).
The upshot was that Mr O’Keeffe made a complaint to the Superintendent of the Oireachtas, Commandant Paul Conway and also complained to Government Chief Whip Tom Kitt.
Mr Kitt later said that he had spoken to a number of people who were present when the incident took place, including the two protagonists.
“I am formally of the view, and my assessment, is that all that was involved was an exchange of words, he said.
Because he believed there was no physical aspect, he said he was not going to take the matter any further.
“I will advise both of them to avoid the possibility of such a situation arising again.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Ireland is soon going to be divided into two broad groups. Those who are State employee are those who are not. The gap between pay and pension and extras for State employees and those in the private sector hasn't been balanced by benchmarking - it has been distorted out of all proportion by this secretive exercise.

If you are a civil servant you pay 5% of your salary towards your pension (or 6.5% if you have a partner or children). For that you are entitled to half your salary upon retirement. Not your average salary. The salary you were earning on the last day of office, regardless if you were promoted a week before. And a parity clause means that every time a public servant gets an increase, so do you. The pensions bill for the public service is going to be massive, massive, massive later in this century due to benchmarking. And it's us taxpayers who will have to foot the bill, while most of us pay much larger proportions of our salaries into much more measly pension schemes.

Public service pay and conditions of work has become a political fault-line in several countries, including France where Dominic de Villepin and now Nicholas Sarkozy have tried to gouge a little bit from the edge.

Is it going to happen in Ireland? Not a chance. No political party is prepared to take on the public service. I have never seen it been confirmed in a document but the widespread belief as to why free parking is not considered a benefit-in-kind is that public servants (among the greatest beneficiaries) kicked up a storm about it.

And numbered among the public service is of course the political class. There are way too many of them (we should have 120 TDs max). They get vastly over-paid. The expenses regime is a joke (if you are ever passing the Dail carpark in Kildare Street have a look in to see the sleek fleets of BMWs 5 series, Saabs, Mercedes etc lined up there). Ministers get their wallets vastly over-stuffed (you'd think we were the richesT country in the world). And Bertie Ahern says all he cares about is pints and matches (plus the cool quarter of a million he pockets each year). Their pension scheme is enormous (All the senior ministers who have been there for fifteen years will have pension packages worth millions).

We might all quibble about the diplomacy of the German ambassador's speech a month ago - BUT THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER WAS THAT HE TOLD A LOT OF HOME TRUTHS ABOUT US.

Last week Brian Cowen told us things were going to be tight. He forgot to finish the sentence. Thinigs are going to be tight for everybody except us politicians. We have swelled the number of junior ministers to 20 even though some of them won't be up to very much. And now Bertie Ahern has increased the number of committees to give jobs to the boys, and to ward off any mutiny from disgruntled backbenchers by paying them off. And another 20 researchers will be made available.

Now a couple of the committees have been good in the past. The Public Accounts Committee (as it is in every parliament) has been particularly good. Communications was an active committee last time under Noel O'Flynn, as was Health under John Maloney. And a few of the constitutional committees did genuinely good work.

Another galling thing about the committees is that they all get perks like a travel budget to go on 'fact-finding missions' to the west coast of America, or the Maldives, or India, or Madagascar, Argentina, or Australia. Maybe this is to keep members interested and attending but if that's the case, it's like dealing with a bunch of kids. Why should all committees get a travel budget out of right? Should they get no budget and justify the trips on a case-by-case basis.

Yep, it's going to be tight this year. Unfortunately, not one of our political class from Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen down can point to one instance where they will actually lead by example.

Monday, October 22, 2007


We have another new story on Shannon this morning in the Examiner. We established the DAA also learned of Aer Lingus's plans to axe the Shannon to Heathrow service in June of this year, but did not inform its subsidiary, the Shannon Airport Authority.

By Harry McGee, Political Editor
DUBLIN Airport Authority did not inform Shannon Airport Authority that Aer Lingus was seriously considering transferring all its Heathrow slots to Belfast even though it became fully aware of the situation in June.

In a development that is likely to add to tensions between the Dublin Authority (DAA) and its Shannon subsidiary (SAA); a spokesman for DAA told the Irish Examiner this weekend that the DAA first learnt of the proposed move on June 13.

For full story, see here

The DAA say that the information (that Shannon might lose its slots) was received from the Department of Transport in the strictest confidence. Therefore, because of a Chinese Walls situation, it was not in a position on to its Shannon subsidiary.

Now all the interested parties, the Department, the DAA etc are saying that Shannon was only one of a number of options at that stage. But it's as clear as night follows day that on June 13, Belfast was already the clear favourite.

The principal officer in the Department of Transport took the trouble to ring up DAA after he had spoken to Aer Lingus. It's clear that his impression was that Aer Lingus were close to making a decision in favour of Belfast. That's the clear import of his memo for the minister's information that never made it to the Minister. It's agreed up to the highest political level (that's Noel Dempsey folks) that any fair reading of that memo would conclude that Belfast had almost had in the bag.

This morning, Tadhg Kearney, a board member of the Shannon Airport Authority was beside himself with irritation about the development. And his chairman Pat Shanahan has scheduled an emergency board meeting for tomorrow.

In a sense the DAA had its hands tied. The Department of Transport qua Government is a listed shareholder of Aer Lingus. It's sharing of that sensitive information with the SAA could have led to the accusation that one shareholder could be in a position to manipulate a decision of Aer Lingus management.

The new disclosures of the past week show the utter powerlessness of government in influencing Aer Lingus's direction once it allowed the company go private. The Government really over-exaggerated its influence upon the company. In reality with a 25% shareholding (and its laughable 'golden share') it has little to none.

It also shows how high emotion is still running in the Mid West over this. Over 4,000 appeared in Limerick on Saturday to protest against the loss of the Heathrow slots.

I think the tide is turning against local Fianna Fail TDs and Senators. Limerick West TD John Cregan was booed when he tried to speak on the stage. Locals are beginning to suspect that the FFers are all playing the role of Tadhg an Dá Thaobh.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


This is my 233rd post since I set up this blog on November 1 last year. Environmentally, some of the posts have adhered to the first principle of recycling in that they have re-used (after appearing in the Examiner).

It's a Sunday evening just before 6pm and I am working from home. The really strange thing is when I go into the office tomorrow, it will be a faceless and sterile office that's at least the length of a Brendan Cummins puck-out (the Tipp hurling goalkeeper) from Leinster House.

I ended up staying in the office until after 8pm on Friday, packing files and reports, and various bits of bric and brac. I'm going to miss it (see last Thursday's post on moving here)

Anyway, earlier today when doing a bit of dawdling, I went back to the very first post I wrote. It was November 1 last year, almost a year ago. As it happens, that old rickety room right at the top of Leinster House is a star in it!

Here it is in all its glory:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tuesday 21 November 2007
It's 6.40pm on Tuesday evening in Leinster House. In our perch in the crow's nest at the top of the building, life is moving as slowly as a sloth whose drink has been spiked with rohypnol.
Out there beyond the lawns, beyond the city, beyond Dublin Bay, beyond the shores, there's a wider world. An anti-Syrian poltician in Lebanon has been assassinated. A Russian spy, cum refusenik, is fighting for his life in London after being poisoned by thalium. The situation in Darfur is depressing. And Iraq is Iraq - we seem innured to it nowadays unless hundreds are killed.
Here, though, there are more important fish to fry. In the television in the corner of the room, a live feed from the Dail chamber is busily churning out mostly useless verbiage. TDS are debating the Book of Estimates (Government spending plans for 2007) which was published last week. Someone is talking about AA Roadwatch and the westlink. I'm pretty sure that soon Charlie O'Connor will rise to his feet and make a long speech about Tallaght. When Tip O'Neill coined the phrase 'All politics is local', I'm sure he had the Irish parliament in mind.
When Albert Reynolds finally fell on his sword as Taoiseach, he complained that it was the little things that trip you up. That shouldn't have been any surprise. Because the little things dominate political and media discourse here to an inordinate extent. We sometimes forget how small Ireland is. The population of the entire country is less than that of many medium size cities in the US. And going back to AA Roadwatch, when you hear references to 'Hanlon's Corner' and the Red Cow Roundabout on national radio, you know about how, erm, intimate a place Ireland is.
Yep, it's as dead as vaudeville, to employ the glorious Raymond Chandler line.
A very brief introduction. I am the political editor of the Irish Examiner.
A very brief brief for this blog: Running commentary on politics.
A very brief summary of the choice of day to start it: inauspicious.
It will improve though. There is, despite the general sense of indolence here, an election in six month's time. And next week's Budget will provide - as we hacks love to write - the opening volleys etc etc.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


WHEN an embarrassing story appears — like our one that showed early departmental knowledge of the axing of Shannon’s Heathrow slots — the conspiracy theories are never far behind.

For what they are worth, here’s a sample of them: Noel Dempsey knew all along — he must have! The Government planned all of this years ago and are now trying to cover their behinds! There was a second memo on the grassy knoll. And there’s a guy in the Department of Transport who I’d swear is Elvis.

Okay, we are being a teensy weensy bit facetious here. But it’s important to separate what conclusions can be drawn; and what conclusions can’t be from this very important exposure.

The first cardinal rule is that you have to go along with the available evidence.
And what does this show? It shows that far from the decision suddenly being made public by Aer Lingus after months of secret plotting, they had kept the Department of Transport (and others) in the loop about their thinking all along. It shows that the department was aware at the most
senior level on June 14 and was fully aware of the serious repercussions this would have for Shannon Airport.

But inexplicably and inexcusably, the new Minister Noel Dempsey was never informed.
The Freedom of Information records released to the Irish Examiner are a glaring example of communications failure at a senior level. Those who suspect that the Government didn’t realise how enormous an issue Shannon would be until it happened will find an armoury of ammunition here.

That hiatus of six weeks when nothing was done, or nobody reported to their political master, was simply not good enough. The effort to save Shannon’s slots might have failed ultimately, but they would have been in a far better position than the desperate rearguard action Mr Dempsey had to engage in after the decision was made in August.
And we come to the corollary of this, the equally important debate. What do the records not show?

Well, they show us absolutely nothing to suggest that MrNoel Dempsey was at fault, despite all the suppositions and conspiracy theories. In fairness, he can’t be blamed either for presiding over a department that made a dog’s dinner of an issue. The reason? He had just been appointed and was not even inon his first day in office when this mess happened.

So what was the state of his knowledge? Mr Dempsey told the Dáil on September 27 that the first inkling he got that Shannon was losing ALL its slots was on August 3.
In a conversation I had with him this week he said that from about mid-July (though he couldn’t pin down the exact time) he was aware that Aer Lingus was actively seeking out a new base.

He accepted that he would have had a general awareness that would have meant that a Heathrow slot or two would have been required. However,But what he was not aware of until that fateful meeting with Dermot Mannion and John Sharman on August 3 was that Shannon would lose ALL its slots.

Sure, opposition spokespeople and the media have unearthed half a dozen examples of leaks and heavy hints being dropped that Shannon-Heathrow was in danger of being axed.

And in a way, yes, it looks like the Government did not just have its eye on the ball. Mr Dempsey was like the guy in the Kit Kat ad who spends hours at the zoo — poised with his camera — waiting for the panda bears to appear. Just when he turns around to have his Kit Kat, the panda bears come out and skate around.

Be that as it may, the presumption must be that Mr Dempsey is telling the truth. This isn’t like the nursing homes controversy, where there was a conflict of evidence between Micheal Martin and the top civil servant in Health. The civil servant involved put his hands up immediately admitting his failure to forward the memo to the minister.

Until evidence emerges to the contrary, it is the height of silliness for Labour’s Tommy Broughan to call for Mr Dempsey’s resignation.

The opposition may not find it credible that the minister was left completely in the dark, but there is simply no evidence to back up their suspicions that he knew.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Greens have just announced the result. Dan Boyle was elected chair but not by all that much from Paul Gogarty and Bronwyn Maher. They used a points system (sorry, bad political correspondent, I don't know how it was devised). Boyle got 2415 points as against 2237 for Gogarty and 2180 for Maher.
The realos are in the ascendancy!!


From time to time, I've written about where we political correspondents are billeted in Leinster House. We are right at the top of the old Georgain building (the main one), on the second floor. The Irish Examiner shares a small crickety room overlooking Merrion Square with the Sunday Times, The Sunday Business Post, and the irrepressible and irascible John Lee of the Irish Daily Mail. They were once servants' quarters which means they have gone very low-rent since then.

During the summer, when nothing happens, I have often compared where we are to the Overlook Hotel. That is the remote and isolated hotel in the horror film, The Shining. Sometimes during the recess it's so quiet that the only thing that livens up the day is the hourly roar from the Vikings on the Splash tour passing on nearby Merrion Square.

Well, we were all dealt a severe blow earlier this week. We were told that we had to get out of the room and within days. No it wasn't the ShannonGate story we broke this week. It was the floor. Apparently, it's a suspended floor that was hung off the rafters sometime in the middle of the 19th century. And 150 years of more of occupaton by well-fed and self-satisfied people has made one of the beams sag to a dangerous extent.

And so, there was nothing for it but to evacuate. Today is a sad day for us because we are clearing the office, with all its shabby and fading charm. We are being relocated to a modern and functional office in Setanta House near the Kilkenny centre. It's only three minutes away from Leinster House but it feels like an aeon away. As we looked at it today, we all that the dread feeling that sitting over there we are definitely going to be out of the loop.

But there's nothing we can do about it except grin and bear it. It will keep us relatively fit as we'll have to sprint back and forth for briefings and for whatever bit of crumbs we can get from chit-chat meetings on the corridors of power!

Civil servants have resisted. But unfortunately, in spite of our best efforts, we have been decentralised.

Ok, we're still here for the last day but there's nothing much to report. The Greens will be voting in their chairperson this evening. Dan Boyle looks the favourite but there's a slight anti-establishmentarian wing in the party that want to keep the pro-Government majority in check. And I expect Bronwyn Maher to do well, though Boyle must be odds-on favourite.

Elsewhere, Bertie is giving his annual Bodenstown speech next Sunday. That's always a curious and quaint affair - men in felt hats, a lone bugle, and a Bertie speech that doesn't mention how lucky we have been to have him as Taoiseach for the past ten years.

In fact, the quality of speech at Bodenstown is always very good... so good in fact that sometimes you could imagine it could be de Valera delivering it!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


My colleague Sean McCarthaigh's article this morning on the famous June 13 memo has dominated political discourse all day in the Dáil. (read the article here)

It indicated that the Department of Transport knew that the Shannon slots were in jeopardy some six weeks before the Minister Noel Dempsey found out about it in late July/early August.

Fianna Fail was fully aware of the implications of the story. All its TDs and Senators were briefed yesterday before the records were released to the Irish Examiner. So were all the political advisers across every department.

This story has worrying echoes of the controversy over nursing home charges that almost felled Micheal Martin (see here).

Here is my own analysis of the story from this morning's paper:

TO SAY that this June 13 memo will have serious
repercussions for the Government and for Transport Minister Noel Dempsey is the understatement of this relatively new millennium.

From the moment Aer Lingus unleashed a political firestorm by
announcing that it was favouring Belfast over Shannon, the Government was caught on the hop.

In his first reaction, Mr Dempsey seems to have completely misinterpreted the mood of the public. Disappointed for Shannon, delighted for Belfast was the ‘you win some, you lose some’ refrain.

It was only when furious aviation workers, the business community, and politicians (including virtually every Fianna Fáil TD, senator and councillor in the mid-west) started to kick up an almighty fuss that the Government began to get exercised in any way.

But from the start, the core of its very defence was just that it was ‘caught on the hop’. Aer Lingus, it suggested, had presented the decision as a fait accompli; and there was nothing that the Government could do about this bolt out of the blue.

In the Dáil debate on Shannon on September 27, Mr Dempsey said: “At a short meeting with the chairman (John Sharman) and chief executive (Dermot Mannion) of Aer Lingus on the 3rd of August I was informed that they intended to open a hub in Belfast and to transfer the Shannon-Heathrow slots to that route.”
This suggests this was the first time he learned of the decision.

Nor can we ignore the celebrated comments of Minister Willie O’Dea: “Dermot Mannion can’t come along on a bank holiday Monday and turn into a latterday Oliver Cromwell.”
But the explosive Note for the Minister’s Information released to
the Irish Examiner under the FOI Act demolishes that spin.

The first thing that should be noted is that it’s a note to the minister. That’s Noel Dempsey, who said he first learned about the decision on August 3. But this note is dated June 13, some seven weeks earlier.

Sure June 13 is the day before he was appointed to Transport. But he should have nevertheless received this note (soon after his appointment). It doesn’t mince its words.

It states baldly , unceremoniously, that Shannon is on the cusp of losing its Heathrow slots. On its face, the note would lead to the gravest political consequences for Mr Dempsey. No reading of the note would suggest anything other than the airline is close to a decision favouring Belfast.

It goes on to clearly spell out that this would lead to a cessation of the Shannon to Heathrow service.

Politically, Noel Dempsey and the Government were correctly criticised for underestimating the depth of feeling over Shannon and for doing too little too late. But part of its defence was predicated on not learning about the decision until effectively after it was made.

If this Note for the Minister’s Information had been actually forwarded to Mr Dempsey, his last act as Transport Minister would have been to walk the political plank in August once news of the controversy emerged.

And that is why department officials included an unprecedented “contextual note” with the FOI documents, explaining this June 13 note. They knew that implications for Dempsey f the note was read without explanation Mr Dempsey would be a goner.

And that contextual note explains that the note for the minister was drafted by a principal officer in the department, and passed on to an assistant secretary, the second-highest ranking official in the department.

But for a reason that has not been disclosed, the note “was not forwarded to the minister”.

This has echoes of the controversy about then Health Minister Micheál Martin’s degree of awareness of the problem concerning the legal basis of nursing home charges, and his disagreement with his most senior official that a note had been forwarded to him.

The fact that this note was not forwarded is baffling. The contextual note doesn’t explain why. And what is even more baffling is that the so-called contextual note (obviously written in the past few weeks) goes on to state that the assistant secretary, John Murphy, was fully aware of the potentially serious
nature of the Aer Lingus decision.

So concerned was he that on the day that he received the note, he actually rang Dermot Mannion, the chief executive of Air Lingus.

“The assistant secretary conveyed the concerns of the department, from an aviation and regional development perspective, about the implications of a reduction in the Shannon-Heathrow service,” says the contextual note.

Well, the minister was not aware but civil servants at the highest level of
his department were aware of the implications for Shannon from June but had neither informed Mr Dempsey about it then or later. Nor was any effort made during June or July to dissuade Aer Lingus from following a course that was clearly running against the spirit of the Government’s commitment to retain connectivity for Shannon.

It begs several serious questions. Why was the minister not informed? In his Dáil speech, Mr Dempsey said he was informed of the decision on August 3. Was he aware before then that establishing a hub at Belfast was being actively pursued by Aer Lingus and that it would entail the loss of Heathrow slots for Shannon?

When did he find out that his own department had been aware of the
potential cessation of Heathrow services from Shannon since June 13? If he knew (even in August or September), why did he not inform the Dáil or the public about it?
Why were the implications for Shannon from a regional development and aviation perspective not referred to in the original note to the minister? Were the concerns

Mr Murphy expressed to Mr Mannion reduced to writing? Given the Government’s sharp
retrospective criticism of Aer Lingus’s decision, why the inertia from Transport during June and July over a vitally important policy area. There was a break-down somewhere. And you suspect that heads will have to roll.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


After a couple weeks of clear blue skies, the mists started to fall yesterday and we found ourselves back in familiar climatic (more like bloody anti-climatic) conditions.

There are a couple ways you can observe that poor weather is on the way. One is a red sky at morning. Another is a dog eating grass. But perhaps the best one of all is Bertie Ahern telling the Dail that the Health budget has increased from E3 billion in 1997 to E14 billion today.

The moment you hear that, be advised that you need to run for cover. For you know that you are going to be drowned by an endless drizzle of statistics.
Once Bertie Ahern replies to a question by reading out a note written for him by a civil servant, beware! It's anorak weather.

It’s ceaseless stuff: BreastCheck is available in 15 counties. There’s high voluntary screening activity. The budget is E14 billion a year across 120,000. A 1% control of that is a small amount. There are enormous resources being put into the health servic3es. Most of that is for staff. There are 120,000 of them. The budget is E14 billion. Just in case you were not aware, the budget is E14 million. And by the way there are 120,000 staff.

That’s why they call him Anorak Man, because he needs to wear one to protect him from the deluge of information he gives out.

Yesterday’s Leaders Questions was as dull and dispiriting as the first damp evening after the clock goes back an hour.

The subject being debated was actually vitally important; the
heart-rending story of Susie Long who died last Monday. Both opposition leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore raised her case and the fact that as a public patient she had to wait months for a scan that a private patient got in three days.

The problem for Enda Kenny is that it’s better to play the direct ball when asking the Taoiseach a question. Give him a selection of topics to address and instead of avoiding just one question he will avoid the lot, instead providing a bewildering array of statistics and non sequiturs.

In fairness, the Taoiseach had a couple of points to make. But he spluttered worse than a damaged exhaust and it was hard to know what he was talking about. He did say it was regrettable that Susie Long had been let down by the health services. But he argued that it wasn’t because she was a public patient. A doctor referring an urgent public case to the hospital for a colonoscopy would get priority. But as Eamon Gilmore pointed out how would you know what case was urgent until it the test was done.

The other point I think he made is that we shouldn’t lose sight of the woods for the trees, that the overall performance of a behemoth of a service like the HSE should not be judged solely on a number of individual cases or discrete problem areas.
At least I think he made it. Blue sky thinking it certainly was not.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


With all the furore over Aer Lingus and Committees and Bertie Ahern's verbal meanderings at Mahon, most people will have missed a highly significant, nay historic, moment in Irish politics.

It happened during a speech that Brian Cowen gave to the Dublin Economics Workshop Conference in Kenmare. It came as a huge shock, especially given Cowen's previous form.

For whenever Cowen goes into a new ministry he goes 100% native. Thus when he was in Foreign Affairs he became expert at uttering such roll-of-the-tongue sentences as:

As currently drafted, it sets out a holistic approach to security, going beyond purely military aspects. It reflects a shared view held by the Member States that global security can only be achieved through collective action by the international community as a whole. That is why support for effective multilateralism and the role of the United Nations is at the very heart of the strategy.

Since moving to Finance, he has shifted the prose and his speeches now sound like something from an economics lecturer who's bored with his job. To quote:

In relation to overall fiscal policy, more modest economic growth will result in a 'normalisation' in the growth of resources available to Government and it is essential that expectations regarding expenditure adapt accordingly...

So what's the shock then? Brace yourselves! Are you sitting comfortably?

Well, he told a joke.

A what?

A joke. A real joke. One that was actually funny. That was even capable of making you laugh.

You see, for all his ability and bruiser qualities, Cowen also has a knack of going so native in his Department that he can bore you to death with long-winded civil servanteese and meaningless twaddle.

Obviously, he lost the run of himself for once last weekend. And for the record here's the joke:

The former Us President Ronald Reagan was well known for telling funny stories and... I found myself reminded of one os his stories.

The story begins with Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev on the reviewing stand at Lenin's tomb, surrounded by underlings, watching the May Day parade. The Soviet Union's full military might is there on display.

First come the elite troops, impressive soldiers, marching in absolute lockstep. right behind them are lines of state of the art artillery and tanks. Then come the nuclear missiles - it's an awesome show of strength.

But after the missiles come a small straggle of civilians, unkempt, shabbily dressed, utterly out of place. An aide rushes up to Brezhnev and begs forgiveness.

'Comrade Secretary, my apologies. I do not know who these people are or how they've come into our parade.'

'Don't be concerned, Comrade,' replies Brezhnev. 'I am responsible for them. they are our economists, and you have no idea how dangerous they can be!'

Boom Boom

Monday, October 15, 2007

OUTSIDE POLITICS - Methadone and Shooting Up

I have a huge difficulty with pharmacists using poor and vulnerable people like recovering drug addicts in their dispute with the HSE over the claw-back scheme.

The number of former heroin addicts affected is between 3,000 to 5,000. Now there are valid debates about the efficacy of methadone as a replacement therapy - it creates its own dependency. As I write, I am listening to a vox pop on RTE Radio 1's 'News at One'.

One guy has been using it for 11 years. Be that as it may, they are used to getting their dose at a particular time and a few spoke about being 'sick' when they have to wait longer. Instead of getting their prescriptions in their local pharmacies, methadone users have to go to 11 methadone dispensing centres.

Whatever the drawbacks of methadone, it's better than heroin, and with the State (rather than criminals) administering the scheme, many of the massive negatives (which include fatalities; assaults; homicides; overdoses; shoplifting; street prostitution; infection and burglary) are avoided.

This was borne home to me this morning as I cycled into work. There's a laneway that connects the entrance of Dublin Castle to South Great Georges Street in Dublin. Three heroin addicts, who also looked like they were homeless, were openly shooting up. There were two older guys. One of them was preparing the syringe. The second was tying a belt or tourniquet around the upper arm of the third person. These two guys were older. What was shocking was the third addict. He was a child, a boy who looked like he was 12 or 13 and was certainly no older than 14 or 15.

Jesus, that literally stopped me in my tracks. I brought the bike to a halt and watched the whole sorry ceremony unfold. I wanted to tell the two older guys; look you are helping a child shoot up there. Do you know that you're making him into a goner? But the kid had clearly shot up before and I guessed (but it was also partly motivated by being too scared to intervene)that nothing I would say would make the slightest whit of difference.

I have seen junkies shoot up before; and in front of babies and young toddlers. But seeing a child so young shooting up just shocked me to the core.

Politically, Aengus O Snodaigh of Sinn Fein was the only to react strongly to this development today. At a very sparsely attended media event on the plinth of Leinster House (i.e. myself and nobody else) he said: "This is a life and death issue. It's the poorest in society who are the most affected by this."

Which it is. And none are more vulnerable than children who are poor and who are on the margins.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


THERE are four years, eight months and six days left until the next general election.

That means only one thing — the Government has left it too late to save their skins. They are toast already.

Ah yes, you say. A resurgent Fine Gael will become even more resurgent and will wipe the floor with them. Ermmm, no.

By the way they are shaping up so far, Fine Gael look like they will be merely spectators to the Government’s demise. I was speaking to a senior Fine Gael backroom person during the week and asked him about the state of play of its strategic planning for the next five years.

The answer I got was that there isn’t a strategy, not yet. The reasons?

It’s only a couple of months since a tough election. The new front bench needs to bed itself in. Give it a bit of time.

It was — and I didn’t quibble — a reasonable explanation. But it was also wrong.

Just as a week can be a long time in politics, a five-year term can be a short time in politics. And we have seen a couple of examples in the past week of Fine Gael spokespeopleopposing just for the sake of opposing and offering no cohesive or original proposals of its own (and before you correct me, the otherwise smart Charlie Flanagan’s suggestion to call in the army was not original).

And so in the new Dáil term, we have seen FG take up where it left off before the election. We don’t know if it’s still relying on the three pillars on which it fought the election campaign — health, crime and value for money — but it seems to be. And that’s a mistake.

There’s a school of thought within FG that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it — continue with the strategy that won it 20 seats and sure, won’t it yield even more?

A couple of weeks ago, FG’s young blade Leo Varadkar wrote in a posh newspaper arguing that far from trumpeting its success, FG should be flagellating itself for failing to win the election.

The campaign (ie the superficial razzmatazz) was professional, but wasn’t enough. “We did not win the policy debates. We showed an unwillingness to take clear positions. We did not demonstrate competence to run the economy.”

As an example, he said, the party, by concentrating on the narrow issue of stamp duty (pandering to a skewed and perverse Sunday Independent campaign), abandoned imaginative plans for a 30% income tax for middle earners. To that end, they could learn from the flair that Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne has shown in terms of policy and presentation.

Mr Varadkar’s argument that Fine Gael “will have to look like modern Ireland” sounds like it comes straight out of David Cameron’s rulebook.

FG needs to do all of those things. But already, it’s beginning to look like it might not need to bother. The PDs already look like goners. There’s no dynamic for change within FF, which means that Brian Cowen and others will bide their time even if Bertie Ahern stays on until 2011.

If that happens, whoever succeeds him will be leading Fianna Fáil into opposition.

And the Green Party? The incinerator debate this week underlined the innate weakness of its position in Government. The media and opposition honed in not on John Gormley’s argument that Ireland will need two rather than eight incinerators, but on his tacit acceptance that incinerators will be needed in the first place. That’s a big concession.

Its biggest enemy will be time. In the Programme for Government, the Greens got a commitment to an international review of national waste policy. And it’s been agreed. That’s fine. But it won’t be completed until 2009. And by the time they’ve gone through the hoops of approval, procurement and delivery, it will be — well, way beyond 2012.

And with an economy beginning to feel the squeeze, its own big flagship issues — the annual 3% reduction in carbon emissions; the big push towards renewable and alternative forms of energy — will encounter resistance from FF ministers.

The Greens know that FF has red lines and is not prepared to cross them. So many of what the Greens want is predicated on reviews, reports, promises and vague aspirations (stuff that can be kicked into the blue yonder). Green ministers and their advisers are still talking naively about how nice FF ministers have been to them. But in technical terms that’s called a honeymoon period.

If they don’t start picking a couple of fights with the Big Beasts of FF soon, they’ll find themselves with nothing tangible to show. There are four years, eight months and five days left. But if they don’t start moving, it will be too late.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Chabal - Question in English

This is what makes giant French second row Sebastian Chabal such a hero. What a class act?

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I haven't seen it yet. But according to those who have, it's brilliant. Ann Marie Hourihan bigged it up in her column in the IT today. It's 'Running Mate', the new drama series about politics on TG4. It's set in the Kerry Gaeltacht, too, which is no bad thing visually.

De réir dealramh, tá an tsraith seo ar fheabhas. Dar le Ann Marie, is mór an náire é nach bhfuil mórán aird á thabhairt don saothar i measc pobal níos leithne.

In fact, there have been a couple of amazing films and series in Irish that have been neglected because they have been shot in the national language. They include Bob Quinn's Poitín, his son Robert's 'Cré na Cille' and series like CU Burn and the excellent soap (or 'sobal' as Gaeilge - soap + pobal!) Ros na Rún.

Pé scéal, if you want to catch up on this excellent series, you can watch all the episodes on the web. All you have to do is follow this link and click on the 'drama cartlann' link. You will see all the past episodes in that online archive.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


At the end of every term, I do a simple exercise, totting up the topics that have been chosen by opposition leaders for the twice-weekly set piece Leaders' Questions.

Over the last couple of years, the predictable issues have dominated - health, crime, and the Government's secret weapon of dealing with Limerick's gang culture: unleashing Willie O'Dea in the city's drinking establishment on weekend nights.

The dynamic has changed this time. There are now only two leaders entitled to speak during Leaders Questions and one of them, Eamon Gilmore, is new. With the smaller parties and indepedendents having been hoovered up by Government or gobbled up by the electorate, there is no longer a technical group. There is no Joe Higgins. The Greens have forsaken tofu abstinence for meat indulgence. And Sinn Fein - this was meant to be another breakthrough election; it instead became a breakdown election. Down from five to four. No Mary Lou. Pearse Doherty in the Senate rather than in the Dáil.

So where once there were five, now there are two. It's very early days and I don't think that any of the opposition parties have got their heads around what strategies they will adopt to down the Government over the next five years.

With Labour's Gilmore, there has been a difference of style and nuance rather than substance so far - he is less confrontational; appealing more to reason and to common sense than Rabbitte was. For Enda Kenny and Fine Gael, it's been more of the same, leaving off where they left off before the election.

Fine Gael's big strategy last time was that the election would be won or lost on three big issues - health, crime and value for money. The party was wrong on all three issues. The election was won and lost on the economy.

So can we expect more PPARS, more attacks on health, more 'we are tougher than Terminator' on getting the criminal gang scum off the streets.

Well on the crime front, yes. Listening to Enda Kenny and Charlie Flanagan yesterday, it was deja vu all over again. Kenny repeated a phrase three times: "Who's in charge Taoiseach, the Government or the gangs?"

That had tabloid written all over it. But when Charlie Flanagan started talking about bringing the army onto the street as back-up, that really took the pip. Brian Lenihan should have dismissed it out of hand. Instead, foolishly, the Justice Minister actually said he would refer it to the Garda Commissioner. I mean, if you follow that line of argument, the next thing is that we will impose martial law on the street and people will begin to consider the sense of Eoghan Harris's baublings about armed gardai shooting it out with criminals and the return of capital punishment.

Monday, October 08, 2007


One of the cardinal rules of journalism relates to statistics. Don’t drizzle them all over your articles, wizened news editors will tell you. Use no more than a pinch and
even then sparingly.

But then they are the selfsame news editors who will tell you that there’s a story lurking out there at every corner. Sadly there is not. Not that they would know. Because they don’t’ have to go out and brave the elements like the poor gom of a junior reporter.

But let’s stick with the rule. No statistics unless it’s an emergency. Except in sports reporting where anything goes. The more statistics the merrier. And it must be pointed out that some of my friends who argue that they are bored to tears with all the detail of the Anorak-in-Chief’s 18 hours at the Mahon Tribunal are the same friends who bore me to tears with hole-by-hole and stroke-by-stroke accounts of their last epic round of golf.

But you’ve got the message by this stage. Stats are for Prats. I’m very sorry to have to disappoint you but they are central to the following discussion. The figure in question is 3%. Keep it in mind. It gets worse. The debate will also include a number of phrases that will make readers desert this column quicker than the sight of a sergeant’s uniform will clear a country pub long after closing time. They are (brace yourselves): Global warming; climate change; and (ouch) carbon emissions.

It may feel complicated. But it’s important. Because that one statistic (3%) is going to determine the fate of this government on the political score (Bertie Ahern’s continuing encounters with the Mahon Tribunal will create its own dynamic on the personality front). Or to be more specific, the Green part of the Government. The 3% in question is the annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the Government has set as a target ovr the next five years. Cumulatively that’s a 15% reduction between now and 2012. No matter which way you look at it, it’s a huge ask.

That little 3% statistic is going to become one of the litmus tests for this new government – similarly to the O.7% of GDP going to overseas aid; the 14,000 cops; or the 3,000 extra hospital beds. If it’s not achieved it won’t be the end of the line for Fianna Fail but it could be for the Greens.

The argument about global warming is undeniable at this stage. Yesterday’s New York Times carried an article that revealed that the ice floating on the surface of the Arctic fell to 1.6 million square miles on Sept. 16, a massive drop from the previous low of 2.05 million square miles, reached in 2005. Sure it will increase again in the winter but not by so much – the polar ice cap is definitely receding.

The challenge facing this Government in achieving this target is enormous. Even if it does, it will mean that other European countries with much more tardy records on the environment may steal a competitive edge on us in the short term because they are unwilling to endure the necessary pain.

And there are a couple of other tangled questions. The 3% reduction, it’s a reduction of what? The figures for this year will not be be available until 2009. The latest year for which figures are available is 2005, when just under 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents were emitted.

Let’s give a little meaning to that figure. When we signed up to the Kyoto Agreement, Ireland pledged that by 2012 its carbon emissions would be 13% higher its emissions in 1990. For a couple of years at the start of the century it looked like we were bringing them under control and we actually reduced carbon emissions. But the figures for 2005 made for grim reading – it represented a substantial rise of 2% from 2004 and meant that our emissions were running at over 25% more than our 1990 emissions (or 12% above the Kyoto target).

I know: we’re overladen with stats here. But the picture could be worse last year and worse again this year. The reason: there has been a huge increase of emissions from road transport because of higher car ownership and more freight being carried on the road. There is nothing to suggest (especially with the Government’s ambitious road-building programme) that there has been any reduction in that.

It’s true that agriculture – methane produced by cattle and sheep – remains the single biggest contributor at 27% (Michael O’Leary and others have made the argument that the Government will need to target farting cows before they target the transport and aviation sector). That is a fair point. But our dependency on cars, our addiction to cheap flights, all our road-building (with all those emissions from the cement factories); and our lack of insulation in our homes (even modern ones) will come at a cost.

Those cosy middle class solutions - Switching off lights, recycling, stand-by buttons, changing light bulbs – are not enough.

It could mean higher taxes on cars; fuel levies, huge costs to improve insulation in homes; big capital costs for converting to solar or to other alternative energy technologies in homes; congestion charges for our bigger cities; carbon taxes; and punitive levies for those who collect a lot of air miles.

Doesn’t sound that impressive on first hearing of it, that teensy weensy 3% target. But it’s going to inflict a lot of pain.

Friday, October 05, 2007


So concerned was the Government about feuds in Limerick last year that it sent down John Fitzgerald to sort it all out.

Well it seems that the former Dublin City Manager still has his work cut for him following the extraordinary altercation in South’s pub last weekend, involving the Wyatt Earp of Irish politics, Defence Minister Willie O’Dea.

Yesterday, O’Dea came out fighting (metaphorically of course) after being accused of being more belligerent than a Jack Russell defending its territory during his spat with two local people last Saturday night.

The Minister for Defence took an exception to a whole host of claims yesterday. He denied he used the ‘P’ word when politely enquiring of the identity of one of people involved in the argument. As in “Who is that P***k?”.

He also denied inviting the same man to step outside as he would like to hit him.
But what seemed to upset him most was the utterly outrageous and reprehensible claim that he was “working the tables” in the pub, currying favour and support from constituents.

Quickly reminding us that he got 19,000 votes in the last election (ie he is either amazingly popular or a megalomaniac) he sniffily suggested he did not need to work tables. Besides the pub was too crowded, he said.
And it also seemed he had also learned two of the Cardinal Rules that Bertie Ahern drew up to defend his reputation.

First of all, there was the expression of regret that expressed no regret whatsoever, just bitterness.

Did he regret anything?

No, he replied, before adding that the only thing he regretted was getting involved in the argument with them at all.

And then there was the Second Cardinal Rule, the scatter-gun defence, the use of multiple clarifications.

First of all, he said that he had used a phrase no stronger than ‘get lost’ to John Fahey and Geraldine Morrissey.

Yesterday he told Pat Kenny on RTE Radio that he may have said any one of the following: “Get lost, sod off or feck off”.

It was inevitable that this particular Gunfight at the OK Corral would win the moustachioed minister desperado status in the Dáil.

Enda Kenny mocked the “fighting face” of Willie O’Dea on the front page of yesterday’s Irish Examiner and referred to “bare knuckle” fighting. Ceann Comhairle, John O’Donoghue, himself a man not adverse to ferocious verbal hand-to-hand combat warned him that there would be no reruns of Rocky V in the chamber.

Brian Cowen, another man who uses brawling techniques when debating, had been drinking in the same pub in Limerick with O'Dea earlier that day. But it was Cowen the Cautious and not Cowen the Cavalier who showed up at the Dail yesterday. He blanked all the taunts and questions from the opposition when taking the Order of Business.

It was left to Michael D Higgins to ride to the rescue with the quotable quote of the day. “Willie O’Dea, my fight for Irish Freedom,” mused Michael D.

This is a version of a piece in the Irish Examiner today.
He should be awarded a medal!

Thursday, October 04, 2007


It's 4.40pm. Willie O'Dea is on his feet answering priority questions on defence matters. Unfortunately not one of them relates to the legendary showdown in South's pub in Garryowen, Limerick last weekend as revealed by Jimmy Woulfe in the Irish Examiner this morning. Follow this link for story.


The crime debate yesterday in the Dail was everything that David Cameron's speech to the Troy Party conference in Blackpool wasn't. The three principals all cleaved to their script. It was Brian Lenihan's first major speech as Justice Minister. A day later I'm looking at him on the TV monitor now speaking live (well maybe dead!) on the Land and Conveyancing Reform Bill 2006 (don't ask because I haven't!).
Lenihan is polished, smart and establishmentarian to his fingertips (head boy at Belvedere; Oxford University).

There will be no McDowellite rushes of blood to the head. Which is a pity. McDowell was a radical thinker but never a politician. Everything he ever promised in terms of legislation was subsequently watered down. Lenihan will have no such problem. He will always have fantastic command of his brief, and will be able to defend himself, his Government and his guards to the hilt. His major problem will be that he's unlikely to come up with an idea worth talking about.

Ditto for Charlie Flanagan. After his bloomer during the election campaign, Jim O'Keeffe was never going to survive. Flanagan is a heavy hitter, another smart man and a lawyer to boot. But he's going to have to get the finger out. His speech yesterday was terrible. It lacked a unifying theme and contained phrases and scare-mongering passages that were cliched and hackneyed 20 years ago, 30 years ago, in similar debates in Leinster House.

His worst sentence: "The unacceptable face of Celtic Tiger Ireland reveals a society where our elderly citizens are terrified in their homes, men and women alike are afraid to walk the streets at night, our children can obtain drugs freely in any school yard in the country, we have seen the emergence of drive-by shootings, tiger kidnappings and callous contract killings."

Stoking up fear. The only line that was missing was the one about people no longer being able to keep the keys in their front door.

Fine Gael is not going to get anywhere if it keeps banging on the same drum, ratcheting up fears on crime. Sure, it can come up with tough policies. But it needs different policies; not just more of the same.

Pat Rabbitte's first outing for Labour was low-key. Rabbitte is an ideas and concepts politician but this speech was not the one where they were to be found.