Miriam Lord’s end of term awards: From worst slogan to best pecs

We begin with a very happy birthday to Micheál Martin who is 60 today. What’s the star sign for August 1st?

The Taoiseach is a Leo.

Oh.

Sure never mind. At least the Fianna Fáil leader can blow out the conflagration on his cake happy in the knowledge he has finally achieved his heart’s desire: in charge of running the country. The main man, as opposed to one of the men in a shaky political triumvirate.

Who cares about that other fella, the one who keeps popping up and accidentally stealing the limelight? It comes as no surprise to our birthday boy, who had his predecessor’s cards well marked from the start of the year. “Leo is obsessed with power and holding office,” said Micheál in an interview with the Irish Sun during February’s general election.

Now the Fianna Fáil leader is nominally at the wheel, but he has back-seat driver Leo breathing down his neck.

The election seems a lifetime away now in what has been a dramatic and incident-filled political year – and we’re just a month over the halfway mark. In terms of actual sittings it’s been a frustrating case of the barely-there Dáil, yet politicians are exhausted. There’s been the election, tortuous government-formation negotiations, the small matter of a pandemic, social distancing, partial relocation of the Dáil to a much-loathed alternative venue and a complete clown car of a start for the new coalition.

TDs from all sides staggered into the summer recess in the early hours of Friday morning after a monumental row over speaking rights. The Government and Sinn Féin’s cornering of high-profile Dáil slots by pushing speakers from smaller parties and Independent groups down the pecking order caused ructions. The upshot is that members of the non-mainstream Opposition will spend the next six weeks harbouring a grudge and banking up resentment for the return match in September.

“There’ll be murder here tonight,” promised Richard Boyd Barrett on Thursday evening in a tweet before the session to rubber-stamp the procedural change began. “I’m letting rip!” he declared in the temporary chamber as all hell broke loose with the forces of the left joining the likes of a livid Mattie McGrath and Danny Healy-Rae.

In the middle of it all, two members of the Green Party – one their chief whip and the other a Minister of State – voted against the Government.

The Taoiseach was otherwise engaged. The Tánaiste, who will take over the job in 2½ years’ time, was in the building. Unusually for a former taoiseach, he waded into the fray, launching a blistering broadside at the protesters and an impressive defence of the Government’s position. He got a round of coalition applause for leading from the front.

Just a normal day, really, for the new coalition.

“Sometimes I think this Government will only last as long as a dunked biscuit,” sighed a disconsolate Fianna Fáiler.

It’s been a roller-coaster few months. “Bonker, bonkers” as the new leader of the Labour Party might say. Alan Kelly took over from Brendan Howlin after a relatively bloodless leadership contest with Aodhán Ó Riordáin. He got stuck into the senior hurling immediately, belting on to the pitch and body-checking opponents to signal his presence.

Here’s a few end-of-term gongs to see us through the recess.

Worst general election slogan

This contest was won within hours of outgoing taoiseach Varadkar naming the day. “A future to look forward to.”

Come out and say that again with a straight face.

Fianna Fáil didn’t have a slogan, said Micheál Martin, because “An Ireland for All” was a “philosophy”. It was certainly “Time for Change” for Sinn Féin. The party had a terrific election.

Pecs in the Park award

Leo Varadkar, who enjoyed a picnic in the Phoenix Park with a few friends during the Covid-19 lockdown and was photographed by onlookers seeming very happy, taking in the rays with his shirt off. Because he isn’t a notice box.

Jocks’n’socks award

Roscommon-based MEP Ming the Trouserless took part in a Zoom call with European Parliament colleagues and sat in front of his laptop camera. Unfortunately, he wasn’t wearing any trousers. That sort of gaffe should earn him honorary membership of the current Government.

Washboard of the season

This goes to former minister Richard Bruton, who was disgracefully objectified in the popular prints when spotted flaunting his beach body in Costa del Clontarf. The glamorous 67-year-old put younger former taoisigh to shame with his toned tummy and shapely arms – no bingo wings for dishy Dickie! The busy dad from Drumcondra manages to juggle a hectic political career with home baking and marmalade making and is usually found in the kitchen cooking up a storm when he isn’t out for a run in his designer shorts or swimming in Dublin Bay. How does he do it?

Time now for a musical interlude

Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis seemed a shoo-in for best performance when he briefly joined flag-waving supporters at the RDS following his election for a spirited rendition of Come Out Ye Black and Tans. Party officials quietly ticked him off and told him not to let it happen again. “They got carried away,” he explained.

But Green Party leader Eamon Ryan steals the gong for his unique styling of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline in the Dáil. He was explaining his annoyance with idiot drinkers in Temple Bar who crowded into a pub in defiance of coronavirus warnings and had a sing-song.

“Hands holding hands … touching me, touching you!” he half-crooned to the chamber, arms held wide as he interpreted the words. He can’t be doing that sort of thing now that he’s a Minister. Then again, it is Eamon we’re talking about.

Whose Line Is it Anyway? award for mixed messages

The tripartite Government wins this easily. Micheál Martin’s less-than-blessed Trinity is barely a month in business and communications between and from the different parties are problematic. One Minister says one thing then somebody else says another. All governments spin to the media, but they usually get the message straight first.

Here’s the Indo’s take on Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys surprise announcement of a Government U-turn on pandemic payments for people travelling abroad on holiday: “Heather Humphreys told Micheál Martin: ‘PUP row must be resolved’ ”.

And here’s the Examiner’s take on the same morning: “Party leaders ordered Heather Humphreys to do a U-turn on PUP.”

The Taoiseach, who has been busy running the country, will have to try and steady his ship during the recess. Because there’s a touch of every man or woman for themselves growing about this Government.

Must-have accessory of the season

That would be Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill, whose day job is in Stormont but who is never far from the arm of Mary Lou McDonald when any important photo opportunities arise in Dublin.

Intervention by a mixed martial arts exponent award

Runner-up is Conor McGregor, who made a video address to the nation calling upon “my people, the great people of Ireland” to pull together during the pandemic. He pledged to purchase €1 million in PPE equipment for hospitals and had a lovely Twitter conversation with Paschal Donohoe. The winner is former UFC fighter Paddy Holohan, aka The Hooligan, the Sinn Féin councillor in South Dublin suspended from the party during the election campaign for making remarks about then taoiseach Varadkar and about young women described as “beyond offensive” by Mary Lou McDonald. In June the Dublin South West constituency organisation was suspended after it nominated Holohan for mayor.

Speech of the term

The outright winner is Leo Varadkar for the speech he made as taoiseach on St Patrick’s Day, when the true extent of the Covid threat was unknown and people were scared about the future. “This is a St Patrick’s Day like no other. A day that none of us will ever forget,” he began, before delivering a speech that calmed a worried nation in need of leadership.

“This is the calm before the storm. Before the surge. And when it comes – and it will come – never will so many ask so much of so few.”

Fastest move ever in slowest Dáil ever

The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020, which completed every stage in the Dáil in under 12 hours, a process that would ordinarily have taken months.

Conspiracy theorist of the term

Tipperary’s Mattie McGrath, who wondered in the Dáil if Covid-19 was a conspiracy dreamed up by liberals, “a great con” job on the people.

“I am beginning to question – is it a great con? We have many, many people that are dying every year with influenza. And is there something else more subtle and more serious underneath this whole crisis and this whole pandemic?”

‘Never said a truer word’ award

This one goes to former independent minister of state John Halligan from Waterford, who was part of the group of zombie ministers who kept working while government-formation talks dragged on. How did he feel about a grand coalition?

“If you want my honest opinion – I’ll be devoured for saying this. I regularly speak to people from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and so on. Fianna Fáil can’t stand Fine Gael essentially and Fine Gael can’t stand Fianna Fáil essentially, none of them can stand the Green Party so what’s this all about?” he told RTÉ’s Sarah McInerney.

“He failed to complete the circle – all those in Fianna Fáil who hate each other and all those in Fine Gael who hate each other,” said a senior TD.

Gobshite of the year

Leaving out the politicians, the award goes to the unidentified eejit who thought it would be a lark to walk up to

minister for health Simon Harris during the height of the Covid-19 scare, and robustly cough in his face.

Minister of the term award

But Harris can be consoled with this award for his handling of the crisis and silky communication skills, which went some way – in concert with chief medical officer Tony Holohan – towards informing and reassuring an anxious public. He got Minister for Higher Level Education in the new Cabinet, a lucky break, because it sees him outside the current ambit of mishaps and gaffes.

Princess Diana memorial shield

To Mary Lou McDonald, who was dubbed “The People’s Taoiseach” after the election by her colleagues at a series of rallies around the country celebrating Sinn Féin’s election success and pushing the party’s moral right to be in power. The numbers didn’t add up, but that didn’t stop the relentless pushing of “The People’s Taoiseach” line.

‘Things can only get better’ award

That’s one for the Taoiseach, who has had a torrid opener in the top job. Things can only get better for Micheál Martin, who has already had to sack a senior minister (Barry Cowen) and deal with a backbench revolt from TDs miffed at not getting ministries. If his fortunes don’t improve, the future doesn’t look good for this Government.

Best medical advice of the year

Simon Harris, still minister for health, at the Covid committee: “Cottage Pie doesn’t protect you from the coronavirus.”

Spoiled pups

Fianna Fáil’s incredible sulks who couldn’t control themselves when they didn’t get government jobs and blubbered all over the airwaves about the injustice of it all.

Smug pups

As Fianna Fáil struggles to get into its stride, the experienced government hands in Fine Gael would do well to remember that pride comes before a fall.

Luckiest Minister so far?

Green Party Minister of State Joe O’Brien, who didn’t vote with the Government on the last day of term, abstaining on the Residential Tenancies Bill. A sacking offence, in many eyes. Discipline is the cornerstone of successful governments.

He wasn’t sacked. Instead, the party slapped a risible two-month Dáil speaking ban on the Dublin Fingal TD. With the House adjourned for six weeks, which means he is silenced for a fortnight. Nobody will notice.