Wednesday 28 September 2016

Leo reveals how Cabinet is whipped into shape

Lise Hand on Saturday

Published 15/02/2014 | 02:30

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, Senator Eamonn Coghlan and Kenneth Egan launch the St Patrick’s Festival 5k. Photo: Frank McGrath
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, Senator Eamonn Coghlan and Kenneth Egan launch the St Patrick’s Festival 5k. Photo: Frank McGrath

Leo Varadkar is a great chap for speaking his mind (a fact political sketch-writers are eternally grateful for).

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Apparently the Transport Minister recently instructed the senior civil servants who prepare replies to parliamentary questions to "cut out the waffle". Phrases like "going forward" and "rolled out" were barred.

And evidently the Sir Humphreys in Leo's department took his edict very seriously, and came over all Sam Beckett in terms of brevity. For a few days later, Eoghan Murphy received a ministerial response to a question he had submitted: "To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has been consulted in the past 12 months on the introduction of a congestion charge for Dublin city centre."

And the reply? "No".


Leo's way with words was also on display at the launch of the 5km St Patrick's Festival road race on Tuesday. After posing for photos in the official t-shirt, Leo strolled over to speak to reporters, removing the t-shirt which he had pulled on over his office clobber.

"Are you not going to wear the t-shirt to the cabinet meeting?" asked one journalist.

Then Leo offered an intriguing hint of what goes on behind Cabinet's closed doors. "You have no idea what we wear to the cabinet meetings," he laughed. "Sometimes it's S&M...." he said airily as jaws hit the deck.

Merciful hour. It certainly brings a whole new meaning to the position of chief whip. Though the week one minister has had has probably left him feeling a trifle masochistic. And Leo aside, the rest of the Cabinet probably think S&M is a menswear label.

Bunch of roses won't mend garda domestic

Dear oh dear, it may have been Alan Shatter's birthday yesterday, but the Justice Minister wasn't channelling the spirit of St Valentine last week, given that he spent a large portion of it having a bit of a domestic with the Garda Ombudsman (GSOC).

But it wasn't all recriminations and tears before bedtime for Scrappy Shatter. For he was feeling a bit of love from some collegial quarters too.

In the middle of all the hectic GSOC chop-socky action, Alan (pictured) still found time to write a detailed email reply this week to his constituency companero, Shane Ross. The Independent deputy had enquired if the minister would be in the Dail chamber next Friday for the second stage debate on his Private Member's Bill on Judicial Appointments.

But Alan was sending his regrets, explaining he would be in Greece for a meeting of EU defence ministers. He chided Shane, declaring he was "very surprised" that the TD hadn't agreed to his earlier request to change the date of the debate.

Shane didn't take the rebuke to heart though, and his reply to the minister yesterday opened with a chipper greeting. "Happy birthday! I have just seen in the 'Irish Times' that you are 63 today," he wrote. "May I wish you many more of them. I hope you find time for a cheerful St Valentine's night dinner."

Bless. And goodness knows Alan could do with a bunch of roses and a candlelit feed. Though GSOC head Simon O'Brien needn't wait by the phone for an invitation – (Simon, maybe Alan is just not that into you).

However, the minister did get an offer of sorts from the unlikely personage of Sinn Fein's Padraig MacLochlainn. Alan was attending a committee debate on the Legal Services Bill on Wednesday, and chairman David Stanton reminded the Donegal deputy that he should speak through the chair instead of directly addressing the minister. "Me and the minister enjoy these talks. I was going to get a candle and a bottle of wine," wisecracked Padraig.

Not to be outdone, Alan revealed that he is actually a bit of a cheap date. "If Deputy MacLochlainn is going to get the candle and the bottle of wine, can I put in a claim for a gin and tonic and a packet of peanuts?" he responded.

Alas, the brief entente cordiale between the pair had soured by the end of the week. No doubt Alan wishes the GSOC had such a GSOH.

When opportunity knocks... stage an Oireachtas revolution

On Tuesday, Irish Water boss John Tierney (pictured) had made an all-too familiar trek into Leinster House to attend the Environment committee, and the meeting was about to draw to a close, when a vote was called in the Dail, triggering the usual suspension.

But committee member Senator Cait Keane was crestfallen – she had only just started her list of questions and promptly asked chairman Ciaran Lynch for a guarantee that when the lads came back from their Dail break, she'd be able to continue, as she had to leave the committee herself to speak in the Seanad.

But to her dismay, Ciaran informed her he could make no promises of the sort.

But then up popped her Upper House colleague, the gallant Denis Landy who suggested that he take the chair during the chairman's absence to avoid the suspension of business.

Ciaran was taken aback at this detour from usual procedure, but gave the idea the go-ahead. And when the cats were all away, Cait got naughty.

"Score one for the Seanad – we don't need deputies any more," she declared.

Uh-oh – and there was the Taoiseach thinking last year's referendum was all water under the bridge.

Norris not feeling Friday sittings

Senator David Norris was in fine fettle this week, fulminating against the newfangled notion of the Houses sitting on a Friday every now and then.

"This Friday sitting rubbish – it's like Joe Duffy's Fridays. It's a load of nonsense," he huffed.

I dunno. If the Friday Oireachtas sittings introduced a few guitars, outbursts of doggerel and mother-in-law jokes, we might all start taking them seriously.

Irish Independent

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