Tuesday 27 September 2016

My week: Simon Harris

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 03/07/2016 | 02:30

Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris Picture: Frank McGrath

MONDAY: It's Dublin Pride day, when gay people gather to have some fun and proudly celebrate their identity.

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Who better to help them do that than a cool and happening dude like me, whose idea of dressing down is to wear slacks and a blazer rather than a suit? I head along to the parade with other funky, 'with it' colleagues from the Dail, such as Frances Fitzgerald and Paschal Donohoe.

Paschal and I both forego the usual ties. We look like a peace delegation from the Land of Straight, but I don't care. This is even more fun than those Young Fine Gael discos we used to have at college, when we stayed up till 10pm, listening to Abba and drinking up to half a shandy (but only if we had no lessons to attend next day).

I'm still buzzing from meeting the US vice-president Joe Biden yesterday, as the Taoiseach looked on like a fond dad introducing his eldest son to the chair of his local golf club. Biden was knocking around politics for 40 years before finally rising without trace to the top.

I'm starting to see why Enda likes him so much.

TUESDAY: An early start to the day as the weekly Cabinet meeting is rescheduled for 7.30am to allow the Taoiseach time to head off to the EU crisis meeting on Brexit.

They couldn't cope without him. At least that's what I loyally tell anyone who asks why he's even bothering to go when no one ever notices that he's there anyway.

In these unsettled political and economic times, I'm heartened to look around the Cabinet table and see so many qualified and experienced colleagues.

We've got a former stockbroker as Minister for Sport. A Minister for Children who doesn't have any children. A super junior minister for health who said he wants to get rid of the smoking ban. Not to mention enough junior infants teachers to open a new school, assuming there was any money for one.

Which there isn't, so don't bother asking.

Then there's me, uniquely placed to be Minister for Health thanks to my journalism degree from DIT. I'd not be much use in a medical emergency, but I could knock out 1,000 words on it afterwards to a tight deadline.

You may mock, but I think of all the other journalists who've made a contribution to creating a better world. People like Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

And Boris Johnson.

And that strange Michael Gove guy who's running for the Tory party leadership.

The meeting descends into a huge row after ministers from the Independent Alliance say they want a free vote on Mick Wallace's private bill to allow for abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities. In my polite, patient and ever-so-slightly patronising way, I try to explain that a vote would be unconstitutional. I know this because the Attorney General told us that it was. Though you'll just have to take our word for that, because her advice is secret, as is only right and proper in a free and open democracy.

They won't listen. They seem to have got it into their heads that being in office means actually doing things.

Bring back the Labour Party, that's what I say. They didn't ask for much. They were just glad to be there. My party colleagues and I roll our eyes. We simply don't get this obsession with making up your own mind. Then again, if we wanted to think for ourselves, we wouldn't be in FG.

WEDNESDAY: Our beloved Taoiseach is back from Brussels, having got his wrists slapped for suggesting that Scotland should be allowed to stay inside the EU.

The Spanish were furious. They said it would only increase demands from Basque nationalists in the north of their country for independence, and they do have a point. If anyone ought to know the problems that angry Northerners can cause, it's us. We've had to put up with Gerry Adams demanding a border poll ever since the Brits voted for Brexit. But I'll still defend Enda Kenny to my last breath. You don't bite the hand that keeps promoting you over the heads of far more experienced colleagues.

New schemes are announced to help young people afford the high cost of renting. Obviously, I support it, because it's government policy and that's good enough for me, but I don't understand why young people don't just do what I did, ie, sweet talk their way to a six-figure salary before the age of 30. Sorted.

THURSDAY: Wallace is back from supporting the boys in green at the European Championship, where the campaign seemed to be progressing nicely before going arseways up. A bit like his property empire in Wexford then? His abortion bill turns out to be suspiciously like the one Clare Daly tried to sneak past us in the last Dail. Are they joined at the hip or what?

I repeat that it would be wrong to give Irish women "false hope" that things will change soon. You're only allowed give people false hope when running for election.

I also state my personal belief that we should have a referendum on it, because, as Brexit shows, referendums are always a good way to sort out highly complex issues.

FRIDAY: I return to the tough inner-city ghetto that is Greystones in my Wicklow constituency, to continue arguing for a "careful, considerate, respectful and informed debate" about abortion. Yeah, like there's a cat in hell's chance of that. *As imagined by Eilis O'Hanlon

Sunday Independent

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