Wednesday 16 January 2019

Lise Hand: Beyond a 'shadow' of doubt, Cian makes Enda's day

It's not often that the Taoiseach sparks a round of applause by announcing in the Dail chamber that his official retinue has increased in number.

Usually such a declaration leads to howls of outrage from the Opposition and a flurry of inquiries from interested parties regarding salaries and suchlike.

But yesterday's announcement by Enda was a bit different. At the beginning of Leader's Questions, he indicated to the public gallery and welcomed 23-year-old Dubliner Cian O'Connor.

"Today is national Job Shadow Day in respect of people in supported employment and I'd like the House to recognise Cian O'Connor, who is shadowing the Taoiseach today in my work over in the Department of the Taoiseach," he said.

"Hear, hear," chorused the chamber and broke into applause.

Up in the gallery, the shadow Taoiseach nodded and smiled.

This is the fifth year of this initiative which sees over 400 businesses all around Ireland inviting people with disabilities to 'shadow' workers in places where they might get jobs in the future.

Along with the Taoiseach, several deputies, including Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, have an extra staff member yesterday or today.

"There's nothing to say that people with disability can't do a very worthwhile job, and so Job Shadow has a two-fold purpose: it helps the individual; and secondly, it deals with perception, with the public seeing that they can make a very worthwhile contribution," said Kathleen Lynch, the minister with responsibility for disability.

And given Enda's usual hectic schedule, his latest recruit had an action-packed morning, sitting in on a series of meetings in the Taoiseach's office.

One of the patrons of Job Shadow Day is Sean Gallagher who made a rare appearance in Government Buildings accompanied by his own shadow for the day, aspiring actress Maria Minihane. The former presidential candidate hasn't been much in the spotlight since the dramatic conclusion of his bid for the Aras last November after the debacle of Tweetgate.

'I'VE been a patron for three years," he explained. "It brings together my two passions: jobs and employment and disability. It bridges both of these and creates opportunities -- for lots of employers are nervous of persons of disability," he said.

Sean is also involved in two other organisations, Sightsavers and the Irish Psoriasis Association, but wouldn't be drawn on whether he was ready to return to the political fray.

However, he will be making one interesting appearance soon -- he is speaking at a social media conference next month -- ironically sponsored by RTE.

So would he be addressing the fraught subject of the bombshell Tweet on 'Frontline'? "The conference is about the disadvantages and advantages of social media, so it's an important topic," he said noncommittally.

Afterwards, Enda and Cian dropped by the Italian Room in Government Buildings for a photoshoot with other participants of Job Shadow Day.

A relaxed Enda spent some time chatting to the visitors. "I must say I've enjoyed being out with Cian today. He was quite amenable to making comments and participating in the meetings. So I think he enjoyed himself and is a very forthright young man," he said.

Cian's mother and father, Siobhan and Ruardhi O'Connor, were delighted with how their son's day had gone. "It's a huge day for him, he's very excited. He's getting on very well with the Taoiseach -- Enda knows how to relate to him," said Siobhan.

And Cian agreed that he had enjoyed his spell on the corridors of power. When asked what his favourite bit of his day had been, he picked a ding-dong between the Taoiseach and the Fianna Fail leader in the Dail chamber.

"I liked when he stood up for himself against Micheal Martin, I think that's my best bit," he reckoned.

One suspects that it was Enda's best bit of the day as well.

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