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Lise Hand: Calamity James sent on a guilt trip after falling at final hurdle

HE was so close to the door, and so close to a bit of triumph. A couple more feet would've done the trick. He would've been home and hosed, congratulating himself the whole way back to Dublin on a job admirably done. Like a bearded Caesar, he had entered a lion's den full of medical workers and emerged unscathed.

Alas, instead of veni, vidi, vici, it was whoops-a-daisy. Consternation once again, courtesy of Health Minister James Reilly. Just after noon yesterday, Calamity James entered the conference hall of the Mount Errigal Hotel, in Donegal, to stony silence from the 350 delegates of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

The members were not a bit happy with the Government and with the farrago of Croke Park II Disagreement. The previous day, they had taken a vote which allows for strike action if more pay cuts are imposed on them. Nonetheless, they decided not to indulge in noisy protests.

And so James took his seat on the stage to tense silence rather than roars of dog's abuse. Perhaps they even felt a bit sorry for him, after seeing the BBC news footage of his spectacular pratfall from a row of rubber blocks on a visit to a hospital in Enniskillen earlier this week.

And INMO President Claire Moran gave him a reasonable introduction, politely highlighting some of the problems: "But Minister I would like you to remember that all of us in this room, including you, have the safe care of every patient and citizen in this country in our hands," she said to applause and a standing ovation.

The minister got off to a good start, earning himself a bit of laughter by remarking that he had taken to the stage very carefully, "because I didn't want to lose my footing on the steps".

He spoke for 20 minutes, and although the odd grumble occasionally broke the silence, especially when he spoke of the decrease in the number of patients on hospital trolleys, it was all passing off peacefully.

And right at the end of his address he announced the appointment of a new chief nursing officer within the Department of Health.

He left the stage to applause. A job well done. As he headed for the door, a small group of nurses began to chant: 'No more cuts'. One of them began to sing.

And then Whoops-a-Reilly fell off the rope. Without breaking stride, he turned to the singer. "Stick to the day job," he suggested as he disappeared through the exit.

"OOOOOOOH," growled all the members within earshot. An angry hubbub broke out. "Who does he think he is?" bellowed one irate woman. "We want an apology!" chorused several others.

It really was quite a spectacular snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory.

Onstage, Claire Moran wisely calmed things down as calls for the head of James Reilly intensified. "We will not bow to that level. We're a professional organisation, we will not stoop to the level of the minister," she declared, and applause broke out.

Phew, for a minute it looked as if the minister would be going home in an ambulance. Assuming an ambulance was available, that is.

The minister's team realised that swift action was necessary, and within minutes the nurse in question – Bolatito Aderemi, from Saggart – was behind closed doors getting a personal apology from Calamity James.

Mrs Aderemi moved to Ireland from Nigeria 41 year ago, and is a nurse in Cherry Orchard Hospital. "The minister embarrassed me big time," she said.

But she was happy with his apology afterwards. "He gave me a good handshake, he tried to hug me. He said: 'I'm very sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you.' And I said: 'That's fine'."

Afterwards, the minister did a more public mea culpa to the media.

"I made a quip coming out of the room and I was informed that somebody took offence at it, so I explained the nature of the remark and I think we both understand what I meant. There was absolutely no intention to offend anybody," he said.

Well, a sort of mea culpa, really.

Isn't it a shame for Calamity James that there isn't a cure for lack of cop-on. Making 'quips' about jobs in a roomful of angry and overworked nurses was at best unwise, at worst plain arrogant.

He should know by now it's often the little things that trip politicians up. Whoops-a-daisy.

Fergie to kick off his retirement at Seanad?

Alex Ferguson may be under the happy impression that he's heading for the quiet life in retirement – but not if Labour senator Jimmy Harte has his way.

The Donegal man is a founder member of the Oireachtas Ireland Football Supporters Club, and upon hearing of the impending exit of Fergie from Old Trafford, lashed out a press release declaring his intention to explore organising "an appropriate tribute to him" – despite being a Liverpool and Finn Harps man himself.

And the resourceful Jimmy is planning to rope FAI boss John Delaney into his scheme to bring Fergie to the (ahem) political Theatre of Dreams. For John was present for the launch of the new supporters' club last week, and he promised to bring Trappatoni in to meet them.

Members of the club so far include Alan Kelly, Mattie McGrath, Michael Healy Rae, Peter Fitzpatrick (also a former Louth football manager), Joe Costello, Sandra McLellan and Shane Ross.

And John's been most enthusiastic about their club, offering them signed football shirts for charity auctions and charity games with politicians in the Aviva Stadium, no less.

Lise Hand: Mayor has the right (gin and) tonic for FG unrest

Is it possible that despite dire prognostications from political pundits, Fine Gael's parliamentary party members aren't about to fall upon each other like rabid wolves over the abortion legislation?

It was only a few weeks ago that skin and hair were whizzing about at the weekly party pow-wow in Leinster House, culminating with a bit of a barney between the Taoiseach and Padre, sorry, Peter Mathews.

But it was a markedly tamer atmosphere at the get-together on Wednesday night in the gracious surrounds of the Mansion House.

Business proceeded at a brisk clip and harmony was breaking out left, right and centre.

It could've been just coincidence, of course, but the efficiency of the meeting may have been due to the fact that the city's Lord Mayor Naoise O Muiri was opening up his private bar for the thirsty TDs and senators after the session ended.

Alas, just as the end was nigh, up reared the bold Peter who wanted to say a word or two, adding that his timing perhaps wasn't the best. But the trouble is that it never is 'a word or two' when the Dublin South deputy opens his mouth – it seems like it's an hour or two, more like.

"There was an audible sigh in the room," said one Fine Gael deputy.

Undaunted, the talkative TD launched into a speech concerning pro-life group Women Hurt being invited to the Oireachtas health committee. But he kept it mercifully short.

And then the gang repaired to Naoise's Nook, whereupon the Lord Mayor rolled up his sleeves and poured a few pints of porter and glasses of red and white wine for the troops.

It was all quite convivial, apparently, and some of the hardier boys even made it across Dawson Street to the No 37 bar, where Ryan Tubridy's birthday party just happened to be in full swing.

And no doubt, given that the 'Late Late Show' host is paid even more than the Taoiseach and the President put together, there was a free pint for every politician in the audience...

Damien will have to wait a bit longer yet

Politicians, like Nature, abhor a vacuum. And so Fine Gael backbenchers continue to keep a beady eye upon the vacancy in their ranks which was caused by the tragic death of junior agriculture minister Shane McEntee last December.

The short-odds favourite to get the nod is Meath West's Damien English, but the party poobahs have yet to end his prolonged suspense – though there's a suspicion that the Taoiseach is waiting to be sure that Damien, who is regarded as being among the pro-life group within Fine Gael – doesn't go rogue in any votes on the legislation. For it's merely irritating if a backbencher goes rogue, but much more embarrassing if a newly-minted junior minister jumps overboard.

On Thursday, Damien descended the steps of the Dáil chamber and took a seat in the second row down, just in front of Cork's Jerry Buttimer. "We thought you were heading for the next row down," wisecracked Jerry in a reference to the location of the junior ministers.

Irish Independent