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Lise Hand: Keep on truckin', Leo: hauliers drive home their fondness for Varadkar

Leo Varadkar might have recently incurred the wrath of Mna na hEireann with his comments about how parents (ie, women) might have to choose between childcare and careers under new insolvency guidelines (they don't, insisted a terrified Taoiseach), but he has struck up a somewhat unlikely friendship with another crowd.

It seems that the Irish Road Haulage Association (IRHA) has taken a bit of a shine to the Transport Minister, and recently presented Leo with a token of its appreciation.

Leo has overseen some vehicle-friendly action, such as working with Michael Noonan in the last Budget to introduce a fuel rebate for hauliers, coach and tour-bus operators. It transpires that driving lurries is a bit of a family business; Leo's grandfather Tom Howell was a Dungarvan-based haulier and a bit of a colourful character, by all accounts.

And so, when Leo arrived down to Cork for an IRHA conference, the members had sourced a truck built by his granddad in 1975, and a chuffed Leo climbed into the cab to soak up a bit of family history. Afterwards, Leo was presented with photos of himself with the lorry.

"He's found a place in their hearts," said one insider.

Aw, that should give him encouragement to keep on truckin' . . .

Intrepid Cait soldiers on in Seanad salute to the Iron Lady

It seems that the upper and lower houses of the Oireachtas had quite differing reactions to the semi-state funeral of Margaret Thatcher last Wednesday.

Fine Gael Senator Cait Keane bravely decided to introduce the death of the former British prime minister into the Seanad's order of business. This was risky, given that the name alone is enough to start a scrap in an empty room.

Cait extended her sympathies to the victims of the Boston bombing, but added: "I'd also like to mention the death of Margaret Thatcher. She has been buried as we speak.

"Love her or loathe her, she was a formidable lady in politics. I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and wanted to mention her name, as she will be remembered."

Inevitably, roars of protest rose to the sparkly chandeliers, but Cait soldiered on.

"Anybody and everybody is free to make up their own mind but I said I would mention the fact that a formidable lady in politics has been buried as I speak."

"She was cremated," interrupted Fianna Fail's Mark Daly, showing off. But the Kerryman's triumph was short-lived.

"Will you be bringing her ashes back to Kenmare?" sniped Fine Gael's Paul Coglan, in reference to the Iron Lady's links to the Co Kerry town.

Meanwhile, over in the Dail chamber, another Kerry native, Michael Healy-Rae, turned out to be quite the fan of the Iron Lady.

Instead of paying attention to the musings of the Taoiseach, Michael spent Leaders' Questions hunched over his iPad, watching footage of Maggie's funeral.

"His Independent and Fianna Fail colleagues were agog," said one deputy.

"But luckily for Michael, Mattie McGrath, who was sitting beside him, didn't seem to notice what he was at. He probably would have turned his back on the iPad."

Mary and Jean go back a long way

What do an RTE weather-woman and a Fine Gael TD have in common? Two things, actually. Jean Byrne and Mary Mitchell O'Connor share a gra for flamboyant fashion, and also were school pals.

The two women last crossed paths – appropriately enough – at the launch of the VIP Style awards last month, but in fact know each other for quite some time.

Mary and Jean were in the same class in Presentation College in Tuam where they were both boarders – Mary hails from Galway and Jean from Kerry – and they struck up a friendship.

No doubt at least part of the bond was forged over a mutual passion for fashion.

Some years ago, Jean devised a cunning plan by which to distract the nation from despairing over the scarcity of little sun logos from the weather map of Ireland, by sporting all sorts of fantastical frocks in silver and leather and the like.

Similarly, Mary's penchant for vivid pinks and reds is a welcome break from the preponderance of dull, pinstriped suits taking up the majority of seats in the Dail chamber.

Though as a member of a coalition heading for some hot-spots (abortion legislation and Croke Park for starters), Mary may be weathering storms of a different sort in the coming months.

Ballot box and the Magnum Light for Labour TD

The Government – and Labour especially – are on a bit of a sticky wicket now that Croke Park 2 has croaked. For as the doleful post-mortem continues as to why the deal is as dead as a Python parrot, the noises emanating from Fine Gael suggest the party has no intention of looking elsewhere for €300m savings. But one Labour deputy had some extra skin in this particular game – Wicklow TD Ann Ferris took part in the vote herself, as she's been a member of SIPTU for two decades.

With some serious haggling between the Government and unions to be done before the deadline in July, Ann may well find herself voting once again on Croke Park 3 during the summer – with a ballot box in one hand and a Magnum Light in the other, so to speak.




Irish Independent