EVERY WEEK, TheJournal.ie casts its eye over events inside and outside Leinster House that have got people talking.
As the saying goes: ‘You win some, you lose some.’
So here are our political winners and losers from the past seven days:
The 5 winners of the week are…
1. Michael D Higgins
It’s an obvious one, but President Higgins had an undeniably good week. From his very own town crier to Boris’s home-made biscuits, Higgins’s State visit to the UK was a major success.
He made several speeches during the historic five-day trip, the first-ever State visit by an Irish president to Britain, including one at a banquet in Windsor Castle and another to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
During his speech at Windsor, Higgins noted: “While we grieve together for lost lives, we will not let any painful aspect of our shared history deflect us from crafting a future that offers hope and opportunity for the British and Irish people.”
He then raised a toast to “a creative cooperation and a sustainable partnership between our countries and our peoples; and to valued neighbours whose friendship we truly cherish”.
2. The Public Accounts Committee
All eyes were on the PAC again this week as its cross-party members subjected Rehab executives to a seven-hour grilling about the group’s finances.
Following forensic questioning by Mary Lou McDonald, Kieran O’Donnell, John McGuinness and Simon Harris among others, the following facts were revealed:
- Rehab receives 81 per cent of its funding from taxpayers
- The 2013 salary bill for seven out of eight of the highest-paid employees of Rehab was just under €1m
- The group paid former CEO Frank Flannery €409,000 in consultancy and lobbying fees from 2007 until 2013
Rehab board member Liam Hogan told the committee: “I’m not proud of where we are sitting right now.” No wonder there was plenty of this:
3. Enda Kenny
The Taoiseach loves a good photo op, so he was in his element while taking part in the State visit this week. Aside from donning his best dickie bow for the banquet at Windsor Castle, he got to sit beside former British Prime Minister John Major at a concert in the Royal Albert Hall.
Source: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography
4. Martin McGuinness
The attendance of the Sinn Féin MLA at the Windsor banquet during President Higgins’s State visit will be seen by many as an important step in the peace process. He also stood for a toast to the Queen proposed by Higgins.
Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister handled himself well on BBC’s Newsnight when Jeremy Paxman asked: ”What on earth are you doing breaking bread with the Head of State of an occupying power?”
McGuinness noted that there are “many reasons” on both sides as to why he and Queen Elizabeth should not meet, but added: “We both thought it was an important thing to do.”
Earlier in the week, he said he was conscious that his decision “involves political and symbolic challenges for Irish republicans”.
5. Phil Prendergast
The Labour MEP received praise for the informative sexual education video she posted on YouTube on Tuesday. Prendergast was a nurse and sexual health expert before entering politics so she knows what she’s talking about.
She’s hoping to retain her seat in Ireland South in May’s election but will face some, er, stiff competition.
… and the 5 losers of the week are…
1. Michael Noonan
The Finance Minister came under fire for denying suggestions that a property bubble is developing in Dublin. Noonan said that prices in the capital are 50 per cent lower than their 2007 peak, while nationwide prices nationwide are 47 per cent lower.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett also accused Noonan of showing “an unwillingness to acknowledge the seriousness” of the national housing shortage.
In a long week for the minister, it transpired that two letters regarding the recapitalisation of Bank of Ireland cannot be found by either the Department of Finance or the bank. Sinn Féin’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty described the development as “highly suspicious”.
2. Frank Flannery
The former Rehab CEO and Fine Gael advisor was a no-show at the Public Accounts Committee meeting on Thursday, saying that some members of the PAC held a political grudge against him and were attempting “to go far beyond their remit” and “raise personal matters that are not relevant to the committees [sic] work”.
A letter sent from the committee to Flannery’s solicitor described his reasons for not attending the meeting as “nothing short of contemptible”.
Flannery and Angela Kerins, who stepped down as Rehab’s CEO last week, ordered the representatives of the charity who were present not to reveal any further details on their remuneration or pension arrangements. Kerins did not appear before the committee, citing ill health. PAC member Shane Ross was not impressed.
3. Ivor Callelly
Source: Niall Carson/PA
There was a further twist in the expenses row surrounding former Fianna Fáil senator Ivor Callely this week. Four out of seven Supreme Court judges voted against a High Court ruling that Callelly had correctly claimed his expenses.
Chief Justice Susan Denham and Justices Donal O’Donnell, Frank Clarke and Nial Fennelly voted in favour of the Seanad Committee on Members’ Interests, concluding that Callelly had misrepresented his normal place of residence.
4. Maria Miller
An expenses row was also rumbling on across the pond. British Culture Secretary stepped down after she was accused of misusing the expenses system by claiming £90,000 (€108,000) for a second home. She was cleared of the charge but resigned as she said she did not want the controversy to be a “distraction” for the government. Miller was ordered to repay £5,800 (just shy of €7,000).
5. Emer Higgins
The Fine Gael councillor came under fire for sending a letter to constituents in South Dublin claiming she was “delighted” that a proposed accommodation scheme for Travellers would not be going ahead in Ballynakelly.
The letter was particularly poorly timed given the fact it was International Romani Day on Tuesday.
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Read: ‘The shadow of the past has become the shelter of the present’: The President’s Windsor address