Politics

Donohoe’s bookish reputation falls prey to false widow story


Morto for Paschal Donohoe, whose best boy in the class enthusiasm got the better of him this week when waxing lyrical to Portugal’s new minister for finance about meeting the nonexistent widow of a long deceased Portuguese literary giant.

Paschal’s penchant for letting people know about his love of modern literature led to a toe-curling encounter with Fernando Medina at the latest Eurogroup meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg.

The video of a wonderfully oblivious Donohoe buttering up his Portuguese colleague by telling him about his lovely trip to Lisbon is an absolute joy. Imagine Ursula von der Leyen regaling Michael D. about her trip to Dublin where she visited the James Joyce tower and was honoured to be shown around by Nora Barnacle. Or Xavier Bettel excitedly telling Micheál Martin about visiting the Yeats exhibition in the National Library and getting a guided tour from Maude Gonne herself. Because that’s more or less what Paschal did.

In the brief clip, a beaming Donohoe buttonholes Medina on the margins of the meeting and starts talking about poet Fernando Pessoa, one of the foremost literary figures of the 20th century.

As everyone laughs, Eurogroup president Donohoe is so happy he looks fit to burst and the rest are laughing just that little bit too heartily

“The last time I was in Lisbon, your Governor Mário – a former colleague of ours – took me to the Museum de Pessoa,” he begins, as Fernando smiles broadly, nodding his head when the museum is mentioned.

“And I met his widow!” continues Paschal, looking Fernando straight in the face.

Imagine that. To his credit, the Portuguese minister hardly flinches, polite smile in place as Paschal burbles on. “Aaand, I just had an absolutely brilliant day. I mean, I get as exited meeting the widow of Fernando Pessoa as my son would meeting Ronaldo!”

As everyone laughs, Eurogroup president Donohoe is so happy he looks fit to burst and the rest are laughing just that little bit too heartily. Unfortunately Catarina Demony, Reuters’ Portugal correspondent, spots Paschal’s little faux pas and sticks it on Twitter.

“Ireland’s finance minister tells Portuguese counterpart Medina that he thoroughly enjoyed his last trip to Lisbon where he met the widow of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa,” she wrote. “Pessoa died in 1935 and never got married.”

Oops. “Ah well. Any aul’ poet in a storm,” as Sam Beckett memorably said to us in the pub after the inaugural meeting of the Dead Poets’ Wives Society in Paris last year.

To be fair to our book-loving Minister for Finance (who regularly reviews in these pages), Catarina Demony surmised that he probably met Pilar del Rio, the widow of Portuguese Nobel prize-winning writer José Saramago. Which we believe to be true. Paschal mixed up his literary geniuses.

Bordering on insensitive

Put ’em under pressure: Joe McHugh at the Romanian border post
Put ’em under pressure: Joe McHugh at the Romanian border post

Language can be a problem for politicians on overseas duty. But they need to communicate and do their best to show off their language skills.

Former Fine Gael minister Joe McHugh, who chairs the Oireachtas European Union Affairs Committee, was in Romania this week to see how the country is coping with the influx of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion.

As is often the case, Joe had to rely on the common international language of football. To be fair, in these difficult times in international and diplomatic relations, what better language can there be?

When visiting a temporary refugee camp with colleagues near the Siret border crossing with Ukraine in northern Romania, he struggled to make small talk with the border control guards. Then, in a flash of brilliance, he uttered the words “Daniel Timofte”.

The communicating between the Romanian guards and the Irish TD started. “I cried,” said one, with the little English he had

He was the Romanian footballer whose penalty miss helped Ireland through to the World Cup quarter-final in Italia ’90. McHugh, being from Donegal, home county of the great Packie Bonner, who pulled off the celebrated penalty save, couldn’t resist mentioning goalmouth heroics, particularly as the refugee camp was located on a football pitch.

And then the communicating between the Romanian guards and the Irish TD started. “I cried,” said one, with the little English he had, remembering Timofte’s miss. He said he watched it as a young boy at home on television. McHugh said he cried, too, but tears of joy. Sure we all cried. And then cried some more when we realised we’d knocked over every table and drink in the pub. We understand McHugh checked whether the Romanian guards were armed before bringing up Timofte’s name. It still hurts.

Energetic lunch

The first AEJ Mike Burns Memorial Lunch was held last week in the RDS Members Club. April 1st, to be precise, a date that would have tickled the former RTÉ London bureau chief, who died two years ago.

Veteran journalist Mike was a stalwart of the Association of European Journalists, whose members lay on a decent lunch and a half-decent guest speaker every month or so. Doing the honours this time was Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan whose father, well-known artist Bob Ryan, was a great personal friend of the late journalist and PR man.

The Minister promptly said that his mother, Mary, who was at the lunch, would be mortified to see him wearing sandals

Eamon arrived late as he had to attend an emergency meeting of the International Energy Council first. And everybody was looking at his feet. The Minister promptly said that his mother, Mary, who was at the lunch, would be mortified to see him wearing sandals under his good suit but needs must – he had a sore foot. His mother had been equally mortified, he said, when he told her he planned to wear no tie in the Dáil on his first day as a TD.

Old friends who also attended the lunch included former RTÉ journalist Kevin Healy, who revealed that audio from his days reporting on the Troubles could be heard in the Oscar-winning film Belfast; and RTÉ newscaster Sharon Tobin, who received many helpful tips from Mike when she worked in the bar in Leinster House during her student days. It is planned to make the lunch an annual event.

Politics, virtually

There can’t be enough hours in the day for Wexford Senator Malcolm Byrne, who featured in this column last week because he is currently appearing in Gorey Musical Society’s production of The Sound of Music.

This week, a number of strange photographs came our way showing TDs and Senators stumbling around the audio-visual room in Leinster House wearing virtual reality goggles. One of Kerry Senator Ned O’Sullivan was a little scary. It seems the aforementioned Byrne had organised a cross-party briefing on the metaverse, augmented reality and virtual reality.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan trying on an Oculus headset at a meeting in Leinster House
Senator Ned O’Sullivan trying on an Oculus headset at a meeting in Leinster House

At the briefing, serious concerns were expressed around how to ensure that the online harms experienced in the media space would not be replicated in the metaverse. Much of this seemed to sail over some political heads (we don’t blame them). However, those who tried on the Oculus headsets were intrigued by the experience. Some wanted to know if they could now hold clinics virtually.

Slow clap

Wednesday was Ukraine Day in Leinster House in honour of president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s address to the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas. The Members’ Restaurant was thrown open along with the canteen to serve breakfast before the 10am start, while a special Ukraine themed menu was put on for the occasion.

There was borscht soup, “symbolic of peace and harmony”. It got a mixed reaction. Shynka, which means baked ham, is a traditional dish steamed in foil and then baked until it is melt-in-the-mouth soft. It was served in maple syrup. “Dáil chicken Kyiv” was given an Irish twist with wild garlic and creamy butter sauce. The fish dish – “fish on the table is a symbol of Christ” – was baked hake, while the vegetarian offering was “Deruny potato pancakes”, yellow and round and warm and symbolising the sun. And the Ukrainian old-fashioned honey babka went down a treat.

There were also sour grapes, but they were served later in the chamber by the four members of Solidarity-PBP, who scored nul points on the clapometer, and the three members of the Independent Group, who stood and applauded Zelenskiy only to stop when they saw the other four were not.

Richard Boyd Barrett, Bríd Smith, Gino Kenny and Paul Murphy (who are nothing if not consistent), along with Connolly, Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle, did what they did because they can

Many TDs and Senators were disgusted by their response to a speech from a war-weary man whose country is being ravaged to satisfy the twisted vanity and greed of a dictator. Fine Gael’s Patrick O’Donovan was particularly scathing.

“One of them happens to be an office holder of this parliament, and to me that is a source of embarrassment,” he said, without referring to Galway Independent Catherine Connolly, the Leas Cheann Comhairle, by name.

Richard Boyd Barrett, Bríd Smith, Gino Kenny and Paul Murphy (who are nothing if not consistent), along with Connolly, Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle, did what they did because they can. Long may we live in a democracy and have a national parliament where such displays of self-indulgence, however tasteless and out of touch, are tolerated and robustly criticised.

Meanwhile, three cheers for Roscommon Senator Eugene Murphy, who came to the Ceann Comhairle and Cathaoirleach’s aid after they made a special plea to him for help in sourcing blue-and-yellow ties.

Eugene went on a mercy mission to the Roscommon GAA board, and they came up trumps, with a copious supply of Rossies ties, which were worn by Seán O’Fearghaíl, Mark Daly and many more in the chamber on the day.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar quoted a poem during his stirring contribution.

“A little over 100 years ago, the woman who is perhaps Ukraine’s greatest national poet captured their dreams of freedom and courage. Her words still resonate today,” he told the Dáil, before reading: “I shall sow flowers of flowing colours, I shall sow flowers even amidst the frost, And water them with my bitter tears. Know that the abandoned fire of your songs will burn forever in the world, it will burn at night and will burn at the daytime, it will burn forever.” This famous poem by “the woman who is perhaps Ukraine’s greatest national poet” is called Contra Spem Spero. It means “Against all Hope I Hope.” And the woman’s name is Lesya Ukrainka.






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