The Seanad, where bilateral relationships begin

The Lithuanian ambassador was in the Seanad on Wednesday morning, much to the delight of the Cathaoirleach, who had been reduced to sending virtual greetings from the Upper House to their excellencies because of the Covid restrictions.

Now that business has returned to normal, senators expect Mark Daly will begin hauling in the ambassadors at a terrific rate so they can witness him in the flesh conveying his best wishes to their respective countries on their national day. Cathaoirleach Daly has made it a feature of his tenure in the chair to mark these days, particularly when there might be an interparliamentary friendship group and possible bilateral visits in the mix.

Ambassador Marijus Gudynas rose magnificently to the occasion by wearing a dickie bow in the colours of the Lithuanian flag during his brief visit to the distinguished visitors’ gallery, from where he was able to view the Seanad in all its underpopulated glory while Mark waxed lyrical above in the chair.

The two countries have a close and friendly relationship, noted the Cathaoirleach, and last year 27 members of the newly-elected Lithuanian parliament (about 20 per cent of the total membership) formed the Group for Inter-Parliamentary Relations with Ireland.

“We look forward to deepening the interparliamentary relationship with Lithuania and I wish the ambassador, all our friends in Lithuania and all Lithuanians, including those living in Ireland, and the Irish people living in Lithuania a very happy and safe Independence Day.”

Senator Daly, of course, was building up to his trademark party piece in which he salutes the country in question in its native tongue.

“Su laisvës diena, Lietuva!” he beamed, thrilled with himself.

There were words of warm welcome from many senators as they spoke on the order of business, but none to top the contribution from Fianna Fáil’s Denis O’Donovan from west Cork, himself a former cathaoirleach.

“I join in the welcome to the Lithuanian ambassador. I had the pleasure in my previous life as cathaoirleach to visit your country and I had, eh, an exceptionally good time there,” said Denis, placing particular emphasis on the “exceptionally” bit.

“I won’t go into details, ambassador.”

Which is a shame.

Denis moved on.

“The Cathaoirleach mentioned the Lithuanian community in Ireland,” he began. “And interestingly, I eat a lot of fish.”

His excellency must have been wondering where this was going. We all were.

“And the man who looks after my fish is a Lithuanian man – lovely man. And if I have a problem I ring him and he makes sure he has fresh cod, hake, or whatever is on the menu. The only thing I would say is that even though he is a Lithuanian fishmonger, the fish are Irish.”

Independent senator Rónán Mullen welcomed the ambassador and commended his country for establishing an embassy in Taiwan. “Many of us support Lithuania in its dealings with China. It has set an example for other small countries,” he told his excellency. “As we say around here, ‘keep her lit’.”

No doubt ambassador Gudynas enjoyed his short trip to Leinster House. Now everyone is wondering what country Cathaoirleach Daly will chose to honour next.

New ambassadors

As he was doing his thing in Kildare Street, fresh diplomatic meat was wandering into his orbit across the city in the Phoenix Park, where three new ambassadors presented their credentials to President Michael D Higgins at a ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin.

His excellency Sturla Sigurjónsson (Iceland), his excellency Gen Geraldo Sachipengo Nunda (Angola) and her excellency Saroja Sirisena (Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka) were received with the usual pomp and ceremony.

Unfortunately, Mark has just missed Sri Lanka’s national day, which was at the start of this month, and he’ll have to wait until November if he wants to welcome Gen Geraldo. But Iceland has its day in June, albeit on a Friday.

However, he might get a few pointers from Michael D’s event to liven up future little ceremonies in the Seanad.

The three ambassadors were given a motorcycle escort to and from the Áras by a cavalry squadron detachment from Cathal Brugha barracks. There was a flag ceremony and an infantry battalion from Galway’s Renmore barracks provided a guard of honour. The Army No. I Band tootled away.

Obviously, the Cathaoirleach would do away with the sizeable contingent of officials which attended from the Department of Foreign Affairs, including new secretary general Joe Hackett. Although an exception could probably be made in Gen Sec Joe’s case should there be a few bottles of prosecco left over in Iveagh House following Champagne-gate.

Nor would there be any need for a Government Minister to adorn the Seanad’s souped-up national-day greetings gig (Minister of State Hildegard Naughton was on duty at the Áras). But maybe Daly could turn his episodic national-day gigs into a major pillar of the Seanad’s centenary programme, which kicked off on Tuesday.

Just a thought.

Michelin-star restaurant

Perhaps ambassadors invited in for their national day could then be taken for lunch in a Michelin-star restaurant. Barry Ward, Fine Gael senator for South Dublin on Sea, was so pleased to see Liath in Blackrock bagging a second star that he had to convey his congratulations. Lawyer Barry knows his onions.

“Obviously there’s a very small number of restaurants in this country that are operating at that level – only four, in fact, three of which are in Dublin but Liath is in the suburbs of Dublin, in Blackrock. It is, on the face of it, a modest restaurant, certainly a small one with, I think, about 20 covers but it operates at a level of excellence that is remarkable.”

It’s all go in South Dublin sur Mer: “And as we see, Michael’s of Dublin moving to Blackrock. I hope it will be at the core of a foodie destination in Blackrock, the likes of which we have in Monkstown and other places in the Dún Laoghaire area.”

Barry was using the royal “we” there.

“Minority Voices, Major Change” is the title of the centenary programme launched on Tuesday to commemorate 100 years of the Seanad. Those senators who didn’t get the chance the previous day took the opportunity on Wednesday to declare how wonderful the launch of the Seanad 100 celebration had been.

Joining in the congratulations was Fine Gael’s Seanad leader, Seán Kyne. “It was wonderfully choreographed and introduced,” he said, praising the Oireachtas team who worked so hard to put it together.

“It was a wonderful start to a year of engagement and recognition of the role of the Seanad in this State,” said the former minister of state and TD for Galway West who lost his Dáil seat at the last election but found a berth in the Upper House.

Fair enough. You’d be sick of Dáil sometimes.

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