It’s a merry Gerry Christmas as Sinn Féin tops popularity poll

No prizes for guessing which political partygoers would have been happiest at their Oireachtas Christmas bash this year, if Christmas parties were still a thing. Which they aren’t – unless you work for Boris Johnson, in which case all bets are off.

The Shinners are cock-a-hoop after the party’s showing in our opinion poll this week. A full 15 popularity points ahead of Fianna Fáil and the same margin between themselves and Fine Gael.

While there’s many a slip ’twixt cup and lip and the Coalition parties will be banking on Sinn Féin losing some of its lustre before the next election, the results of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll brought no festive cheer.

Besides the United Ireland jigsaw and the United Ireland Santa hats there are other gift ideas in Sinn Féin’s Dublin-based online shop

“Devastating,” was one senior Government TD’s verdict. There is more than a touch of “house private, no flowers” about the two parties formerly known as the “two main parties” this weekend.

On the other hand, former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams couldn’t be any more cock-a-hoop if his cock were a goose and his hoop made of gold.

His united Ireland elves have been busy making little video vignettes starring their Gerry. He is filmed in his Sinn Féin United Ireland Christmas jumper, plugging items on sale in the republican gift shop in the Sinn Féin building on the Falls Road. In another side-splitter expertly designed to give Southern rivals a fit of the vapours, he is a carol singer materialising on the doorstep to wish them a “Gerry little Christmas” before singing “Tiochfaidh ar lá, lá-lá-lá-lá.”

“Well, was it the carol singers?” the man of the house is asked when he returns.

“I can neither confirm nor deny it was carol singers,” he replies, before turning to the camera with a knowing wink. “They haven’t gone away you know.”

Besides the United Ireland jigsaw and the United Ireland Santa hats there are other gift ideas in Sinn Féin’s Dublin-based online shop. The Lark Store on the Falls Road lists Sinn Féin as a partner and sells all the merchandise available on the official party website, and more.

And they all stock the pamphlets in Gerry Adams’s Léargas series of musings about men and women he has known “along life’s journey”.

The latest is called Óglach Bobby Storey: A Life Well Lived – A tribute to Bob Mór, soldier, activist, comrade & patriot. It costs £7/€7.50 and has a lovely photo of Bobby on the front. “Seventeen sold in the last 10 hours,” according to the Lark Store online shop yesterday.

The previous pamphlet (part five) is Óglach Kevin McKenna: Leader, Freedom Fighter, Patriot – A tribute to Caoimhín MacCionnaith from friends and comrades. McKenna, who died in 2019, was IRA chief of staff during the 1980s and 90s.

Other gift solutions include Gerry Kelly’s newly published book of poetry, Inside & Out, selling for £10 from the Belfast store (19 sold in the last 18 hours).

The 40th anniversary Hunger Strike kids’ sports top at £25 seems very popular (21 sold in last 10 hours) but the commemorative Bobby Sands H Block bronze-effect statue is quite something. Priced at £50 (25 sold in last 22 hours).

The merchandise in the Falls Road gift shop is certainly doing a bomb – loads of items, many of them quite niche, but all selling by the bucketload. Perhaps there is a lot of money coming in from US buyers, which would make sense.

Honouring an old friend – and rival – at the Áras

With a Seanad byelection in the offing, recent sightings in Dublin and Galway of former senator Billy Lawless fuelled speculation that the Chicago-based businessman is preparing for a tilt at Ivana Bacik’s vacant seat on the Dublin University panel.

Billy was appointed senator for the diaspora in 2016 by Enda Kenny and he ran unsuccessfully in one of the two Seanad byelections held in April.

The latest one is expected in the spring, but Lawless won’t be on the ballot sheet. “I think I’ll give this one a rain check,” he said yesterday, hinting his Seanad days are over.

Did you ever, ever see a public servant sacked? Do you know what they do with them? They kind of reward them, put them into a bigger office just to get rid of them, so they do

He was back in Ireland to receive a Presidential Distinguished Service Award from Michael D Higgins at a scaled-back ceremony in the Áras last week. The awards were established a decade ago by the Government to recognise people living overseas who have given sustained and distinguished service to Ireland or Irish communities abroad, or who have been involved in a global or international issue of importance.

While the scheme is open to all people living abroad, it is primarily aimed at Irish citizens, those entitled to Irish citizenship and persons of Irish descent.

Lawless, who runs a number of bars and restaurants in Chicago, was honoured for his work with the Irish immigrant community in the US.

The award ceremony didn’t take place in 2020 so two sets of winners were presented with awards by the President. There was to be a dinner afterwards at Farmleigh House, but that was scuppered by the pandemic.

The former senator and the President had plenty to talk about – the two men go back a long way. Billy’s political ambition was thwarted in 1991 when he failed to win a seat for Fine Gael on Galway City Council. But his friend and neighbour, the Labour candidate Michael D. Higgins, topped the poll.

Public servant power

Michael Ring’s mojo is back and he’s all riled up.

He informed the Dáil in a passionate contribution during a debate on the Planning and Development Bill: “I’m schstartin’ a campaign in the new year. I have the bite back in me again. I’m ready for FIGHT!”

And he had a message for the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien: “If you don’t take on the public servants I don’t know where this country is going to be. It’s time that a small bit of power came back to the elected representatives.”

The Ringer had strong support for his views on the planning process from rural TDs who were egging him on during the late-night debate.

Pointing to Green Party TD Stephen Matthews, he said he doesn’t blame the Minister for “what we have done in this country. I blame fellas like him and the Green Party. Fellas like that, who come down to Mayo and come down to Cork and come down to Kerry and they want to build a holiday home and the minute they build the holiday home they don’t want anyone beside them, and they’re objecting,” fulminated the Mayo TD.

“We had objections from Dún Laoghaire. We had objections from Wicklow. We had objections from Germany, to local people” trying to build homes and businesses.

The country is being run by a dictatorship. “Not a political dictatorship, but a public service dictatorship.” And it’s got to such a stage now they think they’re more powerful than you,” he told O’Brien.

When he was part of the last government he “preached it every time at the cabinet that these people were gone out of hand with the Dublin 4 media and RTÉ and all these media people” criticising deputies for representing the people who elect them.

“Did you ever, ever see a public servant sacked? Did you ever see a public servant disciplined? Do you know what they do with them? They kind of reward them, put them into an office and get them a bigger office just to get rid of them, so they do, if they’re causing trouble.”

He then veered off down a strange path.

“If we don’t bring power back to the people, the people will take the power off the politicians,” he thundered, before looking at his party colleague, Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd.

“You talked about the Ard Comhairle or Sinn Féin bringing them [people making planning submissions] to public meetings. Well, when the Army Council are on one corner and the public servants on the other corner, it’s going to be hard luck for this country, so it is.”

What was that all about?

Waylaid plans

That debate took place after midnight. Few would have been listening. But before Michael Ring let loose, Fergus O’Dowd had the floor. He told a curious story.

He said he received a complaint earlier this year from people who made a submission to the council when the latest Louth County Development Plan was being put together. They wanted some land rezoned to build a family home on it.

They were “invited” by “the Sinn Féin Party in Dundalk to attend a Sinn Féin meeting to discuss their planning application”, O’Dowd told the Dáil. “They had to go to a political party meeting, adjudicated by what they called a chairperson. Deputies and councillors may have been present.

The decision was then given to the applicants some days later by a gentleman from Sinn Féin, or some other organisation, knocking on their door and telling them whether or not it was backing them. That should not be happening. It is wrong and it is abuse.”

“Outrageous!” said Darragh O’Brien.

O’Dowd said he brought the matter to the attention of the Office of the Planning Regulator but he got nowhere. “There are many abuses of planning, but political planning, where people must attend the headquarters of Sinn Féin or any other party to make their case is absolutely unacceptable.”

“Hear! Hear!” cried the Minister.

“It is wrong and disgraceful and Sinn Féin Members of this House should come in here and tell the truth about what is going on up there,” added Fergus.

“We must not have political decision-making in any political party’s head office on a person’s county development plan submission. It’s wrong.”

We contacted the Louth TD, who says he absolutely stands by the story.

O’Dowd claims he knows this happened on more than one occasion.

“He didn’t look to meet them. They looked to meet him. This is bringing people into a political domain through a third party.

The chair of the meeting wasn’t even a public representative. How is this allowed to go on?”

He’s put it on the Dáil record now.

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