The saga of the Taoiseach, the turbulent TD, his parliamentary assistant and her diamond ring

The saga of the Taoiseach, the turbulent TD, his assistant/fiancee and her diamond ring is made for TV – except maybe it would be too far-fetched for a producer to consider, says Michael Clifford

It’s as if House of Cards was blownout of existence, and rebuilt on a Monaghan drumlin. The saga of the Taoiseach, the turbulent TD, his parliamentary assistant and her diamond ring, is made for TV.

This is the cutting edge of Irish politics, where power is a high-stakes game played by titans of the trade. This is about a leader who can’t do interviews about his leadership, but is unrivalled in dispatching opponents, nay, enemies. This is the story of a lowly TD, elevated to front page news because of his pursuit of the truth. And some jewellery. This is Machiavelli wandering onto the set of Killinaskully.

The image of front-line politics portrayed by the Netflix series, House Of Cards, is compelling, and, at times, repulsive. Serious players use power and the lives of others to shuffle the deck in furthering careers.

If anybody attempted to transpose the series to this jurisdiction, the results would be frightening. A typical plotline would be the recent triumphs and travails of a young, rising star of Fine Gael.

Sean Conlon was elected to the Dáil in the clean-out of the 2011 general election. He didn’t set the world on fire. Then, last month, he came to prominence during a scintillating plotline– the McNulty affair.

Conlon criticised the manner in which John McNulty had been appointed to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art to ready him up for election to the Seanad. The McNulty affair was a stroke that was executed with such incompetence its authors would have been fired on the spot if they worked in the real world of TV. Anyway, Mr Conlon spoke out against the Supreme leader’s handling of the affair. In doing so, our hero displayed a zeal to rid politics of cronyism. He emerged as a hero, or, as our Cockney friends might have it, a diamond geezer.

His heroics were greater than first appearances would suggest. The only other time Seanie had been in the news was a couple of years ago when it was reported that he had employed his girlfriend, Sarah Comiskey, as his parliamentary assistant. He assured the public at the time that she was selected on merit after the job was advertised. Now he was criticising cronyism, and some depraved cynics might mention sauce and the goose and the gander, but our hero was not going to let that stop him pursuing the truth.

He also happens to share a constituency with Minister for the Arts, Heather Humphries, who was at the centre of the McNulty affair. It now appears likely that Ms Humphries owes her appointment to two factors, neither having much to do with ability.

One, she is of the Protestant faith, representing a border county. To put such a figure in the portfolio that will oversee the 1916 commemorations must have appealed to the West Wing Mini-Mes who run Kenny. The other factor probably influencing her appointment is that she is not Sean Conlon.

So for Mr Conlon to criticise the McNulty affair, knowing that it might look like he’s just sour over Heather’s appointment, took raw courage.

The fact that their constituency is to lose a seat in the next election, and is unlikely to be big enough for both of them, added to the plot. But our diamond geezer didn’t care about the optics. He just wanted the truth rolled out into the public square. Never before has Hemingway’s definition of courage – “grace under pressure”– been more appropriate.

The next twist arrived on the day of the budget. Seanie’s name was up in lights again. The empire was striking back.

Here we must flash back to last August, and an antiques fair in Nottinghamshire, many miles from the hothouse of Kildare Street.

Enter stage left our hero, arm in arm with the controversial parliamentary assistant, who is now the fiancée. The couple spot a ring. Antique. Diamond. A diamond ring for a diamond geezer. Ten grand.

According to our hero, he suggested to the vendor, a Ms Freya Hart, that he would bring the ring back across the Irish Sea to have it “appraised”. Freya was apparently under the impression that it was done deal and he would be coughing up the bobs within days.

One way or the other, Freya found it necessary to email both the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Arts to inform them that Seanie was not playing ball. Why did she contact the leader of the country? Surely, if, as she maintains, she was worried about her ring, she should have contacted the constabulary.

Even more bizarre was contacting Ms Humphries. Was this on the basis that the minister’s portfolio covers the arts, and some might classify antiques as art?

Or did Seanie big up his position in the political pecking order when he asked to take the ring with him back across the Irish Sea? Surely Freya wasn’t aware that the last two persons in the world Seanie would want to hear about his ring exploits were Enda and Heather respectively.

Mr Conlon’s version is at variance with that of the antique dealer.

He told Sean O’Rourke there was a “breakdown in communications for a number of hours,” which prompted Freya to bang off emails to the Taoiseach and minister.

What happened during the missing hours? Was he kidnapped? Has the woman no patience that she couldn’t hang tight for a few hours while Seanie got his head together?

Anyway, she got her ring back and she’s sorted. Seanie isn’t. He believes the email was leaked from the Taoiseach’s office in an act of revenge.

“If you speak out and criticise the Taoiseach, he will try to damage you, to damage your reputation,” he told O’Rourke.

O’Rourke had a walk-on role, but he did hog the best line. “If I got a diamond ring for every time I asked the Taoiseach to come on the programme, I’d open my own jewellery shop,” he told Conlon.

Cut to Kenny sitting alone in his office, looking out on the Dublin night sky. He wears that creepy smile of his as he contemplates how another enemy has bit the dust. Diamond geezers, one and all.

Naw. It’s just too farfetched. No TV producer would buy the plotline. You just couldn’t make this stuff up.


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