Did you see the first item of RTÉ’s Prime Time last night? I mean, DID YOU SEE IT? I haven’t been so entertained, educated and informed in years.
Miriam O’Callaghan was ring-mistress and her guests were Pearse Doherty (on-screen from Belfast) and Hildegarde Naughton. Hildegarde is Minister of State at the Department of Transport. More important, she is a Fine Gael minister.
The fact that she’s Fine Gael matters, because it was Fine Gael who put her on air to take the flak for Simon Coveney. Pearse Doherty is Sinn Féin, and he was on to take aim at Hildegarde and not hit the wall. I think we can safely say both politicians fulfilled their role for the night.
Since Simon Coveney had had lumps taken out of him at a committee meeting earlier in the day, it was Hildegarde’s job to staunch the flow of political blood and somehow allow Simon to stumble out of the Zappone affair alive.
Hildegarde tried her best to do this by using two strategies. One was to say “If you say, Pearse Doherty, that Simon was telling massive porkies about not having offered the job to Katherine Zappone, you’re impugning the reputation of a top civil servant, who says he’s as one with Simon in what he said and did re Zappone”. Which was hilarious, because it implied that Simon might lie but a top civil servant? Never. What about both of them, Hildegarde?
The other strategy Hildegarde (what a lovely name!) employed was to run down the clock. You know, like footballers take the ball to the corner flag and try to stall attempts to retrieve it until the final whistle goes. Hildegarde’s strategy involved, when she was asked a question, giving a very long answer. It also involved answering when a question was addressed to Pearse Doherty. This meant when she was finally stopped, Pearse had to start at the beginning of his answer again. “Hildegarde Naughton, stop talking!’ Miriam said testily, but Hildegarde kept on talking. Or stopping for a few seconds and then, when Pearse Doherty spoke, answering over the top of him, so …now you got it – a few more seconds were safely navigated.
Hildegarde did what she could to sketch the Zappone affair as a slightly unfortunate, relatively minor incident, and now let’s all get back to the business of governing. After all, Simon had apologised for the whole thing – what more could anyone want?
The whole discussion centred on whether Simon had offered Zappone a job or not. Hildegarde figured not. Miriam said he must have, otherwise why would Zappone be so gushing in her thanks to Simon, wonderful opportunity, she’d be in there batting for Ireland , etc. ?
Pearse Doherty looked like a man staring at a barrel of fish who has just been handed a gun and told to start shooting them. He wondered aloud why, if he hadn’t made a job offer to Zappone, Simon didn’t correct her when she sent gushing thank you, thank yous in her messages? He also wondered if it was OK for a minister like Simon to delete his messages, him being a government minister and all.
The discussion ended with Hildegarde declaring that Simon never offered a job, he was simply “designing” one. Pearse Doherty got the last word. When being thanked for appearing on the show, he replied loudly “CRONYISM!”
Did you know that Hildegarde is a classically trained soprano? And in 2008 won the Association of Irish Musical Societies’ Best Actress award for her role as Eliza Doolittle in the Galway Patrician Musical Society’s production of My Fair Lady? She needed all her acting abilities last night, and then some.
Hildegarde ‘Stop Talking’ Naughton: sings like a canary but never about Simon.