Wednesday, February 28, 2007


We all have had a couple of days to reflect on Trevor Sargent's unforgettable speech to his Ard Fheis in Galway.

Sadly, tragically, it just doesn't get any better with the passage of time.

The script was passable, though with far too much name-checking of candidates.

The sentiments were fine, laudable even when he started talking about children at the end.

But the delivery. Jesus Mary and Joseph.

What could you compare it with? Mayo in last year's All Ireland? Ireland's dismal victory over San Marino? Worse if anything. Britney shaving her hair off? That bad.

Sargent bounded onto stage like a tele evangelist. With his arms aloft and booming voice it looked like he could maintain the illusion, perhaps even perform a miracle along the way.

But after that it was downhill for most of the way. There were bits of random roaring followed by bits of speed-whispering, like a racing commentator who has lost his voice. The effect was disconcerting and a little weird.

He rallied a little towards the end. But compared to his strong and even performance in Cork last year, this was not his finest half hour, his delivery being weak and ropey.

When I asked one of his colleagues later, he said that it was probably a mixture of nerves and too much adrenaline and an uncertainty over the timing.

The thing is, however, that it won't make much difference ultimately. Speech-making in Ireland doesn't have the power it has in the US or, arguably, in Britain.

Sure Pat Rabbitte had a great speech this year - it was rightly lauded. But in the normal course of events, a leader does very well if he or she gets through their half hour without fluffing their lines or gaffing or swallowing their glottises.

Bertie Ahern is a poor speaker. His leader's address can be purgatory to listen to. He sometimes sounds like a man who is slowly choking to death. And he is never helped by the script that isn't suited to his style of delivery.

Enda Kenny can be surprisingly good - Kenny's big problem is when he doesn't have a script, or hasn't been fully briefed, and needs to think on his feet.

Gerry Adams is good, though he has an annoying habit of sometimes being ultra patronising, sometimes being cloying sentimental.

Mary Harney never used an auto-cue; she learned her speeches de ghlan-mheabhair - like an actor remembering her lines. That added an edge to her speechifying, made them interesting, unpredictable. Michael McDowell - for all his panache as an orator - delivered a pedestrian first speech as leader this year.

Albert Reynolds was not great either, though his folksiness got him through those long half hours. John Bruton wasn't bad, except for the time Twink spoiled the national conference. Haughey wasn't the Mae West - his nasalised drone couldn't sustain a half hour or hour-long script.

For all his other abilities, Dick Spring was no Bill Clinton when it came to addressing the faithful. The alliterative cluster that comes to mind is dry, drone, dreary, dead.

Either was Michael Noonan whose sharp wit never came out in his leader's speeches, which always sounded creepy enough to come straight from the cemetery.

One veteran Fine Gael TD told me that Liam Cosgrave always sounded and looked like a man who had just swallowed a bottle of rat poison.

Before Haughey it's a bit vague for me. I remember seeing some archive footage of the late Michael O'Leary in the late 1960s or early 1970s; probably before he became Labour leader. He was in full flow and seemed angry, impressive.

Who's good? Clinton obviously. Obama is, definitely. I remember seeing Chris Patten - the Tory Party chairman - speak at one of their Brighton or Bournemouth conference. He was electrifying.

Just a small note on Leaders Questions today. Enda Kenny brought up the results of this survey that suggested that a high number of Irish teenagers have experimented with drugs, tobacco and alcohol (see the debate here).

Leaders Questions allows opposition leaders to ask a question without notice. That means that Bertie Ahern does not have a clue what he will be asked about.

But he has very diligent and very prescient civil servants who prepare for all eventualities. In front of him each day is a big ledger-like book indexed from A to Z. So if somebody is asking him about a relatively obscure subject like a survey on teenagers he just flicks to T for Teenager or D for drugs to find the relevant details.

The most impressive use of the A to Z was when Pat Rabbitte asked a question about a family with autistic children in a week in which they were nowhere near the news. The Bert had the family's case history at his fingertips. It was impressive but also very weird - almost as weird as Trevor Sargent's speech this week.

And just to remind you of Sargent's other great performance this year, here is his unmissable guest appearance on Podge and Rodge.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


WHEN he is droning on and on about biofuels and carbon emissions and global warming and energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, you feel like grabbing him by the lapels and saying: “Bertie, give us a break will you?”

A long time ago, Margaret Thatcher responded to the small threat posed by the incipient ecology movement in Britain by declaring: “We are all green now.”

Of course, the Tories were anything but green — if you were looking for a colour that characterised the 1980s and early 1990s in Conservative Britain it was gun-metal grey.

But it suited the Tories then — as it has suited a generation of politicians in Ireland — to steal some of the Greens’ environmental clothing.

The technical name for that tactic is triangulation. Bill Clinton was a master at it. So was Labour under Tony Blair. In Britain, it entailed taking a Tory policy (on law and order for example) and appropriating the parts most palatable to the electorate.

Blair was then the proud possessor of a policy slightly to the left of the Tory party but way more hard-line than old Labour. The policy appealed to what those very smart people call a wider demographic. The Tories had a choice: be prepared to be outshone by Blair on their own policy; or move further to the right.

They moved out so much, they exited stage far right.

Here, there’s also been a bit of appropriation going on but it’s accelerated from pick-pocketing to grand larceny over the past 12 months.

In the autumn of 2003, I interviewed Green leader Trevor Sargent and put it to him that his party had travelled a fair distance in from the margins of the previous decade. It wasn’t just its growing mandate; it was the tempering of its message. The realos (realists) had prevailed over the fundies (fundamentalists) in the party.

Some of the hard core (and frankly silly stuff) had been ditched: the Greens learned the painful political lessons that come with having no leader; at the maddeningly slow process of arriving at every decision and policy by consensus; about the Grand Canyon-size credibility gap in a policy that says everybody is entitled to a wage even if they don’t want to work.

But Sargent countered by saying that the others had moved out rather than the Greens moving in. His argument was — and still is — they had gradually come to their senses and realised that the Greens weren’t merely odd millennialists predicting the end of the world.

At the same time, he also argued that the other parties had merely scratched the surface and a lot of their “we are all green now” statements lack bite and integrity.

That said, the gavel of auction politics has been busiest when it comes to the environment. The other parties have almost bust the bank in upping the stakes on what they will commit to renewable energy, biofuels, reductions in emissions, and grant-aid for organic, GM-free, vaguely pagan, family-friendly solstice festivals (okay, the last one is a joke).

So what is that about? Instinctively, the more established parties realise that climate, environment and quality of life are no longer staple of “discretionary” elections like the Europeans and locals. That reality has been borne home by a range of reports on climate change and global warming (the UN, Nicholas Stern in Britain); by newspaper reports (floods; tidal waves; only a smattering of snow in the Alps) and by an iconic film like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” (getting another showing this weekend).

But another part is “come hither” wooing to the Greens, knowing the party may become a power broker.

And part of it is also triangulation. If the Greens are on the rise, they have to eat into somebody’s votes. Strategically, what the others have tried is to appropriate attractive “green” policies and make the Greens seem unique on only more extreme stances. For example, we have seen alarmist stuff coming from Fianna Fáil and the PDs that the Greens will shut down the motorway programmes. Problem is that a small but increasing number of the electorate is buying into the policies once considered way out there, right on the edge of reason.

Sargent was wrong in some respects. The Greens have mollified too, became more pragmatic. Sargent gets his first moment of live TV tonight for his leader’s address. Expect a mature speech from a leader who believes high office is beckoning.

“They won’t frighten the horses,” said one candidate of their policies in 2002. But they will frighten the mules. Sargent’s party will be one of the big winners this time. “We are all green now!” Right, green with envy!

This is my column from the Irish Examiner

Incidentally, John Gormley and Ciarán Cuffe from the Greens are among the few politicians who keep blogs. Cuffe has recently added filmed segments to his blog, like this one:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - Outside the cocoon, inside the cocoon

OUTSIDE THE COCOON - I drove down to Connemara from Dublin yesterday to appear as a guest on TG4's 'Seacht Lá'.

Even when driving through the Irish countryside, you can't really escape politics.
First, there was the road. The N4 extension brings you as far as Tyrrellspass in Co Westmeath now. As you go back onto bockety roads, you can see that the work is well advanced to take the road beyond Kilbeggan and Moate and all the way into Athlone.

As sure as night follows day, a good portion of that road will be open by the time the General election takes place.

(As an aside, it looks like it will happen on May 18th, a Friday. Michael McDowell twice referred to 90 days being left at his party's conference last weekend. It is also roughly the same time as the election five years ago.)

There can be no more visible and tangible evidence than progress or achievement than the smooth tarmacadam of a wide metalled road. Expect a lot more openings over the next three months - some of them for blatant electioneering purposes. Look at the speeches of FF and the PDs - if there's money in muck, there are votes in roads.

The second unavoidable feature of the journey west was the spate of pre-election posters. Now, it's illegal to start plastering the country with smiling politicians' faces before the official campaign gets underway.

But what some have done is paid for very expensive billboard space or used other innovative ways. There's a huge poster of Mary O'Rourke, looking menacing enough to be a sentinel for the west of Wetmeath, on the approach to Kilbeggan. I'm not sure if it was a reminder to voters or a warning to Donie Cassidy to stay out!.

Further west nearer Athlone, the Fine Gael candidate Nicky McFadden's campaign van was prominently parked for the night on the N6. Maybe it was happenstance, but there was no lack of visibility.

And then in Galway East, Fine Gael's new candidate Dr John Barton has made his presence felt. The Ballinasloe-based specialist is likely to pose a threat, not only to Paddy McHugh but also to his running mate Senator Ulick Burke.

I spotted three of his billboards near the main road west, in addition to the very prominent signage of his office in the centre of Ballinasloe.

They keep on telling us that the campaign hasn't started in earnest yet. But nobody seems to be listening.

INSIDE THE COCOON - Back in Leinster House this morning, I met a wise old Fianna Fail TD from the east of the country.

"The election will be won and lost for Fianna Fail in two places," he said.

"Pray tell where?" I asked (yep, I stepped straight out of a Shakespeare tragedy)

"Cork and Dublin Central," was his reply.

He said that Cork would be vital to FF staying in Government. It's already lost one seat there as a result of boundary changes (in Cork North Central). It will have a huge fight on his hand to retain three seats in Cork South Central; to return two TDs in Cork South West (with Paddy Sheehan back). In addition, even though three FF TDs are slugging it out in Cork North West, there is a (faint) possibility that FG could sneak in and take two out of three. Cork East is the only place where FF look safe for their two (though the inimitable Ned O'Keeffe says they're not even safe there).
In a melt-down scenario, FF could lost four seats in that one county alone.

And Dublin Central? It as diffuse and fragmented a constituency as there is. The only sure thing is Bertie. The problem is will this running mates thrive in his enormous shadow or will they wither on the vine? The strategy seems to be that Bertie will try to maximise his vote and hope sufficient number two will go to his two running colleagues.

But if that's true, it's high risk. Transfers disperse and unless Mary Fitzpatrick or Cyprian Brady garner respectable volumes of first preferences, it could fail. One seat only for FF? It's almost unimaginable given the huge personal vote that Ahern gets. But in a very fragmented constituency, both Mary Lou McDonald and Patricia McKenna pose strong threats to the incumbents.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Recent Irish Taoisigh, like current US Presidents, have sometimes struggled to convey their exact meaning to the wider world. Bertie Ahern has inspired a long list Bertieisms, giving George W Bush a run for his money when it comes to malapropisms, spoonerisms, fudges, and mumbles.

A couple of classic Bertie-isms:
"We're not going to go upsetting the apple tart."

And his comments about the risks of rising inflation:
"The reason it's on the rise is because probably the boom times are getting even more boomer."

Another classic Bertiesm, once used by him in the Dáil:
"Throwing white elephants and red herrings at each other".

Or in response to Trevor Sargent's attack on corrupt developers and politicians:
"I never condemn wrongdoing in any area."

Last week, the Bert did an interview with Eamon Keane on his lunchtime Newstalk show that combined some of the best Bertieisms into one great chunky paragraph that combines ambivalence, opacity and 100% guaranteed home-made Bertie fudge.
It also includes one of his favourite phrases: "All is I am saying is..."
Check out his use of the word horrendously to describe both negative AND positive aspects of Charles Haughey. Brilliant. That's part of the Bert's great appeal (and I mean that, seriously). His language is like fog. Once he starts talking, the mists start coming in and soon you find yourself hopelessly lost.

"I’ve been very critical. At the 1997 Ard Fheis hairs stood at the back of heads about the things I said about Charlie Haughey.
You don’t just condemn for condemning sake. The fact is Charles Haughey did horrendously things wrong around these financial dealings but he did horrendously things right.
All is as I am saying is, I was brought up not to throw the baby out with the bath water."

A little later...

"I condemned Ray Burke, Liam Lawlor, more people than I wish that I ever had to condemn. Do you think I enjoyed it one of these days? Revisionism is a huge part of Enda Kenny, his rhetoric…..some times I condemn myself that I should have been signing blank cheques.I thought these practices were all been dealt with by the staff at the time."

Here it is in his own words (sound quality is not great and a little bit in the middle is missing!)

Saturday, February 17, 2007


4pm Saturday
It's still February. The election is still months away. And already I'm beginning to feel like one of the depression-era marathon dancers in the film "They Shoot Horses Don't They"

The pre-election-campaign campaign is in full swing. Nearly every weekend between now and the end of March, there is a party conference or Ard Fheis. From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, each of the parties say 'come hither' and spend the entire weekend shamelessly flaunting their wares at us.

This weekend it's the PDs down in Wexford (for the party's own ongoing coverage of the event, follow this link) With each convention, the names and slogans and messages may change but the format and over-riding atmosphere are the same for all.

For the media, this is how it pans out: The party leader opens the conference on a Friday night with a speech that will include a news line for the TV and radio news at 9pm and for the following morning's newspapers. The news tag from McDowell last night wasn't an announcement but a 'The End is Nigh' speech, warning about the Armageddon that will happen if that useless shower in the opposition ever get their hands onto power.

The Bert is a master of the Friday night newsline - at the last FF Ard Fheis he announced in his Friday night speech that he wanted a referendum on the rights of children (that's the one we may or may not have before the election!).

These are annual conferences and motions actually do get debated. But nowadays you sense (with all parties) the internal debates are mostly for cosmetic purposes. The real deal is the oodles of priceless unopposed publicity all weekend. They get two hours of live TV in the morning. It gets an opportunity to showcase as many of their candidates as they can. The party leader will do a doorstep interview with a huddle of reporters. This is for the benefit of radio reporters. Then there's another hour of RTE coverage, this time on radio with John Bowman, in which three or four of the party heavyweights get airtime.

Things you always hear at party conferences. Morale has never been so high. We are all 100% united behind our great leader (insert appropriate name). I have been coming to conferences for a long time and can safely say that this has been the best one ever. The media have got it wrong.

Things you never hear at party conferences. We're doomed. The media have got it right.

Anyway, like other conferences, the PDs have gathered a big crowd here. I'm in the main hall as I write this, for the afternoon workshops. They used a neat visual trick to portray the hall as full. Every row of seats has its own table. Brilliant! Theres nothing worse on TV to show a half-empty auditorium.

For a small niche party, the showing is very respectable. At this very moment they are debating a few motions on crime. Hey, it's the PDs after all and we're hearing a lot about being tough on crime, but not so much, sadly, about being tough on the causes of crime. Oh, yeah, loads of applause for McDowell everything his name is mentioned.

They have just started an open forum now with the great man, as he does a Q and A session with delegates. He, John Dardis and guest speaker David Quinn have been placed on stage in an informal manner, seated on stools like traditional musicians but without their instruments (ie they all look very uncomfortable).

Of course, the main event will be McDowell's maiden leader's speech tonight. You don't have to have too much wattage up in the attic to know that he'll go for broke - with tax cuts, or new tougher laws on crime, or the like.

As I wrote in my column this morning, McDowell is omnipresent. In Ireland, the cult of personality has always run deep in political life, particularly in Fianna Fail where the party was personified by its leader, de Valera, Lemass, Lynch, Haughey, Reynolds and Ahern.

All parties approach campaigning, here as elsewhere, in a presidential manner, pushing the personality of its leader. But it seems to me that the cult surrounding McDowell is a bigger one that the one that surrounded Mary Harney.
Everything in the party seems to revolve around him. Sure, Harney is still a senior minister but she now confines herself to the task in hand in Health. Where are the others who should have stepped up to the place. The two other members of the leadership troika, Liz O'Donnell and Tom Parlon, have not asserted themselves sufficiently.

Sure, there's no such thing as bad publicity. But are there perils to being over-exposed, to to the PDs being totally synonomous with McDoweel, to fatigue kicking in. Maybe he and his party should learn that sometimes less can be more.

INSIDE POLITICS - The Hurricane of Hype

WHO is the star of this week’s column? Take a wild guess. If you happened to die and are now pushing up daisies, you might not have noticed him this week.

Of if you happen to be an anchorite monk living on a remote island sometime in the 6th century, there’s a slim chance that he may not have crossed your path.

For everybody else, there was no escape. From the moment he choked on his Corn Flakes last Sunday morning, Michael McDowell has reacted to Labour’s tax coup by invading our every waking moment, policing our thoughts, and trying to wash, like rain, the trashy Labour promises off the pavement.

On Monday, he introduced the techniques of Sumo wrestling to Irish political discourse. In a matter of mere seconds, his ferocious and fierce onslaught removed Pat Rabbitte from the ring. The winning technique? Haiku. “I want to say this about the speech that Pat Rabbitte made the other night. That speech proves that he is now admitting that he has been talking rubbish for 20 years. He has attacked every aspect of our tax policies. He’s voted against them in every Finance Bill.

“He has denied our argument that tax rates matter. And here he is now saying, after 20 years of empty, unsuccessful, hypocritical rhetoric, that he accepts he is wrong. What a sadmoment for him.”

This outburst came during a so-called doorstep interview, where the politician takes questions (usually on the street) from reporters. There were no questions here. McDowell walked up the reporters, delivered his broadside, said “I’m finished” and walked away again. A few reporters sniggered. But for McDowell there was nothing funny about this.

For this was a Labour leader having the cheek to encroach on his territory. Though what came across washumorous, what bubbled inside was toil and trouble. This column has said it before: McDowell is a one-man walking Atlantic weather system. This week, it was storm force 10 stuff coming in furiously with no respite.

The really scary bit is that all this is just the lead-up to the Progressive Democrats national conference this weekend. You might have noticed the sly reference above to Travis Bickle, the anti-hero of Martin Scorsese’s classic film, Taxi Driver. On Tuesday, McDowell did his own bit of scary “you looking at me” stuff when he announced a package of anti-crime measures. The Tánaiste has a tendency to announce his measures in the manner that Twink introduced John Bruton at a Fine Gael Árd Fheis a long time. You initially think, great stuff, and then you think, this is over-the-top, and then you think, oh, God, this is going to finish up badly.

His crime package sounded very impressive on first hearing. Suspects could be detained for seven days. There were tighter measures for bail; further curtailments of the right to silence, as well as provisions to introduce the long-awaited DNA database.

But then we found out it was all based on an interim (and rushed)report of the expert group charged with re-balancing the law.

Not only that, but the package of measures didn’t include legislation — only an intention to legislate.

So what was that all about then? Optics? In reality, by the time that package becomes law, the general election will be but a dim memory.

McDowell wanted to give the impression he was being tough on crime (as usual the “crisis” has been hyped up by politicians and the media). Now he has come up with illusory measures to remedy an illusory crisis.

For one thing hit me between the eyes in the recent Frank Luntz focus group exercise for RTÉ. Crime was identified as a huge issue. Yet, not one of the group had been a victim of crime in the past five years, save for one guy who got his chainsaw nicked. And why were they all scared to walk the streets, leave the key in the door etc? They said it was because the media told them so. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one.

Of course, the Tánaiste didn’t leave it there. He was just warming himself up. On Wednesday, he took on the Mahon Tribunal, claiming its legal bill could top €1 billion. By Thursday, that row deepened into a full-blown crisis. Characteristically, he robustly stood by his word that night, setting up the second grave stand-off with the judiciary in as many months. And that was the same day, he promised he would big it up at the PDs’ conference in Wexford, with his own proposals on tax cuts and stamp duty.

Batten down the hatches folks. A hurricane of hype and histrionics is fast approaching from the South East.

(This is my column from today's Irish Examiner)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - Tribunals, Justice and Gravy Trains

In my part of the country - Galway - I have always loved the way people pronounce the word lawyer. It has always seemed so appropriate. (for guidance: 'boys' is pronounced 'byes' in Galway City).

Anyway, Michael McDowell's comments today more or less implying that the Planning Tribunal needs to be shut down were faintly ridiculous.

"I believe that the Mahon Tribunal could well have accumulated costs, including third party costs, which will, when the dust settles, exceed one billion euro."

"And at some stage, we have to ask ourselves is it worth proceeding any further in those circumstances."

It's a bit late in the day and also a bit rich coming from him. He himself published legislation, The Tribunals of Inquiry Act, in November 2005 that would allow the Government to do just that. Indeed, in September of 2005, he said there was need to urgently draft legalisation to address the problems with the costs that were accumulating.

Over a year before, Charlie McCreevy introduced a new fee structure for Tribunal lawyers in an effort to kerb the spiralling legal costs. If existing tribunals had not completed their work by specified dates (and these dates were agreed with the Tribunal chairmen by the way), the fees for their senior counsel would be reduced from €2,500 a day to circa €900 a day.

Of course what happened when the Tribunals missed their deadlines was that the Government keeled over and granted them extensions. Moriarty now looks like it's going to get its third extension (see my story in this morning's Irish Examiner).

Tribunals are in danger of becoming as big a scandal (in terms of costs to the public purse) as the scandalous goings-on they investigate. Part of this is to do with the unwieldy manner in which they must adhere to the nth degree to all the Constitutional safeguards on natural justice. Part of it is to do with the fact that barristers (trained advocates) and solicitors have taken on the roles of Sam Spade investigators and that earlier Tribunals failed to employ cops or forensic accountants or experts in tax or planning.

But it also comes down a lot to the exorbitant fees that barristers command. The Competition Authority made 13 specific recommendations for lawyers. The Bar Council says it has, or is, implementing nine of them but has drawn the line in relation to the other four - see Paul Cullen's story in the Irish Times (subscription required).

One of those four too-much-to-ask recommendations is the one that allows barristers that have a right of audience in the courts to be employed (and work for a salary) rather than being sole traders. This, of course, would definitely lead to a reduction in costs.

The Bar's grounds for rejecting it are entirely spurious. They say it would compromise the independence of barristers.

One of the things that most impressed me during the whole Guantanamo controversy was the refusal of military lawyers to go along with the decision of their political masters to right roughshod over the rights afforded by the Geneva Convention. And are they saying that judges and solicitors (both salaried) are somehow compromised in their work?

The truth of the matter is that €2,500 in fees a day is ridiculous, risibly so.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS: If you're happy and you know it...

Fresh from their national conference last weekend, Labour has its gander up. It launched a new webside today, along with a poster campaign.

A lot of it is based on the non-tax and non-health aspects of Rabbitte's speech on Saturday night, where he referred to the "gilded treadmill", where people are earning far more but feel that the lives they lead are less happy. Or they sense they are less fulfilled than their parents, or that their lives do not match the poorer but happier world they remember from their childhood.

The Bert has championed this theme as well, with a task force and campaign on citizenship. But the language tused for that campaign was so technical, so full of gobblygedook, so darned ugly that it has had next to zero impact. Active citizenship and volunteering are unwieldy terms that have little purchase with people.

The slogan being pushed by Labour to grapple with this complex but nonetheless crucial theme is much more effective. 'But Are You Happy?' it asks. You can see it emblazoned across this new website.

But while the Labour message is more direct,I am one of those fatalists who believe that little can be done to reverse the downside of the massive changes that have taken place in Ireland in the past ten years. Society has become more urbanised, fragmented, individual, materialistic and ultimately dissociated. To encourage/compel/cajole people into caring a little more for those around them will require a colossal change... the kind that's only brought out by catastrophic or calamitous events. By the way, it's not half as bad as some portray it. But telling people they can't have a second car, or their own house as opposed to an apartment, or can't automatically have a holiday home in Wexford is like telling a brand-conscious child that they can't have that pair of sneakers that all their friends have.

Elsewhere this morning, I was flicking through the list of legislation to be published in this Spring term. The Government says it will publish 25 new Bills. Not a snowball's hope in hell. They'll publish the Finance Bill and the Social Wefare Bill, both necessary to give effect to changes announced in the Budget. They'll pass and publish a couple of other Bills. And that's about.

We're into election mode. After the St Patrick's Day break next month, all the big guys will be on the road. I will sing Danny Boy in falsetto in a public place in the Election isn't called by Easter. So legislatively, it's all over. And there's a whole pile of promised stuff (some very important) that will never see the light of day.

Labour's new website is interesting. It has embraced technology more than any of the other parties (including blogs, though Ciaran Cuffe and John Gormley of the Greens are still the best there). And the website even includes a little video of Pateen a la Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. Hell, there's a couple of politicians who have even got their own bebo sites (to get down with the kids!)

But sadly, technology isn't really going to be a factor in this election. We are usually a little behind the curve. It's big already in the US but it will be 2012 before it is fully embraced by all the parties. By the way, the Fianna Fail site is the worst of the lot, never worth looking at for anything.

The other big looming worry is flagrant auction politics by all the parties during the pre-election conference season. Within the space of two days, we have had tax cuts and a promise of a whopping 50% increase in pensions. Where is it going to end? Free holidays for everybody?

As I write, Brian Cowen is on The News at One vipering into Labour's tax-cut promise. He's denouncing it as irresponsible while defending the PDs equally grandiose promise of a huge rise in pensions as "not outside the bounds of possibility".

Good man, like a pint of you know what, consistency in a world gone mad!

Monday, February 12, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - Finally, a real Rabbitte out of a Hat

Since Saturday night, Pat Rabbitte has looked like a man who has entered a pub on Easter Sunday having just completed his 40 days of being on the tack. He has been brimming with goodwill, bursting with bonhomie, overflowing with mirth.

His coup at the national conference - the announcement of tax cuts at the standard rate - has proved to be the biggest political payload for Labour. Ever!

Fianna Fail and the PDs responded as if a fox had been let loose in their chicken coop. The fury of their reaction was redolent of how effective it all was. Brian Cowen and Micheal Martin were quick out of the traps. It continued yesterday with the Bert's gnomic put-down of both Rabitte and all us cynical journalists and our caustic charmless ways (forgetting that the Coalition itself announced a tax cut in December and the PDs are looking for another round or two of cuts).

If I was to announce this weekend, that I was to continue to cut taxes by 3pc, I'd be in the editorials this morning criticised for trying to buy votes. But then again, you know what editorial writers are.

Erm, no the Bert, we dont' know what editorial writers are.

But the best response was a glorious 30 second outburst from Michael McDowell. He came out to reporters, delivered it, took no further questions and just walked away. The little microphone huddle was stunned into silence. And his sermon was delivered in such a grave, mirthless, furious and over-the-top way that it was hilarious. Bitter. Bilious. But brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant.

"I want to say this about the speech that Pat Rabbitte made the other night. That speech proves that he is now admitting that he has been talking rubbish for 20 years. He has attacked every aspect of our tax policies. He's voted against them in every Finance Bill. He has denied our argument that tax rates matter. And here he is now saying, after 20 years of empty unsuccessful, hypocritical rhetoric, that he accepts he is wrong. What a sad moment for him."

No wonder Rabbitte took so much glee at causing such mayhem within the Government. Maybe it's time for him to take his occasional drinking buddy - as revealed on Tubridy recently - for a confidence-boosting pint.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - The other big thing besides Croker that happened on Dublin's Northside this weekend

Yes, goalposts (real and figurative) were being shifted all over the place on Dublin's Northside this weekend.

Labour's pre-election conference marked the moment when Pat Rabbitte officially got sick of being asked questions about Fianna Fail and possible courtships.

How he did it in three easy steps.

1. Testy attitude when being interviewed by John Bowman. We're 22 minutes into the interview and you haven't asked me questions about policy yet!

2. Brutally blunt passage in his own keynote speech intended to draw a line under the issue. This is it:

In recent weeks I have been asked not about policy or programmes or reforms, but whether, on electoral strategy, I have left the door even slightly ajar. The answer is no.

3. Time to use the ace up the sleeve. This time it was a spectacular one that was the better of every other hand. The promise to cut the standard tax rate from 20% to 18% was brilliant. It stole the PDs clothes for tax-cutting but came at it the other way round, ie aimed at everybody, not just the middle classes.
There's small print. It's not a copper fastened guarantee (there's a get-out clause!). It will be very costly, maybe prohibitively so. FG might not buy it so bye bye new policy.

But still as a coup and as a way of moving the debate on from Rabbitte and Fianna Fail, it was masterful.

We're into conference season now. Cue eight weeks of the parties trying to out-bid each other with so-called "eye-catching initiatives" and all-singing, all-dancing, policies.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

OUTSIDE POLITICS - Dunphy and decentskinmanship

There are a couple of things about modern Ireland that I just don't get. One of them is the Eamon Dunphy phenomenon. What has he done to deserve his reputation as the Doberman of the airwaves? Draw a couple of angry squiggles on a replay screen a decade or two ago? Describe Dick Spring as something nasty in the Sindo years and years ago? Lose the head on his Today FM radio show once or twice?

I listened to Dunphy interviewing Michael O'Leary this morning with a growing sense of incredulity (follow this link for the show). Okay, his new Saturday morning show is our version of Desert Island Discs or a remodelling of a similar programme Carrie Crowley (remember her?) did some years back. It's not intended to be a grilling or interrogation a la Richard Crowley, Cathal Mac Coille, or John Humphreys...

At the very least, it should be inquiring, probing and occasionally uncomfortable. However, in spite of his completely undeserved reputation as a contrarian, Dunphy's modus operandi is this: he cosies himself up to his interviewee to an embarrassing degree and presents himself as their best buddy; a kindred spirit; a fellow intellectual and traveller; who has slaved away every hour of his life to help that person achieve the better Ireland that both have been striving for.

The most telling example of that was when he interviewed Martin McGuinness on his ill-fated TV show a few years ago. He started asking a tough question of McGuinness but visibly lost confidence half way through and ended up reversing ferret and making a mildly congratulatory statement to which an embarrassed McGuinness (no stranger to barbed questions) could only agree. It was cringey.

It was the same with Michael O'Leary this morning. The interview was soft, marshmallow soft. The goo that passed for questions included a slap on the back for O'Leary for thinking outside the box (when he put in an order for Boeings immediately after 9-11). O'Leary's answer had a dose of the Jo Moore's about it (she was the British Labour party official who sent around a memo on 9-11 telling people to put out bad news stories). But there was no follow-up or supplementals. What O'Leary said was left hanging there unquestioned and unchallenged...

Other incisive questions included one about the findings of a recent survey that said a majority of people would like O'Leary to run the health service; as well as the following statement. "You love your country. You palpably love your country."

What has made successful Dunply programmes in the past have been the quality of guest and, whatever you think of O'Leary, he always delivers bang for his buck. Fine, we know Dunphy is an O'Leary fan. But you thought that O'Leary might have been bracing himself for a bit of turbulence this morning. Instead he got one of the smoothest flights of his life. Unjustifiably so.

It seems to me that for all his reputation (and the huge fees he commands) Dunphy has mellowed into a bland interviewer with little interesting or stimulating to say or to ask. He also bottles out of asking people hard questions. He has become the thing he railed against years ago, the fan with the typewriter (or microphone), one of the country's busiest purveyors of decentskinmanship (the wonderful phrase he himself coined when he was still very good).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - Will Ahern be Taoiseach in ten years time.

Not that Ahern silly! We're talking about Dermot Ahern, the Minister for Foreign affairs. His knack for generating Dermo-friendly publicity is breath-taking. They launched a new ecology survey in the Blackrock suburb of Dundalk yesterday and who was on hand to launch it an star in the photo op only himself - granted he is a local (see the Irish Times story, and especially the pic of Dermo here).

I wonder what Dermot is looking at in the middle distance through his binoculars. A storm petrel? A cormorant? A ship? A future vacancy as FF leader?

OUTSIDE POLITICS - Not Fáilte but Fan Amach

Con Moriarty is a Kerry mountaineer and a visionary or 'saoi' when it comes to the Irish countryside,its beauty, culture, heritage and landscape. He is pictured on left here in the Magillicuddy Reeks in Kerry alongside the renowned British mountaineer Chris Bonnington.

He is also a good and dear friend of mine. His shop Spórt Corrán Tuathail in Killary is not only an outlet but also serves as a hub for outdoor adventure and appreciation for the whole of South Kerry.

In November 2006 , he wrote an amazing 'from the heart' article about access to the Irish countryside. It appeared in the Irish Examiner. I reproduce it here in its entirety.

by Con Moriarty
SCANNING media coverage debate about access to the countryside in the course of the past couple of months, two words seem to have magicked their way into most of the headlines.

They occur variously, alternatively and, sadly, uniformly.

The first one is payment. The second is its close cousin: compensation.

The use of those words in the debate brings a certain amount of anguish to my heart. For they seem to perpetuate the simplistic storyline that access is an issue that polarises farmer versus walker, as well as dividing the industries of agriculture and tourism.

The cardinal point I would make is that access isn’t the simple issue. You have to look beyond the difficulties experienced by hill walkers and tourists.

And also beyond the compensation for ‘access’ being sought by farmers.

To confine the debate to such narrow ground ignores the significance of the issue for the entire nation of Ireland.

The access issue affects all who seek to engage with Ireland’s natural and cultural heritage. By this, I mean you and me and every man, woman and child; farmer and shopkeeper; archaeologist and fisherman; whale and bird-watcher; tourist and native alike. It’s often distilled down into something of concern only to ‘hill walkers and tourists’. In other words, other people, not us. But does it not touch also on children from Dun Chaoin or from the Black Valley who are doing a school project on an ogham stone or a river bank? They are left in an uncertain state as to whether or not they can leave the public road and engage with their heritage. Indeed, it is being felt in the hearts and souls of every Irish man and woman who might want to get up close to that stone circle or peer over the sea cliff but who feel like thieves for even thinking of jumping over a ditch that displays the ‘Private Property, No Trespassers’ signs.

I grew up in the Gap of Dunloe, amidst a landscape as rural as any in Ireland. Throughout my life I have been inspired by the wild places of my region and beyond. Nature, history, archaeology and culture are important to me as they are, of course, to many others. Personally, I have never experienced difficulties of access to the landscapes I seek to explore, but I am acutely aware that for others, such a privilege is not theirs. I know that each day throughout modern Ireland, a new atmosphere around private ownership has led to unprecedented hostilities. What’s at stake of course are complex issues, tied in with history, sociology, economics, disappointment, poor vision, alienation, and, sadly, greed.

Today and every day, unwitting tourists who have been misled into believing that they are welcome “to explore Ireland’s landscape”, are attacked by decidedly unwelcoming landowners. During the summer, two elderly widows from Orkney were outrageously abused as they strolled the Dingle Way in Corca Dhuibhne. Such incidents happen every week of the year throughout the country. Low-level attacks occur regularly against visitors who have ventured unknowingly onto private land, while the organs of state involved in heritage or tourism, and everyone else it seems, couldn’t give a damn.

However, it’s not only foreigners or hill walkers who face attack and hostility. It includes people who perhaps never walked up a mountain in their lives and who can hardly be classified as tourists in their own parishes. It includes locals who perhaps for years walked to the tower at Ceann Sibeal, picked blackberries down an old bothairín somewhere, or fished along a river bank. They now feel imprisoned, by the “Keep Out” signs of landowners.

Comhairle na Tuaithe, (set up by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív in 2004) has, in my opinion, failed to deliver a worthwhile resolution to this issue.

Overall, Mr Ó Cuív’s appointed group was a rather pathetic effort really where the key farming body involved flexed its muscles, threatening to leave the forum if things weren’t going their own way, if legislation was even mentioned as a way forward. This talking shop was of course just a smoke screen, giving cover to a government too spineless to govern with consideration for the wider good in environment or heritage issues, especially when this meant facing down the powerful farming lobbies, particularly a year out from an election.

When under pressure, dangerous precedents are likely to emerge, where some payments will be granted for access to certain walks that are just a fragment of our overall heritage.

The notion of the nation of Ireland compensating landowners for access to the nation’s heritage becomes particularly absurd when we consider what we might be charged for. What I would like to know is: if we pay a farmer for having the Kerry Way run through his land, do we pay his neighbour for the holy well on his patch? Do we pay the owners of each of the forty five thousand ring-forts on the Irish landscape? Or those in Beara whose cows scratch their bums off stone circles? Or the owners of the bogs that overlay ancient field systems? Do we remunerate the Old Head golf course for allowing old ladies to walk their dogs along the cliffs to the lighthouse? And how much might we pay the owners of Mount Brandon before making a pilgrimage to the sacred peak? What about the owners of Corrán Tuathail in order to stand on the highest point in Ireland? Should naturalists be required to pay so they can carry out field work? Who might artists pay to sketch birds on the slobs of the Shannon? Or what about school groups wanting to study glaciology at Molls Gap? Or to look at rock art in Glencar, photograph Greater Butterworths at Bealach Oisin, rock climb in the Gap of Dunloe or watch whales off Bray Head — Over 95% of Ireland is privately owned. As a landowner myself, I feel deep attachment to my land as my forefathers did before me. I am also aware however, than on these privately owned sections of Ireland, lies 95% of my country’s rich natural and cultural heritage. And today, over eighty years after independence, citizens and guests alike can interact with that heritage solely at the discretion of the landowner.

As a mountaineer, I read various speciality journals from around the world and for over a decade, I followed the debate that raged in Britain before their Countryside and Right of Way Act (CROW) was enacted in 2000. It was a vigorous debate that ultimately legislated for responsible public access to Britain’s landscape while protecting private ownership. This approach contrasts sharply of course with ours. Here we hoped that a ministerial-appointed group with limited representation might deal with our access issue within two years! In Ireland, not only have we not even begun the debate, we talk about it as just a “hill walker and tourist issue”. If things remain as they are, farmers needn’t worry about the foreign walkers any more. Except for the odd stray, that crowd will have long since fled, warned off by walking and fishing magazines carrying covers proclaiming; Irlandais Fermé.

That strange species known as hill walkers haven’t really gone away you know. But they didn’t hang around knocking on our door for too long.

Nowadays, they’re strolling around countrysides throughout the world where vibrant, rural communities want and welcome them, such as France, where gates leading into alpine cow pastures carry friendly signs saying “Bonjour”, and remind walkers to close gates carefully, and even suggest that visitors try local cheeses and other products while in the area! All that is a sad, far cry from the sturdy, laminated Fan Amach! signs that dot our countryside. I could guide you to 50 of these at locations around Kerry today or any day.

Monday, February 05, 2007


American pollster Frank Luntz did his second focus-group style exercise for RTE's Week in Politics last night. (follow the link to the show here)

Sure, RTE have thrown a lot of money at it. They brought in their top current affairs lighting cameraman Cecrid Culleton to shoot it in a cool, grainy style, with a constantly moving camera.

But there was way too much going on. Frank Luntz's own introductions and commentaries competed with those of Sean O'Rourke. Luntz tried to work through too many topics (from election-clinching issues to Fine Gael's poster to Brian Cowen's status as putative heir to Bertie Ahern). It gave too little time to give us a chance to really look at Luntz's techniques, or to evaluate them. In addition, the added layer of the three home-grown pundits gave us the unique television phenomenon of having what was already analysed analysed.

Let's fill in a little of the back story here. Political parties have been using focus groups for years as means of ascertaining and identifying the wants, the desires, the gaps, the problems, all the crosses that the long suffering public bear.

So political parties use them as a kind of weather vane. Well, some do, and others learn to rely on them more than their own human and political instincts.

If you read the separate books of two Observer journalists on Tony Blair's New Labour - Andrew Rawnsley's sympathetic 'Servant of the People' and Nick Cohen's scathing 'Pretty Straight Guys' you will get a fair idea how influential focus groups can be. Labour under Blair not only listened to them. Their policies were fashioned, led and tailored by what focus groups were telling them. Focus groups thus inspired policies. Conversely policies were culled because focus groups didn't like them. There's something perverse about a political party being led by the nose on policies. Giving the people want they want, as the legendary American TV news producer Frank Reuben said, is a dope peddler's argument.

And having watched last night's programme, you realised that it wasn't from the wind that Enda Kenny and Michael McDowell got their recent inspirations to big it up on immigration.

There were a couple of aspects to the whole shebang that I found unconvincing. The first is the assumption that political discourse in Ireland doesn't exist unless it's on televison. Terry Prone's otherwise excellent column in this morning's Irish Examiner reinforces this assumption that the election will be won or lost on TV. Of course, television is vital. But there is radio. There are newspapers (people will read and even be influenced by what Terry Prone writes, believe it or not!). And there is the internet, blogs, youtube, bebo etc. Granted, the internet is not the real deal yet as far as Irish electoral poltics are concerned. But it's already a party of the currency in the US - both Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama launched their respective campaigns not on TV and not in the press but on their own web-sites. And it will be catching them bang-to-rights in 2012.

People cricially engage as well as emotionally engage. I do do take Terry Prone's point that TV and radio happen in real time, that there's no space for explaining fancy words or abstract concepts.

And that brings me to the second point. The momentary experience. The group was asked to respond to one - or two at the most - sequence(s) featuring polticians. It was a critique of one television performance, expanded into an unsatisfactory show of hands (based on that clip alone) on the worth and wherewithal of that politician.

I'm sorry, but you don't need a dialometer to telly you that Brian Cowen will bore the backside of you when he starts with Department of Finance Bullshit Bingo (and delivers it with all the enthusiasm of a kid who's been given ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys in confession). And you know that Brendan Howlin is never going to stoke up the masses using pretentious words like interdict.

But the problem, as far as this exercise is concerned, is that both have stood and delivered on many other occasions, with punch and pungency. It's like writing off Dublin's All Ireland chances on the basis of their defeat by Tyrone in Croke Park at the weekend. And why for that matter use a short Dan Boyle sound-byte on the environmental aspects of the Budget delivered on the plinth of Leinster House? Why hone in on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin on health, rather than focusing on the essense of the Sinn Féin message, its stance on the national question? Granted, you have to select what clips you have. Indeed, you have to cut your cloth to suit your measure. But people will ultimately assess parties and personalities in a more complex fashion.

The third niggling feeling I have about focus groups (in general)is this. A disparate group of people are brought together in an artificial setting. Unlike a jury, they never have the time to settle down and get over that initial hump of discomfort and reserve. And often (and as far as I know you could see it here too) the debate is dominated by a couple of individuals. Others, either through reserve or politeness, will tend to row in and agree there and then. But at home later, while standing over the kitchen sink or staring into the fire, they may come to a radically different opinion on an issue or personality. I also think that also explains some of the inbuilt flaws of opinion polls.

Having said all that, it was still an absorbing exercise (as was the first). What Luntz has done is revealed the mysteries of the art to the public, using his own dial technology to make the preferences and prejudices of the groups measurable (and interesting).

Like a self-catalysing enzyme, Luntz himself becomes a player in the process. And with RTE throwing such resources and energy into the programme, it may itself have a measurable influence with the political parties and with voters.

But hold your horses! What Luntz is doing is interesting, eye-opening, important... but ultimately only indicative of trends, of perception, of issues.

As for the latter, there were a couple of bombshells. The first was that not one person in the groupll was a victim of crime (and most said they knew no friend or relatives who were victims). Yet, crime was identified as a huge issue. Why was this? Well, if you look back to the 2002 or 1997 or 1992 or 1989 or 1987 elections, what will you find? The self-same fears and concerns over crime, exactly the same ramping-up of near hysteria by the media (sadly, mostly newspapers) and by politicians. Of course, crime rates are rising and Ireland is a more violent society than it was in the halcyon days of the 1950s. But the perception of fear and or crisis has been cyncially manipulated and exaggerated by politicians and the media.

I must say I was very surprised at the sentiments expressed by some of the group on immigrants. My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that people are instinctively conservative about new arrivals, have an innate suspicion of the unfamiliar. But it's not the job of politicians to pander to those fears or prey on them. And while Enda Kenny protests that he was being brave in his recent 'Celtic and Christian' comments, this suggests that he was being populist.

There was a very definite undercurrent from people that they are tired of the government, that they will begrudge giving FF and the PDs another five years in power. But there was an equal perception that the oppostion isn't up to all that much.

It was also surprising to see how little credit was given to the Government for the strong performance of the economy over the past ten years. I believe that when it comes to make-your-mind up time, people will think primarily about jobs, about future security, about which alternative will best guarantee the continuation of the good times. It's the economy stupid. It always is the economy stupid.

And just as an afterword on the changing nature of politics and of political campaigns, here is a video from the amazing showing how influential YouTube has become in shaping political opinion.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


THERE are some laws of nature that are immutable and predictable.
Gravity. Death. Taxes. Kerry winning All-Irelands.
And then there are some that are not so precise, more theories than universal truth.

One is a version of Newton’s Third Law — for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

It goes something like this: For every over-the-top reaction from Tánaiste Michael McDowell, there’s an equal and opposite downward traction in the opinion polls. In the relatively peaceful period in the run-up to Christmas, he was uncharacteristically quiet (maybe he was still hurting after being put through Bertie Ahern’s truth-mangling machine).

People do like to hear him speak. On occasion, though. There’s only so much voice that mortal human beings can bear. In the past 10 ten days, McDowell has been on an extraordinary crusade to make his voice more omnipresent, more omniscient than the voice that haunts Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984.

He launched his poster. He made some vague threats about detention camps (letting Enda Kenny know who’s the real tough guy around here). He made pronouncements on tougher sentencing (again), anti-gun and anti-gang legislation (again). In 10 ten days, he opened, released, spoke at, launched, presided, keynoted, addressed, appeared, and stopped just short of walking on water.

He’s a fantastic old genie all the same, capable of many things including shinnning up lamp-posts. But the problem is that once he’s out of the damn bottle it's impossible to put him back in again.

And the result of this ever-so-slightly unscientific theory? When you bang the oven door too hard, the souffle tends to collapse. When you heat up the custard too quickly, it tends to curdle. When you are trying too hard as leader of your small political party, your support tends to plummet.

The latest TNS/mrbi poll for The Irish Times has support for the PDs at 1%. To be sure, there’s a 3% margin of error plus or minus. So it’s not all bad news. It’s worse than that. It’s all drastic news verging on disastrous news.

Statistically (well, theoretically) the Progressive Democrats might be at minus two, a delicious thought for its many enemies. And no excuse about being a niche party is going to magic away such a lousy finding. Bluntly, in terms of national reach, there are almost down to ‘Ming the Merciless’ or Abbey of the Holy Cross
Fitzsimons territory.

Let us enter a caveat. Though couched in the language of science, and festooned with mathematically terms that suggest precision, you
always have to remember how crude, how unscientific and how imprecise polls are. No mathematics will get around somebody who lies, or who says something because it's what they think you want to hear or because it's convenient.

I don’t believe the PDs are quite facing meltdown. In fact, with the margin of error, they could actually be at 4%. But all the same it's indisputable that the party has had a very unmerry New Year.

Beside McDowell’s overexposure (and being exposed somewhat on his crime policies), Mary Harney has also had a cruel January. Nowadays, everywhere she turns, another Socrates is telling her the blatantly and pitiably obvious. You were biting off more than you could chew when you took health. You should have known the monster you were taking on. The biggest ships are slowest at turning. What is the moon, what is the stars, Joxer?

Harney has been brave but has been a little like the new boy, the outsider, in The Lord of the Flies. Those who control the conch are the posh ones, the doctors who call themselves “mister”.

Fair dues to the minister — she has been the first to really tackle them head-on. But she has learned to her cost that there are forces in this land (namely rich business people; rich lawyers and rich doctors) more powerful than any Government.

Will the PDs be vaporised because of the weakness of strategy of its two strongest assets? They will certainly struggle and may end up back in 1997 territory(when the party returned four TDs).

Incidentally, the Greens have jumped to eight points (from four) apropos nothing in particular in January. A 100% leap looks a bit iffy to me but I have been writing for months that the Greens will take huge scalps in constituencies where convention doesn’t give them a prayer. Nobody ever predicts the routing and gougings that takes place at every election. Nobody every sees the tsunami coming.

That’s not a theory by the way. It’s an actual law of nature. And its name? The law of the jungle, otherwise known as the General Election.

This is my column from the Irish Examiner, Saturday, February 3.

Friday, February 02, 2007


INSIDE POLITICS - Rabbittes and Hats
Michael McDowell's ubiquity on the airwaves has been challenged of late by Pat Rabbitte. If the Cameroonian Tories want people to hug hoodies, well then the Labour Party here want them to cuddle Rabbittes.
His Labour handlers have convinced him to ditch the Dail cocoon - where he can use fancy words like obsequies and gravamen to his heart's content - to venture into the dangerous uncharted waters of light entertainment and the peril of having to field silly questions.
Has it worked? Erm, the jury is still out. The problem with Pat is this - Rabbitte by name; hedgehog by instinct.

Bertie can blather away consummately about nothing in particular.

Enda can go through his gamut of impersonations from A to B.

Michael can do his weekly residency slot on Pat Kenny.

Trevor can just about escape drowning on Podge and Rodge.

But the problem with Rabbitte is this: He can't do small talk. Oratorially gifted yes, but you see him on Tubridy Tonight and doing the Mad Hatter thing in HotPress and you think of a guy a stratosphere outside his comfort zone.
He comported himself well (that's a real Pat Rabbitte phrase) on Ray Darcy, Today FM's thinking person's Tubridy. Still it all falls short on the loaves and five fishes department i.e. converting the masses to whatever your one true faith.
But parliament, debating, the cliched smoke-filled rooms are no longer where it's at. You have to be out there selling the message. You have to be seen selling the message. And increasingly the message is wrapped into the image. And image and leader have become increasingly indistinguishable.
We're seeing all the leaders gradually desert Leinster House now and hitting the roads and meeting the people. Kenny's first public rally is on Thursday in Cork. We're all bracing ourselves for the Bertie blitzkrieg. Rabbitte will be out meeting the electorate for half the week and Trevor will go so far and as fast as buses and trains will allow him.
There's a perception that Rabbitte has lost ground since becoming leader. And that's something Labour are trying to address with its 'meet the people' campaign. Frank Luntz's latest 'focus group' type exercise on RTE's Week in Politics on Sunday night will tell us a bit more about how that is going for him, and for others.

Respect not adoration is what Rabbitte needs. Electorally, he can't be sold as the guy next door. No magician would have the skill to pull that Rabbitte out of a hat.