Wednesday, May 30, 2007


The Dáil returns on June 14. We will have a Government then, one that you can confidently say will be Fianna Fail led, will also be Bertie Ahern led.

Right now, we are stuck in the political version of a holding pattern over Heathrow Airport. There is some movement but it is circular. The Labour Party parliamentary party is meeting today. The residue of a party once known as the PDs is meeting also.

Fine Gael have been busily selling the line that the FF win wasn't really that much of a FF win and that FG were the real winners, so much so that they might surprise us all and form the next government. To that end, Enda Kenny has met with just about ever entity that isn't FF or SF.

Even if he were to pull it off, and cobble together a government more complicated than the 1948 arrangement, it would be so precarious, so inherently unstable that it would hardly last a year. I think the current FG leadership is playing a longer game. On the one hand it's posturing a little, anticipating any leadership challenge, ensuring that Enda's leadership is a continuity one. The message: he's ready to step into the breech now and at any time as Taoiseach. Secondly, they are planting the notion in people's minds that if a FF-led coalition collapses, then it might not be necessary to go to the country.

Having said that, FF have the chips stacked on their side of the table. For once, I don't think we have to take a Machiavellian reading of Bertie Ahern's intentions. He wants the PDs and the independents first, and then the greens. The problem with the first constellation is question marks over Beverly Flynn €1.5 million debt to RTE. The majority will be wafer-thin - and it would be difficult for the government to last the course. I think the upper echelons of the FF leadership are not too gone on the Greens either - and it goes beyond its concerns about so-called flakey policies to the attacks that the Greens have made on FF's relationship with developers.

If there were an agreement with the Greens it might be more stable.

But looking at the numbers, you suspect that what FF might try for is a wider coalition involving FF, the two PDS, the six Greens, and one or two sympathetic independents.

FF and Labour? I just don't see it. Let's be real about this. Pat Rabbitte ruled it out. If there was wiggle room in what he has said in the past six months, its so infinitesimally small as to be negligent.

Fintan O'Toole's column in the Irish Times yesterday made a cogent argument for this set-up, saying it would guarantee both ten years of Government, could see the successors of Pearse and Connolly ruling the country at the time of the 100th anniversary of 1916. It makes sense for a Brian Cowen led FF. The problem with the thesis is that it's not a Brian Cowen led FF and won't be for at least another two and a half years.

And the Tribunals. It will cause Ahern trouble. Not now. None of his opponents have any appetite to take FF on for a third time over BertieGate. Ahern has already scored two emphatic victories over this. But the patterns in politics often mirror closely the patterns in sport - and yes, sport always provides a vivid dayglo metaphor for the human condition!. In championship fare, you often see teams demolish its opposition for three or four games in a row and then be set up as untouchable or as raging hot favourites. For all that, sometimes in the game that you least expect it, they put in an insipid performance and exit tamely. This might happen here. After the heroic seeing off of his detractors, the Taoiseach might be felled in the end by something small and seemingly insignificant - the piece of straw that will have broken the camel's back .

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Two-way traffic in Leinster House today. A couple of brand new TDs arriving in to get their first viewing of their new home. They were accompanied by their families and all had a happy, brimful of enthusiasm, sense about them.

There was a sadder procession going the other way. I met five or six of those who lost their seats, arriving in the Dail to collect their belongings. They were all putting a brave face on it, being philosophical. But you knew that deep down for each of them, it really hurt. The vast majority of people who are in politics are innately likeable and not to have that likeability validated is a blow for them.

To be sure, it's a cruel game. Losing your seat is horrible, no matter who you are, no matter what you stand for. The reasons they have lost out have little to do with them - they suffer because of a mood-shift or antipathy to their party's policies or whatever - but you know that there is still a powerful feeling of rejection.

Some 30 TDs lost their seats this time round. There are very very few of them about whom you'd say, good riddance.


Well if Shrek III, Spiderman III and Pirates of the Caribbean III are in cinemas now, there's no harm in crucifying the long-suffering public with BertieGate III.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into negotiations for Government, you realise that the danger you thought you had disposed of once and for all is still lurking out there in the deep waters.

Of course, this was foreseen. On the first day proper of the election campaign - amid much FF bleating - the Mahon Tribunal decided to suspend its hearings until May 26.

A common interpretation was this - the problem hadn't gone away; it was lurking in the long grass to pounce at the moment that negotiations for government began.

Early in the campaign, many people thought Fianna Fail would be a good few seats short of its 2002 total and, if it had any chance of government, would need to commence long, difficult, and delicate negotiations. These talks would begin just as the Quarryvale II module opened, containing all those details and questions about his personal finances, the house etc.

So thumping was the FF victory - and so well ventilated was Ahern's political difficulties over his personal finance - that you kind of thought that nothing the Mahon Tribunal could come up with yesterday would add to the picture, or create complications for FF.

But it has. Ahern said that Celia Larkin lodged a sum of £30,000 sterling at an AIB bank on O'Connell Street that day. The Tribunal says that only about £1,900 sterling was bought that day. It has also posited a theory that the amount lodged was the exact equivalent of $45,000 - the chances of that being a coincidence were slim he said. But so far there has been no evidence or documentation produced to show that $45,000 was bought in the bank branch that day. That's why Ahern's lawyer, Conor Maguire argued:

"The was a completely fanciful suggestion made without any supporting evidence and without any allegation to that effect having been made to the tribunal."

Still. The fact that less than two grand sterling was transacted that day will cause the Taoiseach some problems. But not too many. All of the allegations bar that one have been in circulation already.

But having said that, those who will strike a deal with FF may seek assurances from Ahern in relation to that transaction and also, some guarantee that something else is not coming down the tracks.

Fine Gael's statement last night was a work of mischief. Penned by Fergus O'Dowd, it was designed to throw the cat in among the pigeons, to sow the seeds of doubt, and to put pressure on those who will do a deal. Of course, Fine Gael itself has a huge interest in this, as it itself wants to form a government.

But sadly this morning it failed to live up to the courage of its convictions when it was unable to provide a spokesperson for Morning Ireland. If you are issuing statements headed...

Tribunal Contradiction of Taoiseach’s Statement Raises Serious Issues

... then you must be willing to have the spine to back it up publicly, as it is a very serious allegation.

Will it affect the talks and the formation of government? It's hard to say. You wonder do the PDs have any appetite for it, or will the Greens (if they're asked) consider it a deal-breaker.

Certainly, it will create a small element of doubt. But Ahern has categorically denied he made a dollar transaction. It will be a longish time before the Tribunal hears evidence from him, and even longer before it issues its report. Assurances will be sought, I'm sure. And assurances will be given, I'm also sure.

And I'm certain too that any obstacles will be overcome in the short term. But sometime in the mid-distance, you can sense that the storms are brewing.

Monday, May 28, 2007


By the times the polling stations closed at 10.20 last Thursday night, Bertie Ahern was exhausted. This had been his toughest campaign as Fianna Fail leader, physically and psychologically. The first one in 1997 had been hard but he was a younger man and also the challenger. The second in 2002 was hard too but his government was so strong, the opposition so divided that the outcome was predetermined weeks, maybe months beforehand.

This one was different. He always knew he would be going into this one as top weight, handicapped by two terms of office, economic uncertainty, and all the brouhaha surrounding his personal finances and his house.

Election campaigns are always intense but this one was bruising, nasty, divisive and personal – for the first two weeks, the questions surrounding his house were unrelenting and pitiless.

Ahern and those closest to him knew that they turned it, that the critical last ten days of the election campaign had belonged to them. But the effort to pull that off had taken his toll.

Sometime after the last vote was cast Ahern went to bed and fell into a deep sleep. He slept through the RTE exit poll at 7.00 the following morning. He slept through the tallies from the 43 constituencies. He slept through the first counts early in the afternoon, all of which told the same story.

And when he finally woke, sometime after 4pm on Friday afternoon, it was to a radically changed country. The first call he got was from his daughter, Cecilia, at around 5pm. She told him: it’s ok, everything is going well. For him, it must have been a transforming moment.

It’s a fair question to ask: what has radically changed or what has been usurped if everything remains the same, if the status quo is as it was.

But the drama of this election wasn’t that Fianna Fail held on, but the dramatic and emphatic nature of the party’s victory. They defied everything. The odds. The trust of the media punditry, which called it as going right to the wire. The expectations (over-cooked as it turned out) of all the other parties. This was a bigger victory than 1997. It was also a much bigger victory than 2002.

Sure, the numbers didn’t stack up as high this time. Fianna Fail came back with 78 seats rather than 80 but its percentage of support was actually higher. And now, not only was it facing a real alternative in the shape of the Fine Gael and Labour alliance, it also had to face down Sinn Fein – most of its gains in the marginal constituencies of Dublin and Donegal would be made at the expense of FF.

There was a mood out there all right, but it wasn’t – as the opposition parties believed – a mood for change. People were worried. About house prices. About health services. About transport. About public services. About quality of life. About the economic uncertainty that lies ahead. But the mood when it translated into votes plumped for trusting the incumbents more than the pretenders – or as Pat Rabbitte put it, a refusal to switch horse in mid-stream.

This was a fascinating election and one that will take many months to analyse. There were many factors that fed into the victory, some complementary, some harder to explain.

There has been a lot of talk this weekend about the air war and the ground war. The air war was the national campaign fought on the airwaves and in the media – the one in which Bertie Ahern took an awful lot of flak in the first fortnight; the one also that was turned around in the last ten days.

But Fianna Fail won the ground war, and won it hands-down. The party always seems to be ahead of the posse in terms of tactics and strategy. In the late 1990s it began maximising its chances of getting a seat bounce by ruthlessly minimising its number of candidates. This time round, it picked young, hard-working, presentable candidates, paying particular attention to the commuter-belt constituencies that satellite Dublin.

These were the constituencies where FF had taken massive hits in the local elections and in the Kildare North and Meath by-elections in 2005. The problems of these new suburban towns were manifold – marathon commuting times, no school facilities, no public transport, hassle getting childcare; class sizes, no real sense of community. The list went on. During the campaign, we heard of a family holding a birthday party for a child at 6.30am.

And how did these new communities vote? Overwhelmingly for Fianna Fail.
They picked up two in the three-seaters of Meath East (thwarting the high-profile Labour candidate Dominic Hannigan); Kildare South; Meath West; two in Kildare North, Longford Westmeath, and Wicklow; and three out of five in Carlow-Kilkenny.
And they held Dublin. Save for North Central (which was down a seat anyway) and North East.

But the ground war meant more than just candidate-selection. It was the incessant nature of the campaigning – two years of slog and constant canvassing. In the last couple of days of the campaign, Fianna Fail succeeded in dropping close to 1 million leaflets through letterboxes. That was awesome.

The air war had to be won too and it was in the last ten days of the campaign, FF managed to turn it around in its direction. Once Ahern issued his statement that Sunday, Fianna Fail finally managed to put BertieGate behind it. From there on in, it made sure it would not emerge again.

Brian Cowen (who was the real star of the show for FF) came out with an inveterate attack on Enda Kenny’s ‘contract’ the next day. Ahern was in Westminster the following day. By the time Ahern lined up against Kenny for the TV debate, the wind had changed. But as a senior FF strategist said yesterday, the debate became the ‘tipping point’, the moment in which it all swung back towards FF.

Kenny didn’t do badly in the debate and for many, the fact that he survived relatively unscathed was enough. But what Ahern succeeded in was raising real doubts about the alternative’s policies and figures. In a series of claims during the debate, he queried the costing of hospital beds, claimed the FG tax would favour the rich, said that a FG promise of 2,000 extra cops was only 1,000 extra cops. Kenny never departed from his script, was never prepared to go cross country to take Ahern on. And it cost him – because he left those allegations unanswered.

The FF big guns lined up on Friday and Saturday and pounded away with the same rhetorical artillery all weekend. This was an exercise in consolidating the advantage (privately, FF were furious that the media had not called Ahern a more clear-cut winner).

By the time FG (which has far fewer political heavyweights on its front benches than FF and Labour) got its act together – and it required considerable assistance from Pat Rabbitte – it was all over. FF had a lousy last Tuesday of the campaign – but by that stage it was too late.

Another feature that is staggering about this election is that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael do not seem to take each other on directly. Their seats are almost mutually exclusive. In 2002, when Fine Gael almost disappeared, they lost only five of their seats to FF. This time, they displaced Fianna Fail in Cork South Central and Cork South West, Dublin North East and in Roscommon/South Leitrim. The strange thing is FG gained more from Labour (and benefited hugely from its transfers) than FF. And it almost single-handedly wiped out PDs – taking all of its six losses.

Likewise, the real success of Fianna Fail this time round was in staving off the threat posed by Sinn Fein. If SF had succeeded in grabbing seats off FF in Donegal and in the three constituencies north of the Liffey, it might have been down to 74 or 75 seats and the whole dynamic of the election would be changed. And to be sure, while FG recorded a gain in Dublin South West, it was also a victory for FF which maintained its two by targeting the potential support of SF’s Sean Crowe (a strategy employed by Joan Burton with Joe Higgins in Dublin West).

For good measure, it also stole a couple of seats from independents, notably in Cavan-Monaghan, in Kildare North and in Tipperary South.

This became an election that was resolved by almost primal voter considerations. The environment didn’t really feature. Quality of life didn’t really feature. Nor did childcare. And was it a referendum on health? It became a contest of what Michael D Higgins describes as ‘managerialism’.

To me it seems people asked themselves the simple question about who should govern and gave surprisingly cautious, innately conservative answers to those questons. Better the divvil you know. Or the ‘cold feet syndrome’, to employ the words used by another potential David McWilliamesque corny phrase-maker.

Who should govern? When you are a smaller party you are not really in a position to provide an answer to that question.

A very senior FFer told me yesterday that this time round, voters voted for the politics of possibility rather than the politics of protest.

And distilled down, possibility could really express itself in only two configurations. Voters in 2007 asked the same essential question that voters have asked themselves since 1927 – Fianna Fail or Fine Gael?

And the answer to that question emerged in the hours of Bertie Ahern’s deep sleep. He woke to find a changed country, to find that he, the man in the anorak, would lead Fianna Fail into government for a third term.

He didn’t win an overall majority. But psychologically, it was a landslide.

A version of this appeared in this morning's Irish Examiner


It's strange the things you pick up on. But just about the most interesting thing about Bertie Ahern's interview with Gerald Barry on RTE's This Week (listen here )was his admission that he went to sleep after the polls closed on Thursday and didn't wake until 4.20pm the next day, missing exit polls, tallies, first counts, the whole nine yards. He woke up to be told by his daughter Cecilia that PS I won the election.

I wouldn't even compare our lot to that of politicians on the last furlong of a campaign (nothing is at stake after all except their jobs, their political parties and the whole future of the country). But even for us who follow and report, the last month in the run-up to the election was exhausting, and reminded me a lot of the intensity and pressure that surrounded the Leaving Cert.

On the day of the count I was up at 6am to do Newstalk and went to bed at 4.30 the following morning (after doing six hours of radio on RTE). I drove home, had a shower, changed clothes, snoozed on the couch for two hours,, and drove back into RTE again to meet the same people (Sean O'Rourke, Brian Dowling) who were there only three or four hours beforehand.

By tea-time Saturday, I was keeling over. I went to bed at 6.30pm and slept through until 8am Sunday morning.

This was my fourth general election campaign (and the first that I was working as part of a political team). It was easily the most exciting. There were so many moments; so many controversies; so much meat to put between the sandwich.

And unfortunately, because Michael McDowell can no longer be radical, he has no choice but to be redundant. He will be missed, as will Joe Higgins, another of the the Dail's great personalities and speakers. And so will Dan Boyle. I am very friendly with Dan and always had great time for his intelligence and strategic nous. The Green Party will sorely miss him too, especially if it is negotiating for government. I was sorry to see the great battler John Dennehy lose out as well. And Denis O'Donovan in Cork South West. Denis was a busy backbencher and took on a lot of extra work including the Constitutional Committee and the Judge Curtin Inquiry. That work may have cost him his seat.

Because of the geographical roots of my newspaper, I know the Cork and Kerry contingents well and and feel nothing but sympathy for those who have lost out. And Denis must felt hard done by losing out after only one term, having spent so long working to get in. It's a cruel cruel profession, where the atrition or churn rate eace five years is about a third of the 166.

Fianna Fail's victory will be parsed for months. It was more emphatic than 1997 and 2002 because of the very fact that the hurdles were much higher, all of Beecher's Brook difficulties. Here we had a government that was fighting for a third term, and being confronted with a regrouped opposition offering a credible alternative government. It also had to address full-on the serious controversy involving the Taoiseach's finances.

In addition there was threat from the flanks... the Greens and Sinn Fein were both capable of gouging seats from the margin. If the Greeens had won Wicklow, and if SF had taken seats in Dublin North and in Donegal North East, FF could have been left with 74 or 75 seats - and that would have changed the dynamic of the election entirely. In fact, FF took them on in Tallaght. They knew Hayes was coming back. They knew Rabbitte wasn't going to get ousted. So they targeted the one TD everybody thought was safe: Sean Crowe.

One of the things I'm writing about in today's Examiner is that FG and FF seats seem to be almost mutually exclusive. When FG lost heavily in 2002, FF took only five of their seats. Similarly this time around, the only gains FG made of FF were in Cork South West, Cork South Central, Roscommon-South Leitrim and Tipp North.

The other thing I can't understand is Enda Kenny's insistence that it's not all over. The final whistle has been blown. The other crowd have their fingers clasped on the cup. It's time to go home.

Oh yes. I had a corny joke about Fine Gael candidate and sandwich guru Brody Sweeney that I cracked at about 3am on radio but only Michael O'Regan picked up on it and chuckled. We were talking about the failure of the so-called 'celebrity candidates in the election. My comment:

"He mightn't have been much of a success in the polls but I can tell you one thing for sure, he was great on bread and butter issues."

Saturday, May 26, 2007


I was doing radio last night and missed THAT interview given by Bertie to Mark Little on RTE in which he had a right cut at the media, for hounding him over BertieGate.

I heard from colleagues that there was a definitie sarkiness there - with a reference to 'highly paid' journalits (from a very highly paid politician incidentally).

I wrote this morning and have written and spoken before about the disconnect between the media and the public - the people have spoken, so the cliches go, in a language very different from that of the media.

But he shouldn't complain. Ahern sold himself as an unsullied politician, especially coming as he did after the Haughey years, with all the venal graft associatged with it. He keeps on reminding people that he set up the Tribunals. And sure, the way it was leaked into the public domain was very unfair and was indeed designed to damage him.

But irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the leaks, the fact that he had taken a 'dig-out', the fact that there were some strange circumstances surrounding the purchase of his house, raised legitimate questions that went to his credibility as a leader.

Sounds a little high faluting. And a lot of the public don't agree that there should have been that unremitting scrutiny. But they were legitimate concerns nonetheless.

From a journalistic perspective, the stuff about hacks being on high expenses and the implication that they are given riding instructions to go out and shaft him was without foundation.

But there you go. The people spoke. And they spoke against us.


About five six or days into the election campaign, when things looked bad for Fianna Fail and very very bad for Bertie Ahern, I bumped into Brian Cowen after one of his party’s morning briefing.

Things aren’t look good, was my blatantly obvious observation to him.

Cowen immediately responded by evoking the 1994 All Ireland. For people from his home county, it will go down in history as the ‘four minute final’. Offaly were trailing Limerick by five points with only four minutes remaining. In a late blitz, they scored two goals and four points to pull off one of the most memorable – almost unbelievable - reverses of all time.

And this was its political equivalent. The first two weeks of the campaign were a disaster for Ahern and FF, as they struggled – and failed- to put the BertieGate mess behind them. On that Monday, Cowen himself came out fighting with an imperious performance, a bravura demoltion job on Enda Kenny’s contract.

It proved to be the springboard for his party’s last gambit – a two-pronged attack that traded on Ahern’s statesmanship on the one hand and a no-holds-barred attack on what they identified as Fine Gael’s weak point – Enda Kenny’s American-style ‘Contract for a New Ireland’.

That three-day period that began with Ahern’s Westminster speech and culminated in the TV debate on Thursday night between him and Kenny proved to be pivotal.

In the wake of the debate, the media said that Ahern had shaded the debate (though, in defence of the Irish Examiner, we said that Ahern was the conclusive winner). But it wasn’t until the Irish Times opinion poll was published the following Monday that the disconnect between the media and the public became evident. The public had declared Ahern an emphatic winner. It wasn’t just FF sophistry. Joe Public out there agreed that he had dismantled Kenny’s ‘Contract’.

That wasn’t the only disconnect between the media and the public. It seemed that many people out there just didn’t share the media’s preoccupation (a justified one, nonetheless) with his finances. If he had strayed offside, it is clear they were ready to forgive him. The people have spoken – to employ the electoral cliché – and have spoken in a language that is foreign to that of the media.

But did a late blitz really turn around – in the space of two days - a possible FF loss into the party’s most emphatic election since 1977? Whatever, FF clearly consolidated its position after the Ahern victory, and never looked back. While the media was taken aback by the Times poll on Monday, it is clear its own private polls were telling it the party was close to an overall majority. On Vincent Browne’s programme on polling night, pollster Sean Donnelly, who conducts private polls for FF, predicted 76 seats for the party. Donnelly doesn’t exaggerate. FF knew it was going to have a good election.

David Davin Power’s great quotation of an African proverb is the summation of this election: “When elephants fight, the grass gets grampled.”

Everything converged back to the two civil war parties. All the smaller parties have got squeezed, suffered reverses – and in the case of the PDs – are facing extinction in the face. The concentration to the civil war configuration was staggering. Labour made no gains and lost one or two. The Greens were expected to make three gains but instead found four of its six TDs fighting for survival. Sinn Fein bellyflopped – gained zero and lost one seat, that of Sean Crowe in Tallaght. Only three or four independents will return. There will be no Joe Higgins. And as for the PDs, they have been salamandered – with only two TDs likely to return to the 30th Dail.

At the time of writing FF look good for 79 or 80 seats. In the cockpits of Dublin and Cork , it has retained comfortably – only in Bertie Ahern’s Dublin Central (where the vote management was lousy) is it in danger of losing.

It has also been a good election for FG but only in relative terms. It will ensure that Enda Kenny should be given the nod to continue leadership. For Pat Rabbitte and Trevor Sargent, there is much more uncertainty.

For Bertie Ahern, there is no such uncertainty. He has made history, a three-term Taoiseach with the prospect of serving for 15 years – an unprecedented feat for a leader in an age of political obsolescence.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Michael McDowell is gone. A couple of minutes ago he appeared at the RDS to say that it was all over. In a clearly emotional stand-up interview, he said:

"At this point it is very clear that as far as I am concerned my period in public life as a public representative is over."

An extraordinary moment. A sad moment, too. For all his divisiveness, he electrified Irish politics.


The pattern has been clear since this morning. But what's happened is staggering. Staggering. I's 7.30pm and there's tentative talk of an overeall majority for Fianna Fail.

If that happens, it will be its most stunning win since 1977.

Fine Gael has bounced back but its victory can only be a relative one.

Every election - even the boring ones - are bloodbaths.

Some of us thought that FF would edge it. And most observers predicted that the PDs would face wipe-out. But the Green and Sinn Fein getting it in the neck? The squeezing fo the Labour party? And FF hoovering up everything - in Dublin, Cork, everywhere in fact.

Already, so many have fallen. Liz O'Donnell is gone. Joe Higgins is gone. Sean Crowe is gone. Dan Boyle is in real trouble in Cork South Central. Michael McDowell looks like he's going to go too. Paul Gogarty and Ciaran Cuffe are also in danger. Liam Twomey is in real danger too.

Staggering. Staggering.


It's 1.30pm. We only have tallies so far but already the patterns of this election have become clear. I cannot think of a superlative strong enough to explain what has happened. Flabbergasted. Almost GUBU. FFers will now tell us they knew all along. I know, from talking to FFers over the past couple of days, that they DID NOT KNOW ALL ALONG. The people have spoken. Unfortunatley, their language is not necessarily shared by us!

1. Complete total comprehensive FF victory. 2002? It's beginning to sound like 1997. Two out of three seats in Meath East. Two gains in Kildare North. A gain in Sligo. A gain in Cavan Monaghan. Comfortably hold Cork NW. Have comfortably held all their Dublin seats except...

2. Dublin Central. The Fly in the Ointment may be, Bertie Ahern's own constituency. I live in the consituency and I got a mailshot from FF telling me to vote No 1 Ahern, No 2 Brady and No 3 Fitzpatrick. Thought it was only for my area in Arbour Hill but it seems this was sent out throughout the constituency. Effect is that both of his running mates have been wiped. Mary Fitzpatrick should feel especially hard done by... Dublin Central, by extension, looks like it could elect (against everybody's predictions) a Fine Gael TD, Pascal Donoghue.

3. That is the next big pattern. Fine Gael have had a good election and will make gains of something in the order of 15 seats. They have had a good election, but not as good as their main rivals.

4. The return of the civil ward divide has meant serious squeezage and decline for everybody else. Many of Fine Gael's gains will come at the expense of their putatative Rainbow partners - Labour and the Greens - either sitting TDs or prospective gains.

5. Labour have had a poor campaign. At this stage, they don't look like making any gains and will sustain at least one loss, with another three or four of their seats in trouble.

6. There has been no Green tide. None of their three great hopes, Mary White, Deirdre de Burca and Niall O Brolchain will winn seats, according to the tallies. Ciaran Cuffe and John Gormley are bothvery vulnerable.

7. PD. A near wipe-out. Mae Sexton gone. Tim O'Malley gone. Tom Parlon in trouble. Mc Dowelll battling it for the last seat. Noel Grealish a bit safer. Harney battling. Liz O'Donnell gone. Fiona O'Malley gone. All of their new candidates have been squeezed.

8. Sinn Fein. No tide from the greens of another hue. Sean Crowe is in huge danger in Dublin South West. No gains in Dublin North East or Dublin North West. Donegal South West lookign a bit dodgy. Only Padraig MacLochlainn looks like he has a strong chance.


11am: This is incredible. I spoke to a very senior FF person on Wednesday night who advised me to put E100 on FF getting 70+ seats. The odds were generous, giving a five-fold return. But even that FF person - as inner circle as you can get - wasn't giving any guarantted.

Then the pollster Sean Donnelly (who does private polling for FF) appeared on Vincent Browne last night and publicly predicted 76 seats for FF. There is no gain for Donnelly in exaggerating FF fortunes. In fact, if anything, I would say that he's actually play them down.

Since the TV debate last week (see my own blog verdict from immediately afterwards setting out the five reasons Bertie had won) I believed FF had regained the initiative, and thought that they would limp home (predicting some kind of arrangement with the Greens that would depend on independents and would be minority!).

Blair limped home for a third time. But he had Iraq. And BertieGate, whatever it was, wasn't Iraq. It took a long time for FF to put that behind them but in the last week they pummelled FG and Labour with negative campaigning, bluster, biffing, and a couple of porkie pies (the 3%/97% one was the most egregious).

Whatever, it will be an incredible victory. At this moment of time, the PDs look like they are on the verge of extinction. FG will salvage a fair deal of pride. It looks glum for Labour. The Greens and SF will make marginal rises but as RTE David Davin Power said last week:

"When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled."


If RTE's exit poll this morning is accurate, then Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fail have pulled off a Houdini-esque act of political escapology. And our predictions will have been rendered null & void.

In the first week of the campaign, I was chatting to Brian Cowen and he reminded me of the comeback by Offaly hurlers in 1994, when they scored 2-4 on the last four minutes to shock Limerick.

If the figures are accurate (and they were within a point in 2002) it means FF will be in the driving seat. However, the party had a massive seat bounce in 2002 and picked up a lot of transfers - principally because of a divided and fragmented opposition. This time round FG and Labour will do better in enticing transfers.

A vote of 26% for FG will be good but Labour will be deeply deeply disappointed with figures that show it standing still, or even going backwards.

As in 2002, the opinion polls seem to have overstated GP and SF vote. Primary reason for this is that both parties attract a strong vote from younger people and - despite good intentions and campaigns like Rock the Vote - the percentage of this cohort that votes is low. Also SF attracts a stronger vote in blue-collar areas - again the percentage is lower than in middle class and rural areas.

Five More Years! Incredible.

For those who didn't hear RTE, here are the figures:

FF: 41.6% (-)
FG: 26.3% (+4)
Lab: 9.9% (-1)
SF 7.3% (+.8)
GP 4.8% (+1)
PD 2.6% (-1.4)

Thursday, May 24, 2007


The polls are closing in six minutes. We've done a couple of sweeps in the last few days and our predictions have had more climbs and dips than a roller coaster.
My latest prediction is: FF 69 FG 46 Lab 22 SF 10 GP 9 PD 3 Other 7.

Any improvements on this inspired guesswork? Or, better still, is anyone brave enough to predict high profile candidates who are going to take the chop?


Just approaching 4.30pm. The early indications are that turnout will be higher than the 62% in 2002.

In fact for the previous two decades, turnout had been on a slow slide - from between 72-73% in the early 1980s, to 68% in 1989 and 1992, to 66% in 1997.

Some think that the lower turnout may be partly attributable to the mess that was the electoral register.

No matter. The turnout today will be higher than 2002, flawed electoral register or not.

What does that tell us? Not too much really other than people are very engaged with this election - more so than the walkover of 2002, when it was all over by election day. If you are inclined to think it's good for the opposition, just think of Sarkozy retaining the Elysee Palace this year (with a turnout of 80%) or John Major retaining in 1992 with a record turnout, or of Bill Clinton winning his second term on a higher turnout than the first.

The polls are saying it. We have been saying it. It's going to be really close. We'll get our first indication with the exit polls tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Parties did little today. Only two official press briefings. All the politicians returned to their own constituencies.

Red C and the Sunday Business Post published an eve of election poll, which was sampled on Monday and Tuesday. It's up on the Red C website.

Shows that FF have risen since their poll on Sunday (but aren't as high here as they were in the TNS mrbi poll). Labour and Fine Gael - and the PDs - will all take some positives from it. It's where many commentators and observers sense the parties are at. On this basis, the outcome will go down to the wire...

There are two intriguing findings. One shows that people, when asked, now think the FF-PD combination is a marginally better one; reversing the situation on May 13.

More interesting is the finding that shows that the uppage in Fianna Fail's support coincided almost exactly with the fall in the number of undecideds. It seems that most of those who were undecided have decided in the past week (Westminster? The TV debate? Continuity? Doubt abut the wherewithal of the others?) to throw in their lot with the Bertie Bunch.

The Greens might also be worried by a little dip. Equally the PDs will take a crumb of comfort that they have crept up by a point.

John Gormley issued a statement last night saying that the last seat in Dublin South East was going to be a fight between him and Michael McDowell. Last minute shivers down the spine or is this constituency going to surprise us again.

I've got it in the neck all week for predicting that FF won't take a seat on The Week in Politics last Sunday. Maybe I concentrated too much on the failure of both the FF candidates to win council seats. I met Eoin Ryan in the Leinster House car park and he tackled me over it - saying that you can't argue against 1.2 quotes.

"There's always a FF seat in Dublin South East"

A mature recollection moment for me? Possibly. Sure, we are all fallible!

Here is the State of parties: (compared to last Sunday)

Fianna Fail 38 (+2)
Fine Gael 26 (-1_
Labour 11 (-)
Sinn Fein 9 (-1)
Greens 6 (-2)
PD 3 (+1)
Others 7 (+1)


The flux of this election campaign has been unprecedented. What the opinion polls tell us – and not with any great accuracy – is not to write anyone off. Not Fianna Fail when they’re down at 34%. Not Fine Gael or Labour when they’ve ebbed from a high tide of 31% and 13% to a less impressive 28% and 10%. Not the Greens, who dipped. Not Sinn Fein despite Gerry Adams loose grasp of Southern economics. Not even the PDs. Especially not the PDs. Remember last time.

With just 24 hours of a 15-day election campaign to go, the country is still on an uncertain course. Five years ago, the race was over and the only imponderable was if Fianna Fail could pull off an overall majority for the first time since 1977. Now, nobody can call it with any certainty. To be sure, the momentum has trended towards FF for the past week – but the main opposition parties are adamant that the last poll wasn’t truly reflective of the mood out there.

The thematic battlegrounds of the election wasn’t as complicated and layered as we thought. For the first fortnight, it was dominated by the questions surrounding Bertie Ahern’s finances. That went to his credibility. Following his statement, Brian Cowen pumped up the volume with an attack on Fine Gael’s contract ‘con job’ last Monday week. But it didn’t sustain. FF’s was running the same campaign as it had in 2002 – but everything they turned their hands to seemed to spontaneously combust before their eyes.

In contrast, both Fine Gael and Labour were running clever campaigns. FG concentrated on Enda Kenny whistlestopping his way through the country. Labour relied on clever targeted messages, using Pat Rabbitte’s force of character to drive the message home in a punchy and quip-laden manner.

The slow turn started for Ahern in Westminster with a superb speech and the build-up to the TV debate on Thursday. What distinguished the 2007 showdown from the 2002 version was that it happened much earlier – with a full week to go – and the contest was much more finely-poised.

It was to prove to be a critical encounter. If the media view was that Ahern shaded it, it seems the public didn’t share it, plumping much more for the FF leader. Be they true or not, he had succeeded in getting some of his assertions outs there – on the veracity of FG’s claims on 2,000 extra cops; his claim that their tax policies favoured the top 3% of earners; and his jibes about their plans for 2,300 more beds. He planted a seed of doubt that went to the question of Kenny’s competence and wherewithal.

And FF followed up by using the basketball ploy of a full-court press, hammering home the points. It was only when the startling results of the last opinion poll appeared on Monday that the opposition parties came out fighting, screaming that the FF claims on tax were “lies”. It descended into a slanging match between Cowen and Rabbitte on Questions and Answers, that was so slapstick and vaudeville it could have come straight from a bout of the ‘World Wresting Federation’.

Yesterday was the last real day of engagement before today’s broadcast moratorium. The parties had their own message to sell. But the day was dominated by an amazing FF gaffe. After pounding away at the opposition for three days, FF was knocked out by a self-inflicted haymaker yesterday.

The carefully co-ordinated message for the press confererence were washed away in the rapids. And then the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern went onto RTE’s Six-One News and found a very different Bryan Dobson than the one he had encountered last autumn.

Dobson gave him a grilling. He back-footed Ahern on a 10 year promise to provide facilities for cystic fibrosis sufferers. It was in the famous €2.4 billion envelope for capital health projects, he said. But not specified. But he had written them a letter in his own hand, he pleaded. Not good enough.

Similarly, he was going backwards on that FF ad that claimed the only 3% of tax payers would benefit from FG and Labour tax cuts. That was semantics and shifting sands at its worst. Dobson forced him to admit that 100% of tax payers would benefit from the Mullingar Accord’s two per cent cut in the standard rate. Case closed.

Fianna Fail had a brilliant Monday. The alternative had a strong day yesterday. Has any of this swayed voters. We will find out tomorrow.

Part of the above appeared in this morning's Irish Examiner.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Monumental cock-ups don't much bigger than Fianna Fail's today and last night. There hasn't been such a massive gaffe since, well, Jim O'Keeffe made his first (and last) appearance at a FG press briefing.

This sad tale for FF began on RTE's Q and A last night.

During a row over the Government's colocation proposal Rabbitte said:

"Nor can (the Government) tell us even up to tonight how much will the tax breaks cost when when tax is foregone."

Cowen had not given this figure before.

His opening marks were singularly unfortunate:

"The FOI stuff that you are getting are out of date unfortunately like Jim O’Keeffe’s figures."

I'll come back to them in a sec.

He then went onto say.

"In relation to the question about the relocation, the fact is that gross it’s about 70m a year for seven years and net of buoyancy after that it’s about E40 million."

His difficulty was this: The figure he gave out was wrong.

And it was obvious today that none of the three senior ministers at the FF conference had seen Cowen the night before. They kept on quoting the E40m net figure and were completely snookered when pressed by the media on the discrepancy between this figure and that put out by Cowen the night before.

Eventually a note was passed up but the Ministers were unable to decipher it to the satisfaction of the press corps.

And then Colin Hunt, Cowen's special adviser, intervened to explain the figures. He accepted that Cowen had been incorrect to state E70m the night before. Hunt explained.

“He said 70m and he said 40m net; it should have been 57m and 40m net.”

The three FF Ministers were - as they say in Dublin - 'scarlah with embarrasment'.

Oops. What a blunder! It made Cowen look like a bit of a dolt too. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword. He was the guy who had led the charge against FG and Enda's contract.

On Q and A the previous night, not 30 seconds earlier Cowen had been scoffing at Jim O'Keeffe whose blunder at a FG press briefing on crime had backfooted Enda Kenny during his TV showdown with Bertie Ahern.

Now, Cowen himself obviously didn't have the right document to hand.

Bertie had to admit on Six-One News - where, boy, did Bryan Dobson give him a grilling - that:

"He said the wrong figure"

The opposition parties sniffed revenge and clearly took great pleasure in its moment of payback time.

For here was the man who berated Jim O'Keeffe having his own Jim O'Keeffe moment. And here was the party which condemned Fine Gael for using unelected advisers rather than politicians to run its press briefings now having to have three of its most senior ministers baled out by an, erm, unelected adviser.

Hubris, anyone?


The following is from this morning's Irish Examiner. I travelled down there yesterday, to see how Bertie Ahern reacted to the opinion poll....

(Incidentally, we have a very good Election 2007 section on our website that includes profiles of all the constituencies, which you will find here.

The text that beep-beeped was from a Fianna Fail handler. It speculated on what tone Bertie Ahern might strike when asked about his reaction to THAT opinion poll in is only interview of the day in Sligo.

“I bet you he will do sackcloth and ashes today,” it read.

And that’s what the lips did. They underplayed it, toned it down and said lots of sensible things like: The few day ahead are crucial. I think we have been working harder. The only poll that matters is the one on Thursday.

But the lips were completely out of synch with the body. What the body did was a staggering sight to behold, a complete betrayal of the sobriety of the lips.
The body moved through Sligo town so fast that it left a vapour trail behind it. The two candidates for Sligo-Leitrim – Dr Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon - had to trot to keep up with him for the doughnut shots for the papers.

Like a contestant in demented supermarket derby, he whooshed through Tesco, whizzed through Penneys, before sprinting through a car park, and through the underwear and children’s department of Next. Countless hands were shaken during micro-second encounters. The pace never relented.

It wasn’t just that Bertie Ahern had found the pep in his step. He was more than buoyant. His body language shouted: levitation (though high speed levitation if that’s possible). Nobody would have raised an eyebrow if he walked up and down on the surface of the River Garavogue that tumbles through the heart of Sligo.

On Sunday, Bertie Ahern cavilled with Gerald Barry when it was put to him the first three weeks of the campaign were insipid. But they were. And journalists who have coat-tailed Bertie Ahern this time have agreed.

And when this transformation happened, the pinpointed it to Cork on Friday night and Saturday. Up until then the crowds had been smaller and the tempo too low. But they came out in droves and greeted him with a messianic fervour. No matter that it was FF apparatchiks that were leading the chorus of ‘five more years’ (like Enda Kenny’s contract, this is another concept borrowed from US elections). The thing was that something had changed and Fianna Fail had succeeded in dramatically reversing their uncertain and grim course.

There will be endless debates about the accuracy of opinion polls. But it doesn’t matter. They create their own momentum. And the effect of this one is obvious. It’s like a team arriving out for the second half to discover that a gale has blown up behind them and half the opposition have been red-carded. Suddenly after weeks of trending to FG and Labour, they now find themselves back-footed and having to work hard to retrieve the situation.

Though he was a little coy about it, there was no doubt he though the ‘Bertie Bounce’ came from the TV debate and, to a lesser extent, his good day in Westminster.

“People were telling me what the experts were saying in the studio (after the debate) and what the people were saying. It was very different.

“It’s about the issues. These things are not beauty contests or personality contests. It’s about the issues. It’s about how we take the country forward over the next five years. Over the last eight or nine days, the real debate has taken place.”

Ahern and those around him clearly believe that their strategy of punching holes in Enda Kenny’s Contract for a Better Ireland. Yesterday, the heavyweights came out for a slugging contest. Brian Cowen versus Eamon Gilmore; and Pat Rabbitte against Ahern.
Rabbitte charged that the biggest lie of the campaign was FF’s claim that the Mullingar Accord’s tax policies would favour the top 3% of earners.

There was a stridency, a self-confidence to Ahern’s response that was lacking a week ago.

“He’s wrong and we produced the figures four weeks ago. Amazingly, it took Pat Rabbitte until the last Monday of the campaign to make a comment because he knew he was getting away with it.”

“I’ll put it straight back to him. Is it not true that under his policies, somebody on 45,000 a year would pay the same PRSI as somebody on E450,000. That’s true. That’s the answer.”

But it wasn’t the full answer. No sir, not a hope. Twelve days ago this was the man who gave us six second of silence. Now he was on a roll. Next came the bit if, em, gloating about Rabbitte.

“The fact is. I know he’s embarrassed. I know he’s upset that Labour got tied in with policies associated with Fine Gael.

“Since he mentioned it, the policies are progressively are anti the taxpayers who are paying low and middle income because of the PRSI figure.

“If he disassociates himself from Fine Gael policies then perhaps he will let us know what his policies are.”

As you listened to him an old saw of Mark Twain’s about rumours of death and exaggeration came to mind.

Not only was Ahern’s election very much still alive. It was walking on water.


Well, Fianna Fail had their Jim O'Keeffe moment today.

The week before last O'Keeffe conceded at a Fine Gael conference that crime figures had not doubled between 1995, as claimed by his party, but had stayed the same. He then tried to distinguish between low-level headline crimes like bicycle theft and serious crimes like rape, murder and serious assualt, which he said had increased.

But the damage was done. And it was compounded when in the course of the TV debate Enda Kenny said O'Keeffe - his party's justice spokesman - had not been in possession of the correct statistics. It was a bad moment.

Since then, the FF big swatters have swung into action, especially Mr Brawny from Offaly. They've slid in hard on the 2,000 extra cops claim, the 2,300 beds and the allegation that FG and Labour's tax proposals would benefit the top 3% of earners.

No matter if the claims are true or not. The name of the game is to get them out there, to sow seeds of doubts about the ability and competence of Enda, his party and its partner. Did Enda ride all those tackles as well as he could? It seems the public didn't think so. And FG and Labour took too long to counter-attack and do it with the ferocity of the FF push against them since last Thursday.

It was only in the wake of yesterday's poll that they came out fighting. Rabbitte and Richard Bruton called the FF 3% tax claim a blatant lie. But was it all a little too late.

And then just as Fianna Fail was getting into a hubris frame of mind and patting itself in the back for punching holes in opposition policies, it went one step too far and punched a massive hole in one of its own policies.

The three Fianna Fail ministers at the top table today - Dermot Ahern, Mary Hanafin, and Seamus Brennan - opened their mouths just long enough to take one foot out and put the other foot in.

The context was this. Last night on Question and Answers Brian Cowen had finally come up with a figure, telling how much co-location would cost the taxpayer. €70 million per year over seven years was his response.

Then this morning, Brennan and Hanafin said it would cost €40 million between now and 2011. When asked to clarify this, total confusion reigned. Seamus started to talk about it being difficult to pin down the cost on tax breaks. When pressed further, a note was passed up from the sides.

And finally, Colin Hunt, the FF economic guru, had to step in from the wings to explain it all. Not everybody in the press corps were sure who he was. But he explained that the project would cost E47 million per year but the net cost would be E40 million. He also said that Cowen had referred last night to E40 million being the net cost.

There were a couple of snide remarks from journalists asking if Mr Cowen had had the right statistics to hand last night.

And predictably FG and Labour quickly went to town on it, with the usual barrage of verbal heavy artillery.

We're less than 48 hours away now. Tomorrow is a broadcast moratorium day. Embarrassing as it was for the Government, did it come a little bit too late.

Monday, May 21, 2007


12.30pm Sligo Town. A couple of minutes ago Bertie Ahern rumbled through the main town of the northwest like a hurricane. For the first time, his entourage had to trot to keep up with him - with 120 people following him around, it didn't as much resemble a walkabout as a huge flock of starlings in a coordinated hurry somewhere.

Ahern has got a pep back in his step that's for sure. As expected, with words he played down this morning's findings of the Irish Times opinion poll, saying the only

It will come as a body blow for FG and Labour. Both have ran very good campaigns, stole all the thunder from FF, seized all the initiative, and also looked like clutching the main prize. Enda Kenny has amazed us. Sure, he struggled a bit with Bertie Ahern last Thursday but never to the extent of five per cent. Rabbitte has been a revelation when he's stressing the positives - on less steady ground when he's been carping or pompous. The hullabaloo about the Paris Hilton reference was much ado about nothing.

Riddle me this, as they say down the country. If FF got a Bertie Bounce from Ahern's victory on Thursday night, how did Labour lose three points when it was their leader who was the clear winner of the undercard? Bizarre.

Well, not really. Dublin is always the cockpit. And if FF is doing well in Dublin, it's inevitably going to come at the expense of Labour and SF, its biggest rivals in the city. FG and FF votes are not so interchangeable in Dublin - surprising really, given the close proximity of the parties' policies to each other's.

When pressed, Ahern gave some attribution to Westminster, some to the TV debate, some to his claim that the contract of the opposition has been 'found out' or exposed.

And for what it's worth, here the piece I filed for the Irish Examiner this morning.

The consistent narrative of this election for the first three weeks was of Fianna Fail going south, of Bertie losing his touch, of Enda and Pat having a wind behind them that seemed to intensify by an extra point on the Beaufort Scale each day.

The final weekend before polling day is always a critical weekend. No matter what the polls have been saying, whatever side they are trending to at this point will usually have the momentum in the last couple of days of the campaign.

Until 9pm last night, there was some slight evidence that Fianna Fail was staging a small recovery. The party had clawed back a point or two in support in yesterday’s Red C and Millward Brown polls. Nothing for the alternative of Fine Gael and Labour to get too worried about: their support was holding steady.

But when the details of this morning TNS mrbi poll for the Irish Times were disclosed last night, they were staggering enough to be almost GUBU.
Fianna Fail had rocketed by five points to 41% - the same level of support that almost got it an overall majority in 2002. Fine Gael had slipped by one to 27% and Labour support levels had fallen to 10% - a three point drop.

The momentum that the Rainbow had for the last three weeks seemed to be disappearing in the dying days of the campaign.

And with FF, were we seeing the first nosedive in history that actually gained altitude.

On April 27, two days before the election was called, the same newspaper put FF support at a lowly 34 per cent, with FG breathing down their necks at 31% and Labour at 10%. Then ten days ago, it showed a slight elevation for FF to 36%, but the combined strength of the alternative was still at 41% (FG at 28 and Lab at 13).

And it happens at the crucial weekend, allowing FF to seize the initiative and carry that momentum into the polls. Suddenly, the horse that looked like a beaten docket has worked its way up from the back of the field.

You don’t have to go too far to find the reason for this late surge. This poll is the first which did all its field work after the TV showdown between Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny on Thursday night. There was an audience of almost a million people for this encounter and the perception was that Ahern won it – hands down, according to FF strategists, by a couple of whiskers, according to other.

But whatever the verdict, he did succeed in one aim – to sow a seed of doubt about the wherewithal of some of the opposition’s promises. The line was put out there (be it true or not) that the alternative’s tax proposals would favour the richest 3%. He also punched some holes into the promises for 2,000 extra guards and for 2,300 extra hospital beds. Did his arguments stand up to scrutiny? It didn’t matter. Kenny did not counterpunch fluidly enough.

But could it all boil down to this one encounter? Possibly. But the extraordinary see-sawing of results (FF going from 34 to 41 and FG going the other way) will again place into question the reliability of opinion polls. They play a major influence in the campaign – there’s no question about that – but we all rely on their accuracy almost unquestionably.

Yesterday the potential Taoisigh held morale-boosting rallies in the centre of Dublin, to give a verbal tonic to the troops for the last few days. Ahern was much more animated this weekend. Yesterday he rejected RTE’s Gerald Barry’s suggestion that the FF campaign was insipid for the first three weeks. But it was. Expect a spring and verve to Ahern today on his whizz through the north-west.

When the figures are stacked up they still show both alternatives level on 43% (the Greens are on six points; the PDs on two). Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte will join forces in Dublin this morning for a last-push press conference. It will still be a cliff-hanger but the pendulum has swung over slightly to the FF side.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I texted a friend of mine who works for one of the opposition parties.

"Totally grim" was his terse response.

That sums up the poll. 41% for Fianna Fail is... well let's think... something along the lines of hurtling to earth after your parachute doesn't open. And then when all looks doomed, you fall into a massive hay stack.

FFers were jubilant last night. They pointed out that TNS mrbi adjust for overstated support for FF. They think the election is now in the bag - that the party will coast home...

But not so quick. The findings could be aberrant or rogue - it goes against the SB Post and Sunday Indo polls from the previous day. Granted, neither of those fully capture the TV showdown on Thursday. But surely, that in itself couldn't account for a five per cent jump. If people felt sorry for Bertie or if it reflected his Westminster speech on Tuesday, that would have been picked up in the Sunday polls.

It's curious. It has stunned everybody. Gerald Barry on This Week described the FF campaign as insipid for the first few weeks. How right he was, though Bertie quibbled with him over it. But since Thursday (and what he himself saw as him wiping the floor with Enda Kenny) Ahern has been a Born-Again Anorak, with a newly-found spring in the step.

I'm accompanying his canvass to Sligo tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how much he plays it up or down.


Amazing footage of the equally amazing Johnny Brady from Meath West - the heckler of the year by the way - giving the warm-up speech to introduce Thomas Byrne, FF candidate in the neighbouring constituency of Meath East.

Up the yard with ye Johnny boy! It's vintage stuff - they just don't make them like they used to. Thanks to the staggeringly prolific Damian Mulley for this.

The full video of this event can been seen on the FF candidates Thomas Byrne's own blog on Blogger.

Speaking of which, Meath East seems to be the place for political bloggers. Dominic Hannigan has a well-publicised one. They say the best though is that of the independent candidate AJ Cahill.

Here is a small sample of his most recent posting:

"Meath Muppet Show - Enough is Enough

I received a lot of positive comments about my manifesto, but also a bit of stick that it was too long. You can't win !. I have also had some comments I was being a little too hard on the opposition particularly the Labour candidate Clr Dominic Hannigan - Oh no I was not, but anyway this video is to help to balance things out a little.

There's a lot of things I believe in passionately in my manifesto but one thing that maybe didn't come across immediately was why I had actually put myself forward for election and what exactly Enough is Enough meant.

My main reason for running is to call for community facilities as a balance to builders profits. I believe the whole system, particularly at local level is anti-citizen and fundamentally flawed and corrupt. There is no other way so many of the people supposedly running our county and country can be so stupid, arrogant or neglectful of the people who entrusted them with power."

Saturday, May 19, 2007


I'm sorry. I know this is really juvenile. But I just couldn't resist putting up this doctored image of Brian Cowen. It comes from the always good for a laugh Green Ink and of course refers back to the HotPress interview with Cowen, in which he recalled being handed joints in the bar in UCD. And yes, he did inhale!

Good vibes, mon! Relaxxxxxx...The economy is in good hands.


Modern politics is like high street garments. They are designed for obsolescence. Like a Kate Moss cutaway dress or a practical blue Anorak, you’ll get a couple of good years out of them if your are lucky and then they are chucked.

But ten years? Or fifteen years? That’s an eternity.
The evidence is self-evident. In Europe over the past few years, we have seen a rake of two-term and three-term leaders getting the flick from the electorate or their colleagues.

José María Aznar retired after nine years in Spain. Silvio Berlusconi got the guts of a decade in Italy before getting the heave-ho. Gerhard Schroeder had eight years in Germany before . The messianic Jacques Chirac got the heave-ho (even though he managed to last 12). And even Bertie Ahern’s closest foreign ally, Tony Blair – the man whose career has mirrored his own in lots of ways – was given no more than a decade before he got the order of the boot.

A year or more ago, when Ahern began to creep into the record books for running second only to de Valera in terms of longevity, there was an assumption that, like Mr Tony, he would get his third term and his shot at 15 years. Like Mr Tony, election number three wasn’t going to come as easily as election number two but he was still going to limp home. It was a very neat assumption and had a nice symmetry to it. Problem was that it was wrong.

I went out earlier this week to see the various parties canvass. And what struck me was that it was like 2002 all over again except that all the hype and goodwill was now following Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte and not Ahern. We all know that Kenny can shake more hands in an instant than a packed church offering the sign of peace. But the reaction to Rabbitte was more interesting. He is diffident and a bit wooden on the stump with none of the ‘howya horse’ gregariousness of Kenny. But people were actually seeking him out, shaking his hand, wanting to talk to him. And during the course of the day, I heard a phrase that will fall on Fianna Fail ears like poison:

“Maybe it’s time for a change”.

And that’s what may fell this Government in the end. Not the health services. Not BertieGate. Not the record on crime. Or eduation. Or health. Or decentralisation. Or e-voting. But for a far more visceral reasons - because they have been there too long and there’s a need for change.

The Anorak has been there for a long time and has given some service. But it’s beginning to let in the rain. And would it be much better to plump for brightly-coloured Mr Goretex - newer, more modern, and much more lightweight.

With the exception of Richard Bruton and one or two others, the Fine Gael front bench isn’t exactly rippling with top talent. Its promises, for all its hard sell, doesn’t amount to that much. Enda’s contract with the people is just a political promise dressed up in another way. Sure he’ll not seek the office of Taoiseach again if he doesn’t fulfil it. But who’ll be the judge of that? Himself, ultimately. I’m sure there will be many mitigation factors to be found if those 2,300 beds are not built or the 2,000 cops (or is it only 1,000) aren’t pounding the beat. That’s what politicians do. They make promises. They break them. They explain them away by talking about new priorities and review.

I must say that I have huge problems with FG’s policies on crime which are Pavlovian, knee-jerk, cynical, hysterical, scaremongering and populist. (And neither FF, the PDs or Labour do much better sadly). Boot camps. Drunk tanks. Electronic tagging. Tougher remission laws. Sounds real tough. All I can say is thank goodness for our constitution. And thank goodness some of the more lunatic ones will never see the light of day.

Having said that, Fine Gael’s revival has been stunning. From a hair’s breadth away from extinction in 2002, it is now but a hair’s breadth away from government. And their recovery has borrowed heavily from the triangulation techniques perfected by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (where else have they featured this week). So, well have they positioned themselves that the choice offered to the electorate is a simple one between the Bertie Ahern of Fianna Fail and the Bertie Ahern of Fine Gael.

The policy choices, the implementation, won’t change that much despite all the promises. Because many of the difficulties in health, crime, education, infrastructure and all the other things in the mix are long-term, complicated, multi-faceted and subject to drawn-out procedures. But they promise they can do it differently. That’s the rub.

Consider this stale but relevant cliché. Governments lose elections, Oppositions don't win them. The Fianna Fail campaign has been shockingly fragmented, incoherent and all at sea. Last Monday, Brian Cowen came out fighting with a full-frontal attack on the Mullingar Accord’s spending plans. But they couldn’t sustain it, even for 24 hours. It would take a further two days for the party to seize the initiative and that was with the showdown between the two leaders on PrimeTime. Ahern looked tired but for the first time we saw a hunger and desire there after two and half weeks of being on the back foot and being out of sorts.

But victories in TV debates are not decisive and determinate. Fianna Fail and the PDs had already leaked gallons of support to the alternative. On second viewing, my own view that Ahern was the clear winner of the TV debate was reinforced. But by surviving almost unscathed Kenny also won big. He can now say that he wasn’t the corporal who by some outrageous stroke of fortune became a lucky General.

It’s going to be very tight, knife-edge close. The key electorate, the floating voters, are wavering about if 10 years is long enough, or whether there’s another couple of years wear left in the anorak.

Friday, May 18, 2007


This has been my first election covering every blade of grass that moves. In the past I was either a feature writer with newspaper or a reporter with RTE and the stuff you did was far more singular. In 1992, I was with the Sunday Press and assigned to Dick Spring and reported from Tralee on the night of the Spring Tide. In 1997, I was with Morning Ireland and I ended up doing lots of vox pops and featurey stuff - I was assigned to Castlebar for the actual count itself.

I wasn't the world's best radio reporter. On my first ever night with Morning Ireland, in 1996 I was dispatched out to Dublin West to do a doorstep interview with then Taoiseach John Bruton who was canvassing with Tom Morrissey (then Fine Gael, now PDs) for a by-election. My instructions were to quiz Bruton about the North and to ignore the by-election. The peace process was going through a particularly sensitive period at the time (what was new!).

In my hand was a Sony professional tape recorder that I had been handed for the first time that day. I didn't have a clue how to operate it, or what to do with the microphone, or even how to phrase the questions.

Bruton was very happy to see me until he learned that I didn't want to know about the positives we could all take from Tom Morrissey's canvass but only wanted to talk to him about the North. He was beside himself when he found out that I wasn't even going to speak to Morrissey.

Finally, he agreed to do the interview but under protest. My questions were woeful - I was not well enough briefed on the situation or its nuances. Bruton ,answered in a barely audible voice that made his rage seem fiercer than if he was roaring at me. To make matters worse, I had forgotten to turn up the recording level so it hardly picked up his voice. It could never be broadcast.

It was a disaster. One of this people rang in to complain about being ambushed and about my stupid questions (which they were). The whole thing was scrapped. Another editor asked me a little later how I had found it.

I said it was like being thrown into the deep end.

He gave a great reply: "In this business, there is no such thing as a shallow end."

Let's move on...

I hated that damn Sony Professional. If you hit the pause buttons the recording lights would still stay on and it would look like you were capturing it all. The following year, I was assinged to do the count in Mayo, where two three-seat constituencies were being rolled into one five-seater - somebody was going to lose out.

It was Beverly Flynn's first general election (after losing the by-election in '94 to Michael Ring). On the night in Castlebar, her proud father, Pee Flynn, consented to give RTE an interview. I recorded it. It was fine. But then I realised the 'pause' button had been on. So I had to back to him, apologise sycophantically, and persuade him to do it again. He wasn't very happy about it, and put an imperious pus on him.

Let's move on...

To 2002 and my memories are again mostly of Mayo, hurtling around the back roads with the unsupressable Michael Ring; spending a fruitless day searching for Beverly and coming across her father who gave me a short interview through the window of my car, in his full-volume muinteoir's voice. The other memory was the difference between the zippy whizzy Bertie dash and the sad turgid barren spectacle that was the so-called Baldy Bus.

This time, it's from beginning to end, a marathon rather than a sprint. I wont' drag on for too long because I'm tired and in danger of becoming very boring. But what has astonished me is how manufactured so much of it is - false rows, publicity stunts, rehashing and repackaging of old policies. If it wasn't for BertieGate we would have been gagging for air at this stage. Only occasionally has it sparked into life - Vincent Browne's masterful interview with Bertie; when Cowen began drumming on about the economy last Monday; the Ranelagh Rumble and the TV debates.

Before it all started, I though that 25 days wasn't particularly long. But it is. When they are not doing daily things, parties run out of things to say to ideas to hype. And they repeat. Or try to create artificial rows. Or do cheap publicity stunts (all guilty of this; but FG have become the specialists).

It's made but so much of the engagement is about costings and about management; so little about ideas and philosophies.


It’s staggering how often a hugely hyped and over-anticipated event like the World Cup Final has turned into a tense defensive battle.

And in a way so it was in the head-to-head between the two potential Taoisigh of the country, Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny last night. Presenter Miriam O’Callaghan described it as the “climax” of the election campaign but you felt that perhaps the denouement will not come until next weekend.

Nevertheless, it was intriguing, somewhat bruising, and told us a lot about the two leaders. It might have lacked the venom and sound-bytes of the previous night, but there was far more engagement on issues with both scoring heavily on key issues.

If there was a winner it was Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who had the edge when it came to challenging Mr Kenny on his health costings, his tax proposals, as well as getting Mr Kenny to admit that his justice spokesman Jim O’Keeffe did not have the correct information at his disposal last week.

The biggest stumbler Mr Ahern faced was when Miriam O’Callaghan prefaced the next section with a reminder that the Government was in power for ten years, had record resources at its disposal but hadn’t delivered on the particular area, be it health, crime or education. On a couple of occasions, he found himself in the uncomfortable territory of admitting that promises had not been achieved.

Mr Kenny showed he has travelled a massive distance in terms of dealing with intensive and detailed debates of this manner. Like Mr Ahern, he relaxed quickly, recovered from any gaffes or admissions, and was assertive without being aggressive.

While acquitting himself well, he found himself very much on the back foot on a few occasions when it came to explaining the details of his promises.

He found himself in difficulties explaining how promises in his contract would be realised – the 2,300 extra hospital beds; the medical cards for under fives in particular. Impossible, said Mr Ahern for both, an argument Mr Kenny never fully managed to nail down. Mr Kenny also never address Mr Ahern’s assertion that FG’s tax policies would most benefit the richest 3%.

His worst moments, surprisingly, came on crime. When it was put to him that his justice spokesman Jim O’Keeffe had admitted there was no increase in crime rate, Mr Kenny had to essentially dress Mr O’Keeffe down on air, with an excuse that Mr O’Keefe did not have the statistics to hand. No matter how he phrased it, it was always going to look bad.

And the Taoiseach also scored heavily with his argument that the 2,000 extra gardai promised by Fine Gael provides funding for only 1,000 plus those who will go into training in Templemore this year. This was a biggie. While the Government has struggled (and arguably failed) to get 14,000 cops by the end of this year, Kenny's plan provides not for 2,000 but for 1,000 extra on top of them. It's promise of 2,000 but based on them being additional to there at the moment not including those in Templemore.

However, for many of the arguments – with both going into detail – the results were marginal or inconclusive. Both men were relaxed but Mr Kenny kept a polite and friendly composure throughout, compared to the edgier and slightly more aggressive pose struck by the Taoiseach.

Mr Ahern did find himself in difficulties on health, especially on a question Ms O’Callaghan asked about cystic fibrosis. Mr Kenny was strong here, especially in his portrayal of the “gargantuan failure” in A&E and primary care, as well as the failure of government to provide 3,000 beds. He also gouged a bit at the edges on the huge amount of public monies that was spent and wasted on PPARS - Mr Ahern's general response about the huge numbers in the health service didn't convince.

On other specific points, he was also able to successfully argue that the Government had failed in its promise to build a metro for Dublin by 2007. He was also marginally stronger on the issues of stamp duty and on quality of life.

The format was as five years ago, with both leaders making a pitch at the start and then debating five pre-agreed topics including health, education, crime, value for money, and the economy.

In his opening response to Ms O’Callaghan the Taoiseach, looking relaxed, spoke about his record over the past ten years and made an effective pitch by pointing to his working class roots in Drumcondra.

The Fine Gael leader immediately confronted by one of his Achilles Hells, lack of ministerial experience, answered confidently by referring to his time as Minister for Trade and the leadership qualities he has shown since becoming FG leader.

When the subject turned to priorities, Mr Ahern said that a strong economy was paramount. Mr Kenny agreed but said that it was the last Fine Gael government which sowed the seeds.

Mr Kenny quickly turned to his contract and his promise that he won’t seek re-election if he doesn’t achieve all its goals. Ms O’Callaghan asked the obvious question about who would judge if he achieved or failed. He answered that it would be self-obvious.

The presenter then honed in on the controversy surrounding Mr Ahern’s finances. Again there were close uncomfortable questions but he answered them relatively comfortably.

“I gave the matters to the Tribunal confidentially. And they were leaked straight out. That was my only objection,” he said.

It was clear that Mr Kenny did not want to engage in this. And it was also clear that the propensity of the debate would remain well-mannered.

As the debate moved to the most fractious issue, the Taoiseach accepted there were issues in A&E and primary care but put it in the context of huge improvements over ten years.

The debate then moved on the economy. Again the exchanges were technical and detailed. Mr Kenny agreed that the Taoiseach had “presided” over a successful economy but argued that Ireland had lost competitiveness. Ahern again referred to the achievements of his Government. This was home turf for him and he easily dealt with the details. Though Mr Kenny showed himself much improved when it came to specific and tricky questions in this area.

Ahern shaded it on the actual debating points. There can't be any doubt about that. But these debates are also about demeanour, composure and delivery. And Kenny never looked like a politician incapable of taking on the role of Taoiseach. Both will take something from it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


It wasn't lacklustre. It wasn't boring. Sure, we didn't have the quips of last night or the venom. But it was more muscular and robust than I had thought it would be.

Kenny's performance was very impressive, especially compared to the guy who was wiped by PrimeTime six years ago. He held his own, scored a couple of points, and may have quelled many of the questions surrounding his competence. He also came across as a decent man, less aggressive than Mr Ahern.

But Bertie Ahern edged it. He was put on the back foot every time Miriam O'Callaghan put it to him that the Government was in power for ten years, that we had record resources, but had failed to deliver key promises in health, crime etc. He was particularly uncomfortable on
1. Cystic fibrosis and the fact that the mortality rate is much higher in the Republic than in the North
2. In admitting the mess surrounding John Daly, the prisoner in Portlaoise who made a
Funnily enough, when it came to his personal finances and BertieGate, he dealt with that comfortably - no issue emerged. Of course, he was aided by Kenny who again reciled from getting engaged on this issue.

Where Ahern scored most heavily was on the following matters in order of ranking.

1. Forcing Enda Kenny to give Jim O'Keeffe a public dressing down when he admitted his justice spokesman did not have the correct statistics to hand last week.
2. Successfully planting a seed of doubt over FG's promise to deliver 2,000 extra guards. Is it 1,000 or 2,000? It seems it's 1,000 patched on to 1,000 already committed by this Government. This was a biggie.
3. Bringing up a point raised by Bryan Dobson last week about FG's promise to deliver free health care to under 5s. Ahern argued it would be impossible to implement, something Kenny never rebutted wholly.
4. He also had a fruitful sally at FG's tax plans. Kenny never got round to responding to Ahern's argument that FG's tax reform plans would most favour the richest 3% of voters.
5. He also raised some doubts about the ambivalent costings and time scales of FG's and Labour's plan to provide 2,300 hospital beds. In fairness, Kenny responded strongly with a direct attack on the Government's co-location plans.

Other areas produced mashed or inconclusive results. Both showed themselves capable of drizzling us with stats on the economy without delivering a killer line. Kenny dealt competently with one of his Achiles Heel questions - his lack of experience in Government. He also threw in a bit of Irish at the end which did him no harm at all.

But these debates are not only decided by moot points or small incremental victories. The body language and demeanour, composure, confidence and decency, are also important. And Kenny did come across as an essentially decent man. While he may have lost on a close points decision in my view, there was nothing to suggest that he doesn't have the wherewithal to become Taoiseach.

Earlier in the day, there was talk that Ahern and FF were all at sea and had given up the ghost. This will have galvanised him and those around him. In what is shaping up to be the closest and most determinate elections for a long long time, this was a determined and defiant (at times too aggressively defiant) performance by that may put FF back in the chase.

It was good stuff. From the off. In fact, meatier and more robust than last night. And both leaders, both parties will have taken their positives from it.

But my own opinion remains the same - Ahern shaded it.


I'm going to talk about canvassing in a little while. But first I'm going to talk about something that's tangential but related.

It's about an under-rated tourist experience that is not publicised, not even advertised, but is used by thousands every day.

Yes, it is the half day excursion around the long-stay carpark at Dublin Airport, with the chance to share the fun with the alphabet puns they use for different sections. Q is for Queen. K is for King. L is for Losing the Will to Live.

The really staggering thing about the carpark is the ingenious way they have arranged is so that no matter where you park when you arrive, the bus will always make it its last stop on its way back.

Okay, that's not quite true. But sometimes it takes as long to do the journey of 1-2km from plane to carpark as your flight from a European country has taken. And the good news is that soon they will be offering full-day tours, as the airport will be expanded. And they have the cheeck to charge E8.50 a day to experience this hassle.

The phrase 'Quality of life' often appears high up on the list of issues. In a way that evokes a small seaside town or a babbling brook or a longed-after slow pace of life from Ireland 50 years ago. In lay person's terms, it means everything has become a hassle. There are the minor hassles like trying to get in and out of places like the airport or shopping centres. And then there are the daily hassles, the traffic jams, the clunk-clunk stop-start experience.

Earlier today I went out to get a sense of how Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte were getting on on canvass. I got a bit of that but a lot of a sense of what traffic is like in West Dublin. I was doing something in RTE and drove from there hoping to get to Lucan at 11.30am. It was grand until I got near the village. Two hours after rush hour a long snake of cars stretched back from all sides of the Green. I wasn't going to get anywhere near the centre. Kenny was going on to Clondalkin and so I abandoned Lucan and started heading there. But again the mid-morning traffic was brutal - it took a full 40 minutes for a journey that I thought would take only 15 or so.

I live close enough to the city centre to cycle to work every day but even an hour of that today was driving me insane.

Anyway, the purpose was to see Kenny and Rabbitte out on the stump. When he arrived at the Mill shopping centre in Clondalkin he was in and out like a tornado. He embraces everybody who crosses his path like a mother swaddling her child. And boy, can he work a room. The whole sprint up and down the mall and in through a cafe takes no more than ten minutes but at least 100 hands have been shaken. He is at ease with them all, has an unerring eye for manoeuvring them around towards the cameras. And He has that Clinton and Bertie thing going on - giving his quarry his total and rapt attention, making them the most important person in the world, for the ten seconds or so he is in their company.

And it works. A couple miles down the road in another shopping centre, Rabbitte and a small team is doing the same. It's different, though. This is his own constituency. Rabbitte is much more low-key. He was never 'howya horse' or hail-fellow-well-met. But you do notice that people gravitate towards him, want to shake his hand, want to tell him their problems or wish him luck. Rabbitte, unlike Kenny, doesn't seek out. But the fact that he is recognised and sought out (and so is Kenny) speaks volumes about the way this election is trending. You are thinking: 1997 FF. Or even 2002 FF.

FF just seem to be all at sea right now. There has been no sustainability to itscampaign. The razzmatazz of 2002 seems to have become slack and lacklustre. Bertie isn't oomphing it up like he did. The format of that campaign is being maintained, but they are being out-flanked by their rivals or are just not getting it. Cowen came out fighting on Monday and kick-started a new phase of the campaign. But the tempo of that had been lost 24 hours later.

One of the things I heard people say today was that it was time for a change, that the present government had been in too long. If I was in FF or the PDs I would consider that ominous.

And so the focus of the latter half of the week has been on the TV debates. Huge emphasis is always placed on it. It must be recalled that Bertie lost his previous two debates but still won the election. Ditto George Bush in 2004. Easily out-verbaled by Kerry but he still came through strongly.

Is tonight's debate capable of changing the course of this election?

No, unless either of the two leaders has a complete disaster. How many floating voters are still left out there? What percentage will decide based on what they see and hear tonight? I'd say a very small number, though in a very very tight race it could be significant.

The format tonight will be the same as five years ago. There will be opening statements and then they will debate five major themes. Kenny is very natural in person but has been stiff in artificial settings and he has sometimes struggled when it comes to specifics. Having said that, Ahern is very elusive to pin down but that very elusivity makes it impossible to know what in the name of jaysus he is talking about.

INSIDE POLITICS - Donnybrook at Donnybrook

After the Ranelagh Rumble earlier, we had the donnybrook at Donnybrook last night as the four leaders of the parties that aren’t the big two slugged it out in a high-octane TV debate.

This was the undercard but in many ways it was always likely to be a more exciting and bruising dust-up than tonight’s main attraction – the debate between Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny tonight.

For each of the four leaders, Pat Rabbitte (Labour), Michael McDowell (PD), Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein) and Trevor Sargent (GP)are strong personalities in their own right – and all except Sargent are able debaters.

And in an exchange with personal and nasty moments, it was Rabbitte and McDowell who emerged most strongly – on the the force of their arguments, their ease, and the best lines.

Adams did not lack confidence but lack of mastery on economic issues was exposed a few times – as he was caught waffling. Sargent, not a natural debater, was always going to find it difficult. In the end he held his own without really making a killer point.

But optically, it was terrible for him. The extensive cog notes he had written neatly on the palm of his hands were easily spotted – and will probably dent his marks more than anything he or anybody else said.

The format of the PrimeTime special was simple. Each opened with a statement while bathed in a spotlight. They were then ushered over to a table in turn by presenter Mark Little. The format reminded you of a game show. They even threw in the tense music. The Weakest Link came to mind.

All four were a little nervous and stilted when reading their statement off an autocue.

Michael McDowell immediately continued his row from the afternoon, accusing the Greens of flip-flopping over corporation tax. More scare stuff – the first real row. Sargent sallied back strongly. McDowell had the first good quotable quote: “I’m surrounded by the left (Lab); the hard left (SF); and the left-overs (Greens).

The pattern became obvious early - it was mostly going to be McDowell against the other three.

The second topic was another hot potato one – the Government’s controversial collocation proposal. Here it was McDowell v the rest. Sargent contended it was a “quick fix”. McDowell went in hard.

Second fast quip by Rabbitte, looking more like the Cheshire Cat.

“You are over-energised by that pole you climbed up in Ranelagh,” he quipped.

Little moved it to crime and ASBOS and immigration with McDowell trying to divide the Greens and Labour.

Rabbitte’s second great line: “Michael is like a menopausal Paris Hilton. He is an inveterate attention seeker.”

A few minutes later it started getting personal. When the discussion moved to drugs, he accused Adams of getting E25m from FARC guerrillas in Colombia who are financed by cocaine.

Sargent scored a good point when he said there were only 27 detox beds in the entire State. As did Rabbitte when he said there were more dog wardens than labour inspectors. More insults. Sargent accused McDowell of being hardline and the PDs of being peddlers of despair and deceit. McDowell scored with an argument asking people to imagine what it will be like in three years. Adams returned to a broad republican team.

None let themselves down but Rabbitte pipped it, with McDowell pipping the other two.

from this morning's Irish Examiner

Postscript: Sargent said that he had the notes written down on his palm just in case the autocue went down at the start - in context, it was relatively minor but it would have been better for the notes to have remained hidden from view.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


My own initial verdict is that Rabbitte (relaxed, almost too Cheshire Cat) pipped it from McDowell (over negative, too prone to personal insults) from Adams (relaxed but woolly on specifics espeically on the economy) and Trevor (made some very good points; defended himself well but the writing on the hands was a disaster).

The last time any of us saw writing on the palm of the hand was on the hands of exam cheats who wrote cog notes on their palms. Trevor should have learned from the first rule of a cogger. Which is not to get caught. If you have something to hide, make sure it's hidden.
Every time he made a gesture we could see it: Giving his own Irish version of, Talk to the hand. It will deflect from what was a performance in which he held his own against three of the smoothest and most efficient debaters in the business.

There were a couple of good lines. When Adams said his bank owned his holiday home in Donegal; McDowell whizzed in with: "What bank? The Northern Bank?".

He then plied it on too thick with his accusation about the FARC drug-money allegedly financing Sinn Fein.

As people who follow politics, we knew that Adams had information gaps when it came to the economy. But he's very self-assured and has a reach with the public.

Rabbitte's best lines were reserved for McDowell. The best of all was:

“Michael is like a menopausal Paris Hilton. He is an inveterate attention seeker.”

Surely one he had prepared earlier.


Five years ago, we only had somebody shoving a custard pie into the tragic Michael Noonan's face.

In Britain, in 2005, some guy throw an egg at John Prescott and got a neat uppercut in the chin for his trouble.

But we have been spoiled in this election. If Vincent Browne's showdown with Enda Kenny wasn't enough, today we had the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between Michael McDowell and John Gormley that RTE's Dave McCullagh described as the Rumble of Ranelagh.

gormley showed brass neck. He was outraged by a reference in a PD pamplet that the Greens would raise corporation tax, and branded him a liar and a headless chicken. Those who were there, including my colleague Shaun Connolly, said it was remarkable stuff, vaudeville, vintage knockabout. Shaun will be writing tomorrow morning in the Examiner that:

"They slugged it out with the ferocity of two posh boys locking horns in the queue of a tuck shop queue."

RTE will also put the whole encounter up on their website later.