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.

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