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.