Wednesday, May 02, 2007


It was a strange day today - not too sure whether it was the lull after or before a storm. In terms of activity it was quieter than the first three days and definitely quieter than tomorrow when Fianna Fail and Labour will both launch their manifestos.

Went to the Labour HQ for the first time today. All of the parties have opted for new headquarters away from the satellites of Leinster House. Labour's one is above a Burger King fast food joint in Baggot Street, which makes it the nearest to Leinster House. Both FF and FG are close to the Grand Canal, but still only a couple of minutes if you are bicycle-powered like the Examiner is.

It's amazing the amount of dosh and effort invested by parties in making sure the optics are right. Like football managers and players doing interviews are big games, the background is vitally important. The election slogan is always prominent. The idea is that it's a visual mnemonic - people will see it so often that it becomes embedded. And then the other little details that you hardly notice but which I presume are very important. The FF and FG players all sit at their conferences. At Labour they stand at a transparent podium. You kind of think that's a less comfortable position but it hasn't stopped Rabbitte firing off some great quips this week. He had a great one about Bertie today and how lucky he is (admittedly said out on the stump):

"If he fell off the top of Liberty Hall he would definitely land on his feet."

I'm sure Bertie didn't feel that lucky today. He was going on a walkabout of his own constituency at 12. His handlers had scheduled a doorstep interview at the end of it. Fair enough. But then you realised what part of his constituency it was. It was Henry Street and Moore Street, a veritable sea of people.

It was my first time out on the hustings with Ahern this election and there was a big change from 2002. Then he was mobbed by euphoric crowds: today it was different.

Moore Street is home ground for Fianna Fail leaders. Haughey, Lynch, Reynolds were greeted like Gods there. Bertie even more so. This is his own heartland after all. But he didn't get it all his own way today. There were sporadic heckles coming at him from all sides. The funniest was the wise guy who saw Bertie passing near a fishmonger's stall on Moore Street. "Something fishy Bertie?" this Dylan Moran of Dublin's northside quipped.

The second thing I found a little unsettling was the media presence. There was a swarm of reporters around Ahern, over 50 people certainly. And swarm was the operative word for there was an aggression to the questioning today that I found surprising. There was a time when the political lobby was composed of only four correspondents (The Cork Examiner, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times and the Irish Press) but now there are at least two dozen media outlets who attend the official Government briefing. Today he got a barracking from one or two journalists at the back of the scrum. I wasn't exactly blameless as I was chided by him for being rude after cutting in before he finished a sentence.

The whole BertieGate The Sequel mess has conspired to make a hash of the first four days of Fianna Fail's campaign. On Thursday morning it will launch its manifesto. Despite the multitude of promises made by Ahern in his Ard Fheis speech in late March, it's widely expected that there will be a spectacular crowd-pleaser to divert attention away from all the unpleasant on personal finances.

It has been a distraction but a damaging one for FF. The party has struggled and stumbled over the first four days. It hopes that by the weekend the Tribunal will have worked its way through the system and that normal service can resume.

Which it will, unless some major controversy blows up over the weekend. It will be interesting to see how FF have fared in the polls during the first week. They rebounded like Shaquile O'Neill last October jumping from 35 to 40 per cent in opinion polls - and that's why the opposition has been so reticent to go for the jugular this time in case their harsh words opens the tap of human sympathy for Bertie.

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