Monday, May 28, 2007


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."


John Carroll said...

Enda's strategy is fairly straightforward.

Firstly, there is an outside chance that a government can be formed.

Secondly, by doing this he serves to remind the public how close the election was. With all the coverage largely being of a great victory for the government, it does no harm to show that it wasn't that clear cut.

Thirdly, it increases the concessions that Bertie will have to make, to both the PDs and the Independents - neither of which will prove overly popular with the electorate at large.

Given that the next government may well be only a bye-election or two away from defeat, it does no harm for FG to be building up their links with the other parties. For example, let's say Bev Flynn is declared bankrupt and there is another government bye-election. If both are won by the opposition, things could change very quickly.

Dan Sullivan said...

Strangely you've missed it out, given your last paragraph, but FG took a FF seat in Dublin North East.

Harry McGee said...

Yep, missed out on Dublin North East. That was an amazing win for Terence Flanagan, given that Brody had a much higher national profile.

Re: John's comments. Thanks for taking the time to make such a strong argument. Which makes sense, on the face of it. But in reality, at this particular juncture, Enda Kenny has no hope of becoming Taoiseach.

Right or wrong, there's a perception that he is flogging a dead horse. Does Joe Public out there appreciate the long-term game to the same extent?

John Carroll said...

Right or wrong, there's a perception that he is flogging a dead horse

Possibly such a perception exists amongst the political classes. But as this election has shown, people who follow politics closely, haven't the slightest idea what the people are thinking.

Anyway, sure even if the public think he is flogging a dead horse, what harm? They'll hardly hold it against him at the next election.

And, building up contacts with the various groupings will be handy for six months time, in the aftermath of the Mayo bye-election :)