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.