A mighty cheer rose from the 700-plus Fianna Fail delegates crowded into the stuffy room in one of the more posho parts of Dublin 4.
Up on the podium, Mary Fitzpatrick saw something which must’ve been as welcome a prospect to her as a good night’s sleep would be to Francois Hollande – her name in first place on a ballot.
A chuffed Mary made – and clearly savoured – her victory speech. “This election is going to be critically important for Dublin and for Fianna Fail,” she declared. “Every effort will be made and no stone left unturned to reward the trust and faith you put in me.”
If ever there was a sign that the Fianna Fail faithful were anxious to drive one last big stake into the dormant heart of the once-fabled ‘Drumcondra Mafia’, then this European selection convention was iron-clad proof.
For several years while King Bertie ruled his fiefdom of Dublin Central with an iron fist, an ongoing feud waged, which made the Battle of Clontarf look like a spot of handbags. Dublin city councillor Mary Fitzpatrick tried her damnedest to take a seat for Fianna Fail in the constituency, but was thwarted by Bertie’s shock-troops at every turn.
The contest reached farcical proportions in the 2007 general election, when Mary was beaten for the second Fianna Fail seat by Cyprian Brady, despite the fact that he only managed to scare up a measly 939 first-preference votes, surfing into the Dail on the back of ruthless vote management by Team Bertie and on the massive wave of transfers from the constituency capo himself.
Undeterred, Mary ran again in 2011, but inevitably got swept away by the tsunami of anger which swamped the party and left Fianna Fail with one single TD in the capital – the late Brian Lenihan.
But they were the bad old days, and having worn the sackcloth, smeared their visages with ash and performed the penitential Stations of the Cross barefoot over broken glass for almost three years, Fianna Fail firmly believe that the toxic pall over them is dissipating. No more Fukushima Fail, thank you.
And so the party were able to put forward no less than a trio of credible candidates to run in Dublin for a seat in Europe: Mary Fitzpatrick, Tiernan Brady, director of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), and former senator Geraldine Feeney.
It was clear that the three candidates had been advised to keep it a clean contest in the run-up to yesterday’s selection convention in the Clyde Court Hotel in Ballsbridge. For there was a cheerful atmosphere in the room as the 711 delegates lined up to cast their vote – the first time that a Fianna Fail candidate for Europe has been chosen by party members. Finally the result was announced: Mary exceeded the quota on the first count with 362 votes, Tiernan took a respectable 208 votes, and Geraldine Feeney received 140.
Micheal then was careful to say nice things about all three candidates. Mary was a politician of “substance. commitment and energy”. Tiernan was praised for his “outstanding work” promoting equality, and Geraldine had “guts and courage”.
However, he was less than complimentary to what he described as “an arrogant and unpopular Government that is obsessed with spin”. This got a loud cheer too, though its unpopularity depends upon which opinion poll one peruses.
It was all very cheerful, and Fianna Fail are certainly sniffing the air outside the doghouse. A delighted Micheal and Mary were happy to chat afterwards. “It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’m very confident,” she said.
So did the leader sense that that hardy political vegetation, the Green Shoot, was sprouting for his party? “We do see, though I’m not fond of the expression, the green shoots in some respects, certainly in the capital,” he declared.
“I think we’re making good progress, but I don’t think our work is done,” said Mary cautiously.
So had she made it up with her former Nemesis, Bertie Ahern? “I don’t remember the last time I saw him,” she laughed.
As well she might – she who laughs last, and all that.