Sunday 23 October 2016

Eilis O’Hanlon’s election diary: Want to be a party finance spokesman? Just make it up

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 07/02/2016 | 02:30

Mary Mitchell O’Connor of Fine Gael hanging election posters in
Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Mary Mitchell O’Connor of Fine Gael hanging election posters in Dun Laoghaire. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Pick a number. Any number. Write it down on a scrap of paper. Screw up the paper. Toss it away. Start again, making up the figures as you go along. Congratulations, you're now the finance spokesman for a major Irish political party. You too can waffle unintelligibly about the so-called "fiscal space" whilst the electorate's eyes glaze over. Not since Mary Hanafin turned up at FF headquarters and said "I'm back!" have two words struck more terror into the heart of the Irish body politic.

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Basically it means the amount of money the government has to spend in the next five years. So why not just call it that then? At last count, the amount was either €10bn or €12bn. Possibly €8bn. Depends who's counting.

There were red faces all round as it turned out Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty might've grasped this fiscal space malarkey better than the economists. Even Gerry Adams was laughing, and he's a man whose maths is normally as bad as his memory.

This is why Pearse is known in republican circles, according to the system of identifying politicians in the style of Friends episodes, as 'The One With A Head For Figures'. And to be fair to the Donegal South-West polltopper, it's a better epitaph than that given to some of his fellow SF TDs. You know, like 'The One Who Did Time For Possession Of Explosives…', 'The One Who Volunteered To Be Colonel Gadaffi's Delivery Boy…', 'The One Who Helped Himself To €50,000 Worth Of Ink Cartridges…', 'The One Who Sent His Niece A Book For Her Birthday Dedicated To The Father Who Abused Her…'

They'll be running out of catchy nicknames soon if they're not careful.

Bunker may be FG's downfall

This election has already made history as the first to be announced on social media. The Taoiseach's address to the Dail was less than a minute long. Wham, bam, thank you, Ceann… Chomairle, that is.

The video subsequently uploaded on Twitter to unveil the actual date was almost twice as long. And they say size doesn't matter.

Enda Kenny had better hope the result isn't also decided on social media, where Government supporters are rarer than sightings of Sam Maguire in his native Mayo.

If FG understood the internet, they'd have known better than to house the party's election camp in the claustrophobic, dimly-lit basement of the CHQ building in Dublin's Docklands, thereby evoking memories of Hitler's bunker in the dying days of the Third Reich.

The Downfall parody videos will be multiplying faster than dodgy country and Irish campaign songs in the West. It's a bunker, boys. You're in a bunker. Bun. Ker. Which bit are you struggling to grasp?

You wouldn't think FG had been planning the campaign for months.

It's as if they've been taken over suddenly by David Brent from The Office. Compare and contrast.

Brent: "You'll never work in a place like this again. This is brilliant. Fact."

Fine Gael: "FACT: 80pc of the 135,000 new jobs are full-time. FACT: 75pc are in high-paying sectors."

FACT: Most of us don't like being shouted at in capital letters.

FACT: It's really, really annoying.

Did FF miss the past 18 months?

The first day of  campaigning had barely begun before Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was accusing the Taoiseach of "insulting" the electorate by launching the "shortest  campaign in living history".

Short? What's he talking about? The race for the 32nd Dail has been underway for the past 18 months, and the race for the 33rd will start on the morning of February 27. Martin later mocked the Taoiseach for "ducking and diving and running away" by foregoing the traditional interviews on Six One News.

As opposed to turning up then ducking and diving to avoid answering any actual questions, in the usual manner.

Turns out it's a democracy...

The 'You Don't Say?' award for incisive political analysis was won by RTE's Drivetime: "It's the voters who will decide who governs Ireland."

So that's why they call it democracy? Mystery solved.

Runner-up prize goes to Labour's Joan Burton for this pearl of wisdom, delivered on the stump in Drogheda: "We're a separate party from FG." Thanks for clearing that up, Tanaiste. Every little helps. Though the fact you have to spell it out might be the problem.

Joan was soon heard saying the test of any government is "whether it leaves the country in a better place". Presumably that means the test of a party leader is whether she leaves that in a better place too?

Let's see. You had 35 TDs when taking over, and after this election you'll have… er, on second thoughts, let's not go there. (As FG canvassers are allegedly saying in large parts of Dublin.)

Spot the Botox

How to make the unsightly sight of all those election posters slightly less irritating: try picking out the candidates who've had the most work/Botox/implants done. Come on, the photos are huge, it's easy.

The Left grows. A bit, anyway

The Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit-There's One For Everyone In The Audience party launched its manifesto on Thursday afternoon in Buswells in Dublin, thus ruining the hotel's Trip Adviser ratings for that day ("the lobby was full of angry people shouting about the end of capitalism").

Richard Boyd Barrett called the group's 31 candidates the "biggest intervention by the genuine left in the history of the State".

"Look at Podemos in Spain and Bernie Sanders (in the US)," said Paul Murphy, forgetting that neither of them has, strictly speaking, won anything yet.

It's the thought that counts, comrade.

Number of times the Taoiseach used certain key words and phrases in Friday's Morning Ireland interview (oh yes, ye of little faith, he finally did one):

"Jobs" (8)

"Progress" (5)

"Recovery" (4)

"Growth" (4)

"Sorry for all the broken promises" (0). It must have slipped his mind.

Guess who won't be on Lucinda Creighton's Christmas card list this year? That'll be Radio One presenter Sean O'Rourke, who dismissed many of those who've expressed an interest in standing for Renua as "headbangers". This is RTE, whose charter commits it to being "objective, impartial and fair" in its election coverage, right? Just checking.

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