Alan gets his attention fix then declines to ride off into sunset
THE plinth of Leinster House was stuffed with reporters, photographers and cameramen. Standing room only. It was like Hill 16 when the Dubs are hammering Kerry with seconds on the clock, except this crowd was rowdier.
Earlier in the day, the word had come down from On High – aka the elevated piece of moral ground from where Alan Shatter daily gazes down upon the rabble who don't understand him – that he would deign to address the inky-fingered wretches of the Fourth Estate in the afternoon on the piffling matter of the seventy grand cheerio money to which he's entitled.
Instantly the rumour mill roared into life. Given that some of his party colleagues had all but begged Alan to break his uncharacteristic Trappist-like silence and renounce the payment before the doors open at polling stations tomorrow, it was hardly likely that he would haul in hectic hacks on the eve of the election just to deal with this issue.
Surely he was going to resign his seat and depart politics by hurling a drawerful of knives into the backs of his former colleagues and party, revenge being a dish best served while buckets of steam are still rising from it?
So, for the first half of yesterday, pundits speculated and hypothesised. Not for the first time, the departed Justice Minister hogged the headlines, leaving a bevy of Euro and local candidates seeking some last-minute publicity to go hang.
At 2.30pm he strolled over the plinth, accompanied by Jonathan Irwin (who was on crutches) and Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, founders of the Jack and Jill Foundation, plus Mary Ann's parliamentary assistant Kevin and his guide dog.
Alan explained that he had been "somewhat surprised" to learn via "an interesting letter" this week that he was due a lump sum severance payment and had taken a couple of days to "reflect" on what to do with the 70,000 scoots (before taxes).
"I'm taking the payment," he told the assembly. But he was giving the net amount – about €50,000 to the Jack and Jill Foundation.
And that was it. No resignation, no rending of pinstriped garments over any perceived treachery from the Taoiseach.
"Alan, why all the drama? You could have told us this three days ago," was the reasonable observation from one reporter.
"I couldn't have told anyone three days ago. There was no drama from me at all," he protested. Not even his old buddy could have told anyone. "The Taoiseach will now be learning of it," he explained.
Enda can hardly take the hump. After all, he didn't race to the phone to tell his Justice Minister that he was dispatching his department's top man to make the Garda Commissioner an offer he couldn't refuse.
And that was it. No answers to the myriad questions surrounding his resignation. He departed, leaving in his wake a large gaggle of media wishing they hadn't left their offices or hustled from the hustings for the one-man show, and also wishing they could send 70,000 of the taxpayers' shekels to a charity of their choice.
"I'm going nowhere," Alan declared defiantly.
Meanwhile, back on terra firma, the last day of the campaign was under way. Most candidates are running on the smell of an oily rag by now, but not the personable ball of energy that is Mairead McGuinness.
Fine Gael's candidate in the massive Midlands-North-West constituency arrived into Kingscourt, Co Cavan with a load of props.
"Look at these!" said Mairead with an air of mischief as she busily hauled strips of brightly coloured polystyrene from the back of the van, each bearing the name of one of the 15 counties in her humongous patch.
"Louth was robbed at a match, but I got it back a few days later," she explained cheerfully as she larked about with the strips, leaping over them rather like a spring lamb for the benefit of the photographer.
Mairead has good reason to be cheerful as she's the most certain of the 14 contenders to take the first spoils in what is destined to be a fierce battle over the four seats.
She was heading to the town's weekly mart for a canvass with Cavan TD Joe O'Reilly and local election candidate David Blake, when the party ran into Fianna Fail's Thomas Byrne and his team, who were clearly moving in the same direction.
"It's the most Meath town in Cavan," explained the Meathman, looking a little guilty, although he had every right to be canvassing a few miles from Mairead's home-town. "You've no visa for Cavan," said Mairead in mock outrage.
Inside the mart, the former presenter of RTE's rural affairs programme 'Ear to the Ground' was totally at home, chatting to farmers about the price of cattle and steering clear of the ring where the auction was in full swing. "When times are tough, you don't want to disturb the sale," she said sagely.
Criss-crossing her sprawling constituency, Mairead found a common theme in every county.
"This campaign has reinforced a concern I have about the squeezed middle, urban and rural. They're working but struggling, they are not getting recognition by the political classes that they do get out of bed and work to pay bills and taxes," she said. "After this election, top of my agenda is to try to rejuvenate our towns and villages. The squeezed middle are the backbone of our country – and it's a pretty tired backbone."