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Sunday 31 August 2014

Gerry Adams king of jungle as dazed Pat and Leo lick wounds

'I'm a government politician, get me outta here', captures the mood at the count in Citywest

Niamh Horan

Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30

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OSTRICH: Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar at the count in Citywest Hotel, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

IT'S a political jungle out there where only the fittest survive. And if you want to make it out alive – don't poke a wounded bear, even if he is stumbling around in a daze, critically injured.

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As Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte prowled through Citywest yesterday, his party in meltdown, I approached with caution.

"How am I feeling?" he repeated. "Hahaha," he roared, "marvellous."

He could teach the young political pups, whining after the first count, a thing or two about the game. The bigger the crisis, the bigger the smile.

"I am feeling hungry enough now, Niamh. And they say I'm dangerous enough when I'm not hungry," he said when I pressed a little more.

It was lunchtime and it seemed the entire animal kingdom had gathered in the bar to refuel before the next mauling at the second count.

"The people have sent us a very strong message saying after six years we have had enough of tough decisions in government. There is a lot of anger out there," he said.

At least he was reacting realistically to the initial tallies, unlike fellow cabinet member Leo Varadkar. He was choosing the ostrich viewpoint for Fine Gael.

Leo took brisk strides through the crowds, almost breaking into a light canter, as I tried to get his views on the people's verdict.

"There was a lot less anger at the doors than this time three years ago," he told me when I asked for 30 seconds of his time.

"But..." came my protests.

"That's more than 30 seconds," he shot back before making his escape.

Around us, ballot papers fluttered through the fingers of counters and to paraphrase Dick Tuck: "The people were speaking, the bastards."

Their anger now firmly etched in print.

Someone beside me pointed out: "They've actually taken the time to go to the voting booth and put a big black X beside each and every one of the 21 candidates."

The handmade notes stuck to windows and doors warning politicians off their property should have alerted them.

The signs – hilarious and terrifying in equal measure – were tweeted during the day.

Michael Clarke, Fianna Fail party chairman in Dun Laoghaire, explained the hurdle to overcome: "Socially I don't know if it's even acceptable to canvass door to door anymore. Politicians are facing a lot of new challenges that need to be looked at in the next election.

"A huge number of people are living in apartments so they can't even get past the gates. Eighty per cent have 'No junk mail' signs, so that rules leaflets out too and a lot of people don't even open their doors."

Over the tea flasks I was told if I wanted to know who was doing well I was to go and see the first guys at the bar ordering a pint.

But for every person toasting, there was another drowning their sorrows.

Mobile phones were glued to ears, all eyes were on party leaders in the RTE newsroom giving the most optimistic verdict they could muster.

The drones on the ground were hard at work feeding the news up the chain of command.

"It's a bloodbath," shouted one woman into the receiver.

In the Dublin West centre a small group of Sinn Fein canvassers were standing around in a semi-circle.

All parties would do well to hear what they have to say before the next election.

Inspirational or terrifying – depending which side of the fence you are on.

"Hard work, discipline and commitment, we are playing the long game," they tell me.

They speak about Gerry Adams with an intense belief I haven't come across in any other party. And if you are to believe their words – there's going to be a new king.

"He was walking around Corduff (a working-class area in Dublin) last week and he was lionised. He is seen as a father figure, he has a presence, an aura when he walks into a room.

"There was a lot of young people under the age of 25 who wouldn't have known who Gerry Adams was growing up and his arrest parachuted him to the front pages. Young people see him as a hero, a Michael Collins figure. It has galvanised his support.

"People have been let down by other parties, they don't just tell us Sinn Fein has their vote – they say 'you're bleedin' right you've got my vote."

They tell me Gerry Adams doesn't do it for the money, power or self-interest.

What then? I ask. "So that his name goes down in history," is the response.

The party is a political beast on the rise and this young, hungry pack are just licking their lips.

Back inside at the local election count Kate Feeney's mother is in flying form.

I ask her if her daughter experienced any bitchiness against Mary Hanafin in the 'Battle of Blackrock'.

"Oh no, that's not Kate's style. She wouldn't allow herself become engaged with that."

The two women look set to get elected, so what differences could they offer to voters?

"Well, Kate comes from a very different background. She is 28. Mary Hanafin is my age. Kate is a vote for youth. A vote for the future, there is 30 years between them. Kate did her own thing as a young woman," she smiles.

Jimmy Guerin bounds by looking like the cat who got the cream."Three-week wonder is what Labour called me when they heard I was running with three and a half weeks to spare," he says.

I ask: "What's the secret?"

"Simple," he smiles, "only make promises you can keep."

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