Thursday 30 March 2017

Gene Kerrigan: The need to know is overwhelming

Trawling through tens of thousands of Twitter comments, Gene Kerrigan discovers some gems of insight and humour

Around lunchtime, the word was going around -- first Fianna Fail broke the banks, now they'd broken the Twitter machine. So eager were Irish voters to find out the extent of the damage to the Grand Old Party that some Twitter accounts were overloaded, moving with the speed of ancient jalopies on a steep hill.

After a while, I gave up on #ge11 and moved back and forth between radio and TV, then tried the Twitter machine again and it was back, with someone claiming "Brian Cowen seen sneaking away from Twitter HQ with a wire cutter". Then it was gone again.

It's irresistible. In political terms, it's true that the policies of the incoming parties are as inadequate in the face of our problems as are those of the shower departing. It's true that at times like this the media turns the electoral process into a superficial drama. But sometimes, the need to know and to know now is overwhelming.

And on this occasion, the information itself was overwhelming. Not just the hours on end of the broadcast media or the live blogs run by the newspapers; not just the individual blogs or websites, but the Twitter machine-- spewing out endless data. Repetitive, silly, funny, informative, daft and repetitive.

The Morning Ireland reports of the RTE exit poll gave us a template of what we were likely to see as the day went on -- a pulverised Fianna Fail, a triumphant Fine Gael, Labour relieved at a last-minute revival -- and pulling down those "Gilmore for Taoiseach" posters as quickly as they could. Sinn Fein making steady but unspectacular progress, the left in contention for the odd seat here and there. As the tally went on, one Twitterer excitedly predicted that "FG should get 3 seats" in Dun Laoghaire. A minute later, a dry response: "That would be some feat. They are running 2."

Someone noted that "FF is in negative equity", while a football fan opined that "Even Nicolas Anelka wouldn't transfer to Fianna Fail in this election". A story did the rounds that a candidate in Louth had attended a "wake" for a dead dog, in the hope of picking up a few transfers. And the first tallies suggested the ploy might have worked.

While it's fun to see some of your favourites winning, the real attraction of these things -- let's be honest -- is watching for the big names to take a hit. To be there for that Michael McDowell moment, the graceless snarl of the defeated bighead.

The pundits promised a long, long count, late hours, perhaps a whole weekend of it, so we couldn't be sure how it would work out in the end -- but the news that Mary Hanafin and Dick Roche and John Gormley were in trouble helped some people walk with a lighter step.

It's not so long since Conor Lenihan was admitting that, if approached in the right way, he might consider allowing himself to be elevated to the leadership of the party. Now, the tallies were looking bad. Mary Coughlan, according to reports, was "in big doo doo". And Bertie's boy, Cyprian Brady, found himself in familiar territory, the bottom of the results list.

There's a brutality to the way in which politicians can be dumped -- which must hurt personally, no matter how realistic they are and how damning the poll figures have been. An hour into the count, Green TD Paul Gogarty conceded he'd lost his seat. For a moment I felt sorry for the guy -- his emotionalism is at least a change from the cold arrogance with which some others have inflicted other people's gambling debts onto us. Then, after that moment of weakness, I decided, what the hell. Good riddance.

Twitter: "The only way Sean Haughey is going to get a seat is if he makes his way to IKEA for an armchair".

Reports from Limerick suggested that Willie O'Dea was battered but surviving. So, his vote didn't collapse? Came the word on the radio, "Willie doesn't do collapse".

Back on Twitter, "How's Ivor polling down in Cork?"

Soon, it wasn't physically possible to keep up with the surge of twittering. At one stage I took a break for a coffee and when I came back there were 5,963 new tweets. It went, it came back.

There were joyous moments. "Looks like Ming is in." In Wexford, Mick Wallace was having a good hair day. Some of us never thought we'd find ourselves pleased to see a builder topping the poll.

When it turned out that the author of the blanket bank guarantee had a shot at holding his seat it was a tribute to voters' tolerance. The Minister for Finance's prowess with figures resulted in a joke report that Brian Lenihan had announced that based on his calculations FF needed just a couple of seats for an overall majority.

On TV, you could see the ballots being counted, but radio usually had the results first. Sean O'Rourke also had Martin Mansergh quoting Scripture, which seemed a good thing to do, if you were a Fianna Failer yesterday.

Twitter: "Could Enda be our George W. Bush ? Or is he not that good?"

In the Irish Times, there's a worrying quote from Enda Kenny's wife, Fionnuala.

"I like to have a plan. He's the one who says it will all work out," she says. But, but -- hasn't Enda just spent the past few weeks telling us not to worry, he's got a Five Point Plan? "He doesn't do stress and he doesn't do worry", says Fionnuala.

On radio, FG back room boy Mark Mortell is telling us that self doubt is not in Enda's lexicon. He says that like it's a good thing.

The best line of the day came on Twitter, from someone called Kidney Bongos. It was one you had to think about for a moment. After the Fianna Fail meltdown, "If you threw wet clothes into Eamon de Valera's grave, they'd be dry in about eight seconds . . ."

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