Politics forgotten as Kenny and TDs learn of horror live on air
THE mood of the room changed in an instant.
In the split second it took for word of the Cork Airport crash to filter around the Metropole Hotel suite in which Radio One's Pat Kenny Show was being broadcast at 11am yesterday, national priorities instantly shifted from politics to simple humanity.
I watched as politicians and experienced broadcasters alike paled as the realisation of the scale of the tragedy sunk in.
News of the accident came as a shock to the system in a city where politics had seemed the only show in town until February 25.
Suddenly general elections and first preference votes seemed so unimportant when compared to the plight facing six families who, instead of a homecoming, now face a procession of funerals. Or the passengers who were fighting for their lives after being dragged from the wreckage.
Within an hour, people's worst fears were realised and the death count spiralled from the initially reported count of two up to six.
The initial reaction was one of disbelief. Politics quickly became irrelevant as reporters, photographers and TV crews dumped their agendas and raced out to Cork Airport.
The fact that the wrecked plane came to a halt directly in front of Cork Airport's gleaming new €150m terminal made the tragedy all the more visceral.
Passengers preparing for departures were suddenly staring out through windows at emergency services.
The crash was now officially the worst domestic air tragedy in Irish civil aviation history.
"It is surreal," Pat Kenny told the hushed Metropole room as he broke news of the accident.
New Fianna Fail leader and local TD Micheal Martin and opposition heavyweights including Simon Coveney all struggled to hide their obvious horror at events taking place on a debris-strewn runway just 4km away.
Cork Airport is located in the heart of Cork South Central, the five-seat constituency which the Pat Kenny radio programme had chosen to focus on.
How do you focus on politics, national debt and EU/IMF bail-outs when, a short distance away, the emergency services are struggling to cope with every air traveller's worst nightmare?
The political debate continued, though, with noticeably less vehemence than had been anticipated.
Mr Martin, speaking as he left the Metropole Hotel after the debate, spoke for many when he said that the thoughts of everyone in Cork and Ireland were with the families of those impacted by the tragedy.
"Of course our thoughts and prayers are with those people who had friends or family killed and injured in this tragedy," he said.