Wednesday 21 March 2018

General Joan is spared Labour bloodbath with a late reprieve

Labour Leader Joan Burton. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Labour Leader Joan Burton. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

No energy could be spared on tears. Joan ground her knuckles into the corners of her eyes to punish the two tiny drops that had dared to spring forth at the presiding officer's confirmation.

The General had been spared - but what of her army that lay dazed, bloodied and limping towards oblivion on battlefields around the country? Her reprieve came late in the night.

Officially, she was said to be in danger from mid-morning with the final tally putting her neck-and-neck with Ruth Coppinger and Sinn Féin's Paul Donnelly. But the Tánaiste's husband, Pat Carroll - a renowned tallyman - had kept the faith. He had done the reckoning, calculated what transfers were likely to land where and was satisfied.

All they had to do now was wait. In the meantime, Joan stayed away.

"We just chilled out," said daughter Aoife, who shares the family's passion for politics. But she would never consider running herself, Aoife said, almost in horror, amid the ongoing national picture of Labour carnage unfolding.

Mother and daughter had sat in the house on tenterhooks, receiving regular updates on the agonisingly slow process over at the Phibblestown count centre.

The initial tally was delayed by the discovery of a bundle of number ones in favour of Paul Donnelly amongst David McGuinness's pile.

"If I'd just got one more Mass," quipped Health Minister Leo Varadkar as he failed to meet the quota after the first count. But eventually he was first past the post and, with a kiss for his sister and high-fives for his nephews, was jubilant and exhausted. "I need to go to the pub," he said.

Children were getting tired and fractious and Pot Noodles from the shop in the community centre were keeping energy levels afloat.

Eventually as candidates were eliminated and votes distributed, Joan was unofficially declared to be in the clear.

And then, finally, there she was, with a smile so radiant that it was almost startling to see how deeply this re-election meant to her.

She went straight to Pat to be briefed on the figures. In her wake was her brother, Paul, his eyes brimming with tears. "I'm absolutely delighted. I couldn't sleep last night," he said.

"She reared me," Paul explained, adding: "My mam died when I was 14."

The signal that a development was nigh was when the presiding officer put his jacket back on - and eventually, that signal came.

Without meeting the quota, Jack Chambers, Ruth Coppinger and Joan were elected. Chambers, just 25-years-old, was raised aloft in triumph. But there was only one story here and it was Joan's salvation.

Chambers celebrated the return of Fianna Fáil, Coppinger declared that water charges would have to be scrapped. There was an outright laugh from the Tánaiste as Coppinger said they would build "a real left to replace the Labour Party".

Not mere survival but growth will be Joan's focus.

But for now, she too was off to the pub.

Irish Independent

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