Sunday 8 December 2019

Poetry and pastries lining the road to the election

Some big names hoping they don't come to a sticky end in this political bunfight

Aodhan O’Riordain enjoys a cake in Clontarf with Tánaiste Joan Burton. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Aodhan O’Riordain enjoys a cake in Clontarf with Tánaiste Joan Burton. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Above, Labour’s Lorraine Higgins with her new election poster. Photo: Hany Marzouk
Fianna Fáil ledare Micheál Martin with candidate Lorraine Clifford. Photo: Collins
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Joan stood at the steps of Government Buildings and gave a funny little fluttering wave as Enda made for the Park.

"This is not goodbye," he said, in a line straight out of one of those old romantic movies. He might even have practised it beforehand.

A few photos before jumping into a car and it was all over, with Joan Burton left forlornly standing there, alone.

"Why?" asked an exasperated observer afterwards. "Why didn't she just go up the steps?"

Well, maybe she just wanted to take a moment - as she stood there at the bottom of a mountain that's going to take three weeks to scale.

Much like Everest, there were multiple starting points she could have chosen for her route - but opted for Clontarf in Dublin Bay North, accompanying Minister of State Aodhán Ó Riordáin on his rounds.

"Why Clontarf?" asked a journalist on the first of the properly official canvasses of this campaign.

"Because of Aodhán," replied the outgoing Tánaiste, putting a stop to any further questions by darting off.

It was a deceptively easy one, with polite, well-heeled and happy constituents, prosperous businesses and some very middle-class smoked salmon and goats cheese canapés that were sneakily polished off behind the backs of traditional Labour Party voters.

But in reality, Joan started with what is possibly the biggest challenge of the lot. Getting Aodhán re-elected is not going to be a given in this constituency, dubbed the toughest in the country.

In the face of such high stakes, he showed immense bravery and sacrifice by ditching the crampons and safety harness at Thunders bakery on Vernon Avenue, bypassing the gingerbread men (strictly for beginners) and dived straight in to the cream bun challenge.

Always a tricky one.

But Aodhán cunningly got the nice girl behind the counter to cut his coffee slice in half - offering the other to Joan.

"Oh no," she all but exclaimed in horror at the idea of the photo sequence that might ensue.

Aodhán ate his coffee slice solo and all was well.

It was a funny start to the campaign all round, as the Taoiseach swept into the Dáil chamber to announce rather breathlessly that, yes indeed, it was a wrap.

He managed to get in the fact that, having promised a spring election, he is a man of his word - along with a warning to his constituents to brace themselves because he is coming home to canvass - by turning to a fellow Mayo man, the blind bard Raftery as, as Gaeilge, he quoted a few apt lines of Cill Aodháin, which translated as:

"Now with the springtime

The days will grow longer

And after St Bride's day

My sail I'll let go."

And his sail he did, indeed, let go - after approximately 90 seconds, as he fled the Dáil leaving a howl of protests behind him.

Joan was swiftly by his side - an indication of some choreography at play.

"That's that," said Richard Boyd Barrett, enjoying the show.

"That's the Taoiseach gone off into hiding," said Timmy Dooley.

Then they all suddenly remembered the rules on adjourning the Dáil, crying:

"There's supposed to be a vote."

"Ah, it's fine," shrugged Micheál Martin.

"A pathetic end to a pathetic term," declared Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, as he stood up to go.

It was all over in three minutes - the parties dispatched themselves to their camps and then the ushers of Leinster House settled in to luxuriate in three weeks of uninterrupted peace.

"Ah it's alright," said Ruairi Quinn outside, on the last day of his 43-year-long political career, his eyes filled with tears that may or may not have been from the bitter wind blowing.

"I've had 18 months to get used to it."

Although he admitted: "I wouldn't like to be running again."

Next stop for the Taoiseach was Government Buildings, for the equally brief photocall with Joan, then on to the Áras - where he had a private conversation with the President in the drawing room before the brief ceremony that lasted two minutes, signing the proclamation to formally dissolve the Dáil.

His next port of call was easy - social media - where he announced that Friday, February 26 would be the actual date of the election.

Alan Kelly duly signed the necessary paperwork and then joined Joan at the Labour Party election HQ for a press conference.

And having given that interview at the weekend where he declared that he was "very much his own boss", the outgoing Environment Minister was forced to rather bashfully admit that Joan was actually his boss after all.

And she got a nicely veiled little dig in too as she joked: "He is an incredibly obedient employee." Back in his box then. For now.

Joan said the election would be a contest between the "hope and optimism" offered by Labour and Fine Gael, or the opposition who portrayed Ireland as a "dark dull" place.

Fine Gael's campaign launch saw Michael Noonan attack Sinn Féin's economic plans.

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil's launch saw Micheál Martin attack the Government parties' "broken promises".

"This Government didn't deliver recovery, it delayed it and made it more unfair," he said, afterwards adding: "We're going to hold the Government to account", which all sounded very much like they are preparing to settle happily into another term in Opposition.

Which they apparently aren't - with Martin fiercely declaring in response to questioning: "We are campaigning to get back into government."

Decisions, decisions.

Irish Independent

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