Floodgates open as rivals launch attack to rain on Sean's parade
THE candidates should've filed into RTE two by two, like animals into the ark. Biblical quantities of rain had lashed down on Dublin all day, but the question was, would the floodgates open for this very last debate? Would a storm of insults rain down upon Sean Gallagher's head in the hopes that his extraordinary showing in the polls would be a washout?
There had been hints of an impending attack on the front-runner at the Newstalk Google debate earlier in the day, when Gay Mitchell and Martin McGuinness both launched Fianna Fail-related broadsides at Sean. But would Pat Kenny be able to winkle out some new nuggets out of the Aras Seven, as after numerous debates the candidates have the measure of each other and by and large have answers prepared for most of the questions hurled their way. It's hard to remember that golden age when it was possible to switch on the telly or radio and not hear the Aras Seven singing for their supper at yet another talking-shop, for all the world like a reluctant band assembled by Louis Walsh and forced to tour the country.
Pat eased them in gently, but if Sean allowed himself to relax, then he was sorely mistaken.
For the first question from the audience came roaring towards him like an Exocet missile. What, asked the woman, is to be said about the state of the country if eight months after ejecting Fianna Fail, an ex-Fianna Fail businessman looks set to be president?
Golly. The floodgates began to creak open. Sean retreated into his standard answer that he had never been afraid to admit being a "grassroots member" and that it was unfair to "demonise" these humble Soldiers of Destiny.
Pat then threw the question open to the rest of the candidates. Michael D Higgins was nimble in his answer. "I don't believe he will be the next president," he declared, adding: "People are rallying to a real independent mind, and that's me."
David Norris had a go, though -- something which he's steered clear of until this final debate. Referring to a remark made during the Google debate earlier in the day, he said, "I thought Sean had a bit of neck where he identified with plasters and plumbers."
Mary Davis gave a wishy-washy reply, but Martin McGuinness came out of the traps with his boots flying straight at Sean's shiny head. "There was something very rotten at the heart of the last administration, and as far as I'm concerned Sean's a part of that," he announced. "Sean is up to his neck with Fianna Fail."
A slightly shell-shocked Sean tried to reply. "This seems to be all about you," remarked Pat.
Gay Mitchell kept it simple. "I don't believe people's memories are so short," he reckoned.
But Martin wasn't finished with Sean -- not by a long shot. With the dramatic flourish of a caped Shakespearean villain, he produced a (metaphorical) smoking gun. He had been chatting to a man in Dundalk earlier who had a tale to tell about Sean hanging out with Brian Cowen and collecting cheques for Fianna Fail fundraisers.
Sean was adamant that he had met Brian Cowen and had collected no such cheque, and wanted to know the identity of his accuser. "Perhaps he might identify the name and background of that person," he said.
"I would caution you, Sean, you're in very murky waters. I think you're in deep, deep trouble," said Martin with obvious relish.
And the attacks kept coming from all sides -- the Indians were coming whooping over the hills and Sean was left circling his wagon of one.
There were questions about cheques resting in his bank account, about how many Cairde Fail dinners he had attended. At one stage Pat Kenny asked Michael D Higgins, "Do you want to say something about Sean?" But Michael D stayed his hand.
"No, I don't," he said.
It didn't matter though -- Sean's parade had been truly rained upon already.