Wednesday 18 September 2019

Hanafin outshines Tanaiste in tale of two Marys

Tanaiste Mary Coughlan (left) poses for the cameras at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in the Citywest Hotel on Saturday
Tanaiste Mary Coughlan (left) poses for the cameras at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in the Citywest Hotel on Saturday
Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin enjoys a laugh at the party event

Aine Kerr

IT was a tale of two Marys with two wholly different speeches as the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis pitted the Appointed Tanaiste against the Alternative Tanaiste in a battle for approval.

On Saturday morning, when live broadcasting from Fianna Fail's staged love-in commenced, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin faced a simple but defining choice in addressing their down-trodden delegates, viewers and listeners.

They could revert to the pre-prepared civil service script laced with details about frameworks, the smart economy and industrial policy or they could deliver an unscripted speech peppered with talk of tough action, culprits, a recession exit and anecdotes about the unemployed fisherman, plumber and graduate.

In that tale of two speeches, the Tanaiste received polite applause for her anodyne deliverance of a routine speech, while the minister received a standing ovation for what amounted to a pitch for the job as the no-nonsense sheriff of taxpayers' money and the future leadership of Fianna Fail. Once she had delivered a stirring partisan call to arms early on, the crowd became Mary Hanafin cheerleaders.

"Fianna Fail is not making decisions for polls; we are making decisions for people. In Fianna Fail, we aren't making decisions for the next general election, but for the next generation," she told the party faithful.


What astounded delegates, more accustomed to the former Education Minister finger pointing in that schoolmarmish way, was how she could go from Scary Mary to Caring Mary in between 10 seconds of applause.

By the time a round of applause died, delegates weren't sure who was next on her growing hit list of subprime lenders, welfare fraudsters and negative journalists, or if she'd return to the themes of the "Irish can do attitude", how "strong families make strong communities" and how the unemployed can "get their jobs and get their dreams".

In 10 short minutes of unscripted speaking, the minister demoted last year to the Cabinet margins, while the other Mary was promoted to second in command, became the Comeback Kid.

"If there are people claiming benefits to which they are not entitled, they will be stopped. If there are people who are claiming money in this country and are not living here, they will be stopped," she told giddy delegates. But the Tanaiste, in sticking rigidly to a scripted speech which lacked any real passion and personality, failed to enthuse and excite.

Although she hit all the necessary themes of job creation, upskilling, entrepreneurship, foreign direct investment and the rip-off culture, the Tanaiste needed to adjust her method of delivery, to speak with more compassion and humility, to reach beyond a room of delegates to those who are unemployed and watching, and waiting. In opting for safe-tested soundbites, she also opted for sameness, and an unmemorable contribution at an important moment in the country's history.

In the tale of two Marys, one had just scored valuable points among the party faithful and beyond.

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