Wednesday 17 October 2018

Our politicians and reality TV make unlikely bedfellows

John Drennan

John Drennan

FINE Gael's two most recent celebrity acquisitions presented us with very different images last week. Mairead McGuinness resembled a country version of the 'HiCo Yummy Mummy' David McWilliams dreams about, while Meath GAA star Graham Geraghty looked far more like the infamous Decklander 'Breakfast Roll Man'.

However, in spite of FG's recent profile acquisitions, nothing epitomised the modern politician's love affair with celebrity more completely than the willingness of the bashful, deeply conservative Republican FF TD Tom McEllistrim to be associated with a British reality television show whose main star was a one-legged lesbian with a serious hard drugs problem.

In fairness to Tom, his relationship with Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother was confined to a meeting he enjoyed with the dapper A-Team star Dirk Benedict. However McEllistrim and the cast of Celebrity Big Brother certainly made for unlikely bed fellows in every sense of the word.

Although an attraction to celebrity candidates is one of the great staples of Irish politics, they have experienced wildly contrasting rates of success.

After a creditable third place performance in the 1999 presidential elections, the singer Dana polled over 50,000 votes in her triumphant European campaign.

However, when it came to the Galway West constituency in the 2002 Dail election she polled a miserable 1,677 first preferences. Her constituency colleague Fergus O'Dowd will be hoping that Mairead McGuinness doesn't suffer a similar fate.

Many celebrities have found that while it is possible to do well in one-off events, winning hearts and minds via the bread and butter route of constituency politics is far more difficult.

A GAA background is no guarantee of success either.

Jack Lynch and his battalions of All-Ireland football and hurling medals may have set the template for the potential of the GAA celebrity, but when the great Limerick hurler Eamonn Cregan ran for FF in Limerick he struggled to secure over 1,500 votes. Padraig Horan may have captured Offaly their first All-Ireland win but he was trounced by a mere junior club hurler called Brian Cowen in the by election that followed the death of Cowen's father.

This hasn't stopped FG from sweet-talking the top GAA manager John O'Mahony into running in Mayo while in Dublin North East the party broke new ground courtesy of its selection of a celebrity sandwich maker called Brody Sweeney. Both are trailing badly in the polls.

Labour's ancient travails with Orla Guerin and Adi Roche means they have generally avoided the celebrity death-trap. The PDs have also been chary about GAA celebrities since the Barney Rock debacle, though this did not stop them making encouraging noises in the direction of celebrity crime correspondent Paul Williams until relations between the turbulent Sunday World scribe and Michael McDowell deteriorated.

The PDs were more successful in securing Colm O'Gorman the director of the One in Four Group.

However O'Gorman's overbearing "that's enough of me talking about me; what do you think of me?" personality and wretched poll ratings suggest his foray into politics is likely to be as disastrous as FG's Colm MacEochaidh's.

When he was chosen to represent FG in Dublin South East, the barrister partially responsible for the establishment of the Flood Tribunal talked a good game. However his disastrous performance cost Fine Gael its sole seat.

Unsurprisingly, the egotistical nature of Irish politics has deterred our modest media stars from running. Their lack of enthusiasm may also have been influenced by the fate suffered by Liam O'Murchu when Haughey decided the RTE presenter would be his designated successor to Jack Lynch in Cork.

O'Murchu's Trom agus Eadrom might have been the RTE equivalent of Tubridy Tonight but the electorate decided Liam was more suited to a career in showbiz. This did not deter parties such as FG from attempting to persuade figures such as George Lee to run in 2002. Sadly for them, George was as prescient about FG's prospects as he usually is about the economy.

In fairness to Fine Gael sometimes it has been the celebrities who have done the hunting. In the Nineties, one of John Bruton's fellow young tigers Vincent Browne made strenuous attempts to secure a FG nomination in a respectable Southside constituency.

Perhaps it was just as well Vincent failed to convince FG of his genius, for in 1989, after a brief two-year Dail stint, even the formidable Madame Editor of the Irish Times and former PD TD Geraldine Kennedy learned the hard way that all political careers, no matter how brief, end in tears.

In spite of the apparent preference of the electorate for dynasties, the celebrity candidate will continue to feature in Irish politics. In Dublin North, rugby star Jim Glennon has been replaced by Dublin star John O'Leary while those sporty PDs are rumoured to be in hot pursuit of the GPA's Dessie Farrell.

One thing, however, has changed. The appearance of Enda Kenny on The Restaurant and a variety of tuneless politicians on Celebrity Euro-star has left some wondering if now it's politics that is being used as a route to celebrity.

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