Sunday 15 December 2019

Standing room only as candidates fight for space on plinth

Alan Kelly: also in the running. Photo: Tom Burke
Alan Kelly: also in the running. Photo: Tom Burke

DEPUTY leader candidates are like double-decker buses – one hangs around in the rain for ages waiting for one to arrive, and then two trundle up together.

Joan may have got a grand day for her big moment on Wednesday when she and her gang of Burtonistas basked in the sunshine on the plinth, but the first brace of deputy wannabes out of the traps weren't so meteorologically blessed.

It was chucking down rain at 10.30am when junior minister Alan Kelly lugged his hat to the sheltered portico by Leinster House where yet another large pack of media awaited. It's a small space, so one reporter had checked beforehand if Alan would be accompanied by anyone, only to be informed, "He's bringing an entourage."

Golly. But instead of roadies and drummers and the like, the Tipp North TD materialised with a handful of Labour colleagues, including Louth TD Ged Nash, Dublin Mid-West's Robert Dowds, Carlow-Kilkenny deputy Ann Phelan (who proposed Joan Burton the previous day) and the party's Maharajah of the Midlands, Westmeath deputy Willie Penrose, plus senators John Kelly and John Whelan.

"Two questions only," barked one of his entourage. But to nobody's great surprise, the candidate was perfectly content to stand and talk about himself and his achievements and ambitions.

And he, too, danced along the tricky tightrope of assuring the assembly that he had no intention of starting a ruckus with Fine Gael, while simultaneously throwing Labour-shaped shapes. "On entering government the priority was stability," he said, adding that now the priority "must be on freeing people from the stresses and strains of financial hardship brought about by the financial collapse".

Alan was quick to stress his credentials as the springiest of spring chickens among the candidates (Joan being 65 years old) "I'm 38 years old. I know a lot of people of my generation who are struggling... these people really need to be supported in the coming years," he declared.

He had hardly departed the scene when news came through that Cork South-West TD Michael McCarthy would be shortly en route to the plinth clutching his piece of headwear to fling in the ring. And then word began to circulate that Waterford's Ciara Conway was mulling over a tilt and might head for the plinth, too. Oh, and junior health minister Alex White was expected to pop his head out of the Labour bunker and bravely declare he's running against Joan.

Rain or no rain, there was a growing danger that candidates would end up stacked over the plinth like planes over Heathrow at rush-hour. One Labour staffer involved in directing the candidate gridlock, was in the state of giddiness which often accompanies exhaustion. "This election lark is so 20th century," he observed. "We're thinking of doing an X Factor style audition and elimination process."

Now that WOULD be fun, and certainly could prove a novel way to capture the attention of an electorate which must be bored to sobs at this juncture with all things political. Perhaps Labour could persuade their two senior likely lads Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn to be Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh, just to add to the craic.

A couple of hours later, junior minister for research and innovation Sean Sherlock, hurled his hat into the fray – but he was in his constituency in Cork East, about 200km from the plinth.

But there was no escaping the concrete soapbox, and by lunchtime everyone was fighting off deja-vu on the plinth as Michael McCarthy touched down to make his case for the gig. Unlike Entourage Kelly, the Cork TD was all on his ownio.

"I don't think this is about who brings out the most amount of people, and this isn't about the parliamentary party in Leinster House – this is about the members of the Labour Party in every single constituency in this country," he declared.

Of course he does have at least two comrades in his corner – his proposer and seconder, Dublin North-West TD John Lyons and Cork South-Central's Ciaran Lynch – the latter appeared eventually and busied himself passing around press releases.

Why did he think there was so many Corkonians involved in the contest for what really isn't a particularly vital job? After all, Fianna Fáil have managed perfectly well thank you without a deputy leader since Eamon O'Cuiv resigned in February 2012.

"It's a Munster thing – stand up and fight," he reckoned.

Well they'll have to stand up – at this rate it'll be standing-room only on the damn plinth by the weekend.

Irish Independent

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