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Martina Devlin: Love is in the air as pals Dunphy and Ross give cronyism kiss-off

LIKE music-hall veterans, they fed each other punchlines. Eamon Dunphy was offering Valentine's Day kisses -- his own or Shane Ross's -- in return for votes for the senator.

Every man has his price. But there'd be no puckering up on the cheap: the votes had to be first preferences.

"He hasn't been very generous with his kisses, he's only given out about 10," said Ross.

"Don't be so quick to complain -- nine of them were to men," Dunphy retaliated.

"Just a normal day then," shrugged Ross.

Dublin South is a volatile constituency and was briefly represented by RTE's George Lee. But Senator Shane Ross is nine to one on with the bookies to take a seat as an Independent candidate. And with Dunphy's lips at his service on the campaign trail, the odds seemed to be shortening.

Shoppers in Stillorgan yesterday made a beeline for Dunphy as he stood outside Tesco urging: "Vote for this man -- he's honest."

The writer and presenter described himself as the senator's "unofficial campaign manager" and friend.

Brutus may have betrayed his friendship with Caesar with a kiss, but Dunphy proved his worth to Ross with at least 10 of them.

He even snuggled up to people before discovering they had no vote in the constituency, such as Tesco's Sandra Moylan.

It could have been a bitter-sweet canvass -- after all, Dunphy almost ran, too. But he has no regrets: "You need a hide like a rhino for this job. If one person ignores me I get hurt, I can't take it. I wouldn't be cut out for politics. I did think about it but we ran out of time."


Optician Dan Fratini (26) tried to get stuck into discussing the beautiful game with the soccer pundit. (Politics is also a game but it's not a particularly beautiful one.) Dunphy swung the conversation back to the election, appealing for him to support Ross, but Dan was veering toward Sinn Fein "because they talk sense".

A passing shopper predicted Ross would end up doing a deal with Fine Gael. Ross said the deal-breaker, before any government could count on his vote, was an end to "the system of cronyism which is embedded in Irish culture".

He is calling for the removal of ministerial powers to make political appointments to state agencies and bodies.

Instead they should be made by an independent panel, with appointees facing public scrutiny.

A man carrying his groceries stopped and told him: "I never thought I'd be voting for Sinn Fein on the same day I'd be voting for Shane Ross -- but I am."

It was the only time Ross was lost for words.

He shares Sinn Fein's views on burning the bondholders but insists the rapport ends there. No chemistry in that camp, then.

Ross said: "It's absolutely imperative the bondholders should be burned -- I know some of these people and they have said they expect to take some pain."

He described default as morally right, but he's talking about a negotiated default rather than simply walking away. "There is a difference in degree but not in the principle."

Bookseller Anne put him through his paces with a series of questions. He told her: "Ireland is run by an oligarchy of bankers, developers, politicians and civil servants, especially the Department of Finance. They hold that power among themselves. It will only change if you put in a lot of Independents to shake up the tribal system."

He doesn't believe in Fine Gael or Fianna Fail's "deathbed conversions" to reform and cited this as the reason he turned down Fine Gael's "very attractive" offer to run for the party.

The polls are showing a possibility that Independents could shore up a Fine Gael government in the next Dail. If that happens, Ross hopes to form a loose coalition with centrist Independents. But he said neither Michael Lowry nor Jackie Healy-Rae's son Michael, if elected, would form part of that federation.

"I wouldn't do a deal with them -- I'm only interested in people who put the national interest first."

Irish Independent