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Martina Devlin: Richard has his day in the sun as others get burnt

YOU mustn't call them a hard left bloc -- they're a "principled left" grouping. But don't take my word for it, the description is by Richard Boyd Barrett.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Joe Higgins, the two newly elected TDs -- linchpins in the United Left Alliance -- were straining at the leash to challenge the incoming government's cutbacks.

Even before the coalition takes office, they cast doubt on its capacity to last full-term.

"I don't think people are going to take five years of Fine Gael/Labour austerity," predicted Joe, who dropped in from his Dublin West constituency to support Richard in Dun Laoghaire yesterday.

Whether hard men or principled, the two deputies had their day in the sun yesterday. Watching them together, it was apparent they have much in common: both are intense, both love to talk socialist ideology.

There was a marked difference between the three camps in Loughlinstown Leisure Centre. No need to check the badges to establish who was in which faction.

The Fine Gael crew were in Sunday-best coats, matching accessories and polished shoes.

Labour favoured trendy but smart jackets and stripy scarves. The 'People Before Profit' team took their cue from Richard in donkey jackets and jeans. Louis Copeland needn't expect much business from him.

Social kissing was also a feature among the Fine Gael and Labour contingents, but 'People Before Profit' reserved their lips strictly for discussing policy.

There was much talk about the 'Gilmore Gale' during the election campaign and, rather appropriately, he blew in and blew out of the count centre for short bursts over the weekend. It was clear he was already preparing for government.

However, observers were surprised he didn't bring Ivana Bacik home on his surplus -- suggesting his is a personal, rather than a party, one. And perhaps Labour could have taken a leaf out of Fine Gael's vote-management strategy.

As for 'People Before Profit', they may not have scored the highest vote, but they won the most powerful vocal cords competition. How they hollered when their man took the fourth seat, after Eamon Gilmore, Sean Barrett and Mary Mitchell-O'Connor.

Immediately after his election was finally confirmed yesterday, Richard -- smiling at last after the strain of a prolonged wait -- posed with his photogenic son and stepson Noah (7) and Fionn (12).

Noah's grandmother Sinead Cusack, who gave Richard up for adoption as a baby, slipped unobtrusively into the count centre on Saturday night, shortly after the Boyd Barrett parents left. At that stage the final seat could still have gone either way.

"It's a complicated system, the outcome will be close," said Sinead. "Obviously I hope Richard takes a seat.

"But he has fought a great campaign so I am very proud of him and very proud of his team, whatever happens."

Petite and slightly-built like her son, the resemblance between the pair was visible when they stood alongside each other.

All through Saturday's count Richard remained cautiously optimistic that Mary Hanafin's seat could be his. The arts minister was slow to arrive at the count centre, not turning up until 8.45pm on Saturday. It was clear she had to psyche herself to do it.

"Of course this is difficult and disappointing -- I'll probably be really upset next week," she admitted. "Politics has been my life, it's what I do every day and have done for a number of years.

"But my father (senator Des Hanafin) was always quoting the line from 'The Sopranos', 'You could have joined the Navy'."

Election counts are a blood sport. Even if you think it appropriate that a public representative should crash out, seeing it happen to them in person makes it impossible to ignore their pain.

"I have had bigger blows and come through," said Mary, in a clear reference to the death of her husband. She ruled out a return to teaching: "You don't go back. My heart is in political life and public life."

The problem, of course, was her Fianna Fail party. As one elderly lady said to her during the canvass, "I have nothing against you, Mary, but I don't like the company you keep."

Shortly after Mary Hanafin unofficially conceded, the Dun Laoghaire result was deferred overnight.

The most gracious acceptance speech was made by Mary Mitchell-O'Connor, sporting enough to pay tribute to unsuccessful women candidates Mary Hanafin and Ivana Bacik.

"I'm disappointed for Ivana. I'm also disappointed for Mary Hanafin, who worked very hard for Dun Laoghaire," the Galway-born school principal said.

As for Barry Andrews, an early casualty in the constituency his family has represented for nearly half a century -- nobody mentioned him.

Did I call politics a blood sport? Make that a gladiators' arena.

Irish Independent