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Greased and stripped down

ON Sunday's Marian Finucane Show, cheered by the rugby victory that morning, Mary Banotti, Martina Devlin, Jillian van Turnhout, George Hook and David McWilliams chuckled their way through the issues of the day.

A chat about the presidential race began with some there-but-for-the-grace-of-God reminiscing from Banotti as she discussed the indignities of her '97 campaign. She recalled how a traumatic car-crash was claimed by her opponents to be a publicity stunt and even remembered some dirty tricks employed by a member of her own party. She also praised the "twinkling" abilities of Dana and the undue focus on the female candidates' hair styles.

This triggered the first bit of homoerotic private-school towel flicking between Presentation College's Hook and Blackrock College's McWilliams. "Maccer's career is almost entirely determined by his hair!" barked Hook. McWilliams just guffawed nervously (he was probably in a playful headlock at the time).


Later, Devlin said Martin McGuinness's candidacy was an endorsement of the peace process. When Banotti began enunciating the case against McGuinness, Devlin brought up her grand-uncle Michael Collins.

"It was a different time, Marian," said Banotti. This prompted me to consider the difference between McGuinness's previous association with nasty modern terrorism (Alan Rickman in Die Hard) and the charming period carnage of Collins (imagine a Fatty-Arbuckle-lookalike in sped-up black-and-white film footage, jauntily sauntering up to a policeman and shooting him in the face).

Thankfully, the subject was soon changed and McWilliams, a professional economist, was outlining a case for leaving the euro. He made it sound plausible. But Hook (not a professional economist) wasn't so sure. He reminded us that, though McWilliams had a reputation as "the greatest economist since Keynes", he was, in fact, a "Blackrock boy" and that his solutions could somehow lead to "blood on the streets".

In making his argument he referenced the '30s, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and the Weimar Republic (possibly because this was the historical period when he was in his prime) and called McWilliams "Maccer" again. It didn't make much sense and was possibly just some loud breathing that sounded like words, but it was quite exciting.

The real action was over on The Dunphy Show. "So far the presidential debates have been rather unsatisfactory because too many people have been trying to occupy too little space and time," said Eamon Dunphy before introducing just Martin McGuinness and Gay Mitchell. The duo were soon greased up, stripped to the waist and surrounded by Newstalk employees chanting "Two men enter! One man leaves!" It was gripping stuff.

Mitchell got stuck in, accusing McGuinness of lying about when he left the IRA and about taking no more than the average wage. But McGuinness, who has probably spent years dodging actual bullets, is impervious to mere facts. So the best bits came when Mitchell turned his attentions to Dunphy's "biased" chairmanship. It was like when professional wrestlers hit the referee with the chair. "You're going to have to apologise for this, you're an appalling chairman," said Mitchell at one point (earlier he referred to McGuinness as Dunphy's "Pal").

"You're making a fool of yourself," said Dunphy in unbiased disgust. I believe he was sitting on McGuinness's lap at the time.

Later in the week there were more opportunities to hear presidential bluster. "Is money important to you personally?" Matt Cooper asked Mary Davis on Tuesday as he interrogated her about her board memberships. Davis seemed flustered. The next day George Hook asked Dana whether as president she would, if it came to it, sign in gay-marriage or abortion legislation. Dana seemed happily vague.

On Saturday, Charlie Bird talked to some charity workers serving the poor and destitute in Cork city. "You don't know what poverty is until you see six- and seven-year-olds getting excited about a box of groceries," said a Vincent de Paul volunteer.

It was a moving image, but presidential candidates listening from home were probably confused. Why don't those six-year-olds just join some State boards? Couldn't they get elected to the Senate and get a disability allowance as well? Why don't they get a massive MEP's salary? Don't they know someone who could rob a bank? Why don't they just run for President?