Most men I know are fans of Clare Daly at two levels. First, of course, she is a very attractive woman, especially to men who have moved beyond the blonde bimbo stage, but not in a way that immediately interests younger men – and I know because my male film students don't respond to her looks, but most of my contemporaries do. Clare is what the French call 'jolie laide', and if she were conventionally pretty it would diminish her power to make men of the world pay attention. The key ingredient is the energy she exudes, and that is always sexual at some level.
Of course, she has classical basics – a lean face, a strong nose, and great red-russet hair. In short, she has the kind of strong, handsome face that appeals to a wider male constituency than the hard left.
Second, her looks are at the service of her politics. She has softened both in recent months – her hair is lighter in colour and her politics have lightened up, too. Some credit for that change must go to the Vincent Browne programme where she got plenty of exposure, enough to allow her to relax and learn that less is more on television and shrill ideolological lecturing makes you look like a robot.
That change became more marked when she made the abortion issue her own. Instead of indulging herself in ideological haranguing of the sort that can make Ivana Bacik sound cranky, Clare began to speak in simple language to the women not just of the working class, but of middle Ireland. Around that time, too, I began to get feedback from some surprising people – devout middle-aged Catholic women who were moved by her passionate concern for women who were pregnant and not able to cope.
At the same time, she became a commanding performer in the Dail, occupying the pro-choice ground which the Labour party had conceded in order to get along with Fine Gael. She was helped here by the break with the hard left comrades. In that sense, her relationship with Mick Wallace brought her two big political benefits. It helped free her from party shackles and grow as an individual politician.
And men admired her stand-up loyalty – although most of us wished it had been in a better cause.