Monday, February 28, 2011

General Election results

Well that was some weekend. Like all good dramas the count had highs and lows and of course a large quantity of alcohol was consumed. Met a lot of people at the count centre that I hadn't seen in ages which was also great.

First the positives of the election
  • Kevin Humphreys taking a second seat in Dublin South East. I've spent a lot of time on the doors with Kevin and it is great to see all that hard work pay off. What's even better is that we managed to get two seats on just over 25% of the vote.
  • The slaughter of Fianna Fáil across the country. After 14 years of mismanagement the electorate finally gave them the kicking they deserve.
  • Ciara Conway hanging on to Brian O'Shea's seat in Waterford. When Thomas Kyne retired in 1977 it took a few elections to win the seat back. Ciara taking it on the 1st attempt is wonderful.
  • The electorate of Dublin North West rejecting right wing candidates across the board.
  • Derek Nolan topping the poll in Galway West. Taking over from Michael D Higgins can never be the easiest task and with Catherine Connolly eating into your support base that job gets harder.
  • The success of both SF and ULA candidates that shows there is an appetite for strong left wing politics in Ireland.
Then the downsides
  • Vote management breakdowns in constituencies potentially costing Labour second seats. Cork East, Dublin West and Dún Laoighre I'm looking at you in particular. Bacik and Nulty would have been great additions to the Dáil.
  • The unstopable FG machine west of the Shannon.
  • The re-election of a large group of parish pumpers, particularly in Kerry South.
  • The success of SF and ULA shows that Labour needs to be careful about its left flank as there are now serious threats to it.

So where do we go from here? With probably 76 seats, FG are in the driving seat when it comes to forming a government. The obvious partner is Labour and I'm sure that will be the outcome in the end. The alternatives are cobbling together a group of independents or dealing with the devil in the guise of FF.

From the list of elected independents Ross, Lowry, Healy-Rae, and Grealish are the obvious cohort. After that you need to rope some of both McGraths, Wallace and Fleming. I would think it a step to far for O'Sullivan, Pringle, Murphy or Halligan to support an FG led government but then again look at the Gregory deal with Haughey for precedent.

Despite being natural bed-fellows, with only a squabble over some treaty about 90 years ago to differentiate between them, there is a strong argument for a reverse Tallaght strategy where by FF agree to support an FG minority government. However, this is the least likely outcome of this week's horse trading. It would be extremely difficult for Enda Kenny to accept this support after all his statements on a strong, stable government. It would also stop Michael Martin's plans for renewal of FF as he needs to distance the party as much as possible from the cuts and taxes that will be implemented.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Campaign Diary - The Final Day

I love voting, not that it should come as much of a surprise to regular readers. Since I turned 18 I have only missed one vote, when Mary McAleese became President. Other than that I have re-arranged holidays, worked early or late or just strolled up the road to exercise my democratic right.

For the last few votes I have attended the polling station earlier and earlier in the morning. For the locals in 2009 I voted at about 7:20 and for Lisbon 2 I was the second person into the polling station just as they opened up for business. However, today I took it easier and voted coming up to lunch. At the time the presiding officer told me they had a turnout of about 18%. Reports on the evening news suggests that overall turnout will be around 70% which is fantastic.

My ballot paper had 16 names on it. 1 and 2 were easy - Humphreys and Quinn. After a little bit of debate Gormley, despite everything, went down as 3, ULA/PBP's Mooney got 4, SF MacAodhain 5 and then Dylan Haskins at 6. I did contemplate going all the way down just to put Coyle at 16 and a mix of FF/FG at 13-15 but I just couldn't bring myself to separate the rest of the mess. It is unlikely that my ballot will go beyond Kevin Humphreys anyway so I didn't feel too bad.

Tomorrow the count starts and I'll be down in the RDS from early morning tallying and then generally hanging around to see what happens. If you happen to be in the area pop over to the Dublin South East pen and say hello.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Campaign Diary Days 20 and 21 - Final Debate

Last night had the final TV debate between the leaders of the three largest parties. And what a complete snoozefest it turned into. After the opening statements we had yet another rehashing of banking and fiscal policy for the guts of an hour. Now I know the economy is the bedrock of the country but we've heard it all before. Couldn't the topics for the debates have been better organized? Maybe focus on Health and Welfare in one and Foreign Affairs/EU and Education in another?

The only bit of enjoyment I got out of the whole thing was Enda Kenny's comments about Irish Dancing. I watched the debate in the company of a group of political twonks from across the spectrum over a few pints and this had us all in stitches. It immediately brought out a rash of comments about Comely Maidens and other Dev-like utterings.

Unfortunately, my time has become taken up with another matter this week and it's not looking likely that I'm going to get any further diary entries before election day. Thanks to all of you who have made February my most read month ever (by a long stretch). I'll be in the RDS on Saturday hanging out at the Dublin South East pen if you want to stop over and say hello.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Campaign Diary Days 18 and 19 - The Final Push

The weekend, the time of rest, recharge the batteries, mow the lawn, do the shopping. Unless you happen to be involved in the general election campaign. With less than a week to go to polling day Saturday and, to a lesser extent, Sunday were the last days to get a large blitz of postering and leafleting done. Volunteers' time is precious and so co-ordination of this mass mobilization is key. Luckily after Friday night's wash out, the weather held off over the weekend which allowed thousands of leaflets to be dropped right across the constituency.

Support for parties has now pretty much solidified. A few weeks ago many people at the doors were declaring themselves as undecided. Now it is rare to find a person who hasn't picked a side. It is unlikely that many voters will be swayed by the final debate on Tuesday unless some major incident occurs. If Kenny gets outed as a member of the IRA, Gilmore starts singing the old Soviet anthem or Martin actually apologizes for his repeated screwups over the last 14 years then all bets are off but I seriously doubt any of the above will happen.

From here on it it is all about shoring up support. The focus for each candidate will be to make sure the core vote goes to the polling station on Friday. While you might pick up an odd preference here and there in other areas, dropping the ball on home turf will cost you dearly when the boxes are opened on Saturday. At this stage my feet will be glad to move away from Rathmines, Ranelagh and Rathgar where every house seems to have 15 granite steps up to the front door.

As an aside here's a photo of a sign I spotted on a door in Dublin South East. The final few words on the long sentence were "get a decent job".

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 17 - Vested Interests

The term vested interest has been flung around over the last few days by all parties in the election. From Labour we get attacks on landlords big business as they seem to move to Fine Gael from Fianna Fáil. From the right we get the attacks on the Trade Unions as vested interests hanging around Labour's neck like an albatross. And everyone is attacking RTE about their biased coverage of the election.

What I don't get is why people are so caught up on the term. There is no other type of interest except a vested one. If you don't have skin in the game then you wouldn't give a hoot about the outcome. The Unions are there to represent their members' interests, IBEC is there to represent the views of business owners. Whether or not they have succeeded in this goal over the last few years is neither here nor there. That is their goal and they should not be attacked for doing what they are designed to do.

I had an interesting conversation with a surveyor the other day in Ranelagh. He was very put off by Labour's policy on outlawing upward only rent reviews and claimed that it would be a distortion in the market. Now to my mind the current setup already massively distorts the market. In the commercial world rents are generally a proportion of the cost price of the premises. In a world of falling property prices, the rents have to come down. Otherwise I will just relocate my business to an adjacent building offering lower rents. The alternative is that with all other costs and prices falling, rent will become too much of a burden and I shut up shop.

If the choice has to be made between protecting property owners' investments and protecting viable businesses providing employment to staff and generating tax revenues I certainly know which side I come down on. The removal of upward only rent reviews is the right thing to do.

Of course the gentleman in Ranelagh saw no irony in then attacking various vested interests of public sector workers and unions after blatantly pushing his own vested interest for the previous five minutes. Maybe I should send him an Alannis Morissette CD before polling day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Campaign Diary Days 15 and 16 - Two more Debates

I have a long standing (16 years at this stage!) commitment on Wednesday evenings and so what is midweek for most is my evening off from the political scene. So it was with some disappointment that I realized I was going to miss the diospóireacht as Gaeilge on TG4 between the three main leaders. By all accounts it was far better than Monday's debate. With the figures showing up to half a million people watched at least part of one of the two broadcasts, it shows that holding a debate in Irish, when all three leaders are able to speak the language, is a good idea.

Last night there was a far more parochial debate held in the Town Hall in Rathmines. Chaired by Aine Lawlor, the event was well attended by both politicians and the public. Due to a meeting in Ringsend about the incinerator, not all candidates were there at the start but by the end only Ruairi Quinn (who had sent apologies) and Chris Andrews were the only representatives of the main parties to not attend.

The format allowed each candidate to give a 5 minute pitch which took about an hour. With so many independents running in Dublin South East this was a great opportunity allow them to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. Most impressive were Paul Sommerville, Hugh Sheehy and, surprisingly to me, Dylan Haskins. On the other end of the scale I wouldn't have rated James Coyle or Peadar O'Ceallaigh highly on the basis of their performance. Mannix Flynn went off on his usual tirade against the system which having heard it several times before, did nothing for me. Of the party representatives, Annette Mooney did well as did John Gormley despite facing a fairly hostile crowd. Eoghan Murphy talked in endless platitudes and aspirations and won't have won over much from Lucinda Creighton's support base.

The second hour was taken up with questions and statements from the floor with responses from various panel members. The opening twenty minutes or so was taken up with the closure of the cancer care in St Luke's hospital. While obviously an important issue locally, with most of the candidates running on national issues Aine Lawlor had her work cut out moving the debate on to other topics. Once over the first hurdle the questions came thick and fast touching on welfare and disability cuts, the quango cull, Croke Park and political reform.

One man, who I have seen at various meetings before, tried to make a big issue out of immigration but none of the candidates were interested and in fact Sheehy took him on, stating that many of his co-workers, while not Irish, were hard working, tax payers and should be welcomed here. There was also a frank exchange on FG's position on trade unions with Creighton getting in all her talking points on Jack O'Connor and David Begg.

The meeting eventually finished up just after 10:30 by which stage most of the 200 or so in the room were glad to leave and get some fresh air. Overall it was a most enjoyable evening and certainly sorted out the ranking of all the independents in my mind. Well done to the Rathmines Initiative for arranging the event.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 14 - Abortion again

Previously I mentioned how the abortion issue was cropping up on the doorsteps mainly in a negative light. Well last night we were out in the Mount Pleasant area between Rathmines and Ranelagh. I knocked at a door just after the woman who lives there arrived back from work. After announcing who I was canvassing for her first question was "what's your stance on the X case?" and I thought uh-oh. Having given her the official answer I prepared to be berated again but to my surprise she said that she was glad that some party was giving a straight answer on the topic and was willing to drag Ireland into the 21st Century.

From there we had a wide ranging discussion on all sorts of social and equality issues before being joined by the candidate for the traditional handshake. Her parting words were of encouragement and that there were a lot of people for whom our stance on X is important. They may not be as vocal as Cóir and the like, but they are out there, and do appreciate us taking a stand for progressive legislation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 13 - Five Way Debate

RTE held a 5-way debate between the leaders of the main parties on their Frontline programme. After rushing home from canvassing and a quick campaign meeting, I was hoping for some fireworks. Unfortunately the whole thing went off like a damp squib.

Firstly, the format of the entire event was poorly thought out. The audience questions, while a nice touch to give the election a human face, were pretty obvious and so allowed the participants to ream off pre-prepared material, often dodging the one specific that had been asked. Then Pat's restatement of the question to suit his particular slant didn't help much either. Finally having five debaters means that at different times people are going to miss out when there is an open goal just due to not being brought in until the moment has passed. Think of how many times and answer began with something like "before I get to that, I'd just like to return to something Fred said a minute ago"?

As for the leaders' performances, lets work left to right across the stage.

John Gormley actually acquitted himself well when I was expecting a bit of a meltdown. His continued use of electoral reform as the panacea for all Ireland's ills did get a bit boring though. His biggest problem was the lack of interaction with any of the other leaders. They have already written the Greens off and so pretty much ignored Gormley except when absolutely necessary.

Eamon Gilmore did much better than in the TV3 debate. He took off the kid gloves and got stuck into both Kenny and Martin on occasion. He had a chance to floor Kenny on the growth rates but he let the moment pass. For periods of time he did seem to step back and let the other four dominate the discussion but when he was involved it was clear and precise.

Enda Kenny, having landed the middle desk, didn't overly impress but didn't make any major blunders either. Like Gormley, his repeating of the same point, in this case "The Fine Gael party has a five point plan" got a bit tiring. Also his body language towards the end showed someone who as uncomfortable to be there - slouching and hands in pockets is never a good look.

Micheál Ó'Mairtín again displayed his prowess as a debater and points scorer but was leveled a few times by the Rip Van Winkle line. While he thought it was ironic for SF to be giving out about fraud, he happily seemed to forget his own parties murky history in that regard. Solid performance but won't have won any votes.

Gerry Adams, way out on the end, will be happy with his performance. After the 2007 farce he has obviously been well trained and got his points across well. His was the greatest line of the evening: "Sinn Féin will be a ninja for the economy". Well at least it came across that way.

All in all I didn't learn anything I didn't already know. But then again us partisan hacks are not like the general population so maybe there was some merit in the whole event. The depressing thing is that we all seem to be happy to declare Kenny the winner just on the basis of not making a complete fool of himself. I'd like to think I have slightly higher standards for my politicians.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 12 - Constitution Day

As regular readers will know I am all in favour of changing our current political structures. They have been shown to be not fit for purpose. However, you will also know that I'm not a fan of tinkering around the edges of the constitution. The primary document of the state is forever, not just for Christmas, and so modifications should be well thought out before being put to the people.

So Fine Gael's plan to put a series of amendments to the people within a year of taking power (possibly on the same day as the Presidential election in November) has set off some alarm bells. I'm going to look at each of the proposals in turn.
Cutting the number of politicians by 35%. This includes abolishing the Seanad and reducing the number of TDs by 20
I have already outlined my objections to getting rid of the Seanad. Similarly I don't think getting rid of 20 TDs is really going to solve any of the problems in the Oireachtas. There needs to be a major overhaul of the operation of the houses of the Oireachtas but cutting the numbers is just a stunt that has to be followed through on, following Enda Kenny's solo run about 18 months ago.
Giving Dáil Committees full powers of investigation
Where does the line between the judiciary and the legislature lie? What sort of investigations will the committees undertake? Would need to see a lot of detail on this before being happy. However, there have been times when compelling witnesses to attend committee meetings would be helpful and enabling this would be a good move.
Reducing the President’s term from seven to five years
The only reason I can think of this is to run the Presidential election at the same time as the local and European elections. No reason to do this at all except to allow more people have a go at being President.
Providing the Oireachtas with the power to cut judges’ pay
Like item two this is a very slippery slope. The entire point of this provision in the Constitution is to stop the Dáil from threatening Judges with pay cuts in order to keep their decisions in line with the Dáil's point of view. Again it impinges strongly on the separation of powers. With the legislature already completely dominated by the executive removing the current provision would just strengthen further the government's powers. Even if the power was never exercised it would always be left hanging over the judiciary. Not good.
Putting the Ombudsman on a constitutional footing
This is the most sensible of the suggestions. The Ombudsman's Office is a key part of open and accountable democracy and so I have no problem in formalizing its existence in the constitution.

Of course the proposals don't address any of the fundamental problems in our state. Nothing on equality, nothing on separation of church and state, nothing on freedom of information, nothing on term limits for politicians, nothing on making the executive more accountable to the legislature. This is pretty much a pointless exercise with one exception. I certainly know which way I'll be voting on these proposals if they are put before the people.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 11 - Single Party Government

As usual the results of the Sunday Business Post poll have been leaked a few hours early. Today's figures, which were collected Tuesday-Thursday, show FG on a monstrous 38% with Labour leading the rest on 20% followed by FF 15%, SF 10%, Green 3% and Independents on 14%. The other main figure to note is that undecideds have dropped from 20% to 17% so the public are making their minds up.

The result that these polls indicate is Fine Gael forming a single party government, either through a small overall majority or else with the support of some of the right leaning independents such as Ross, Lowry and Lord Healy-Rae II. Back in 1982 FG won 39% of the vote and got 42% of the seats. But that was with the backdrop of FF winning 45% of the vote. With the nearest competition almost 20 points behind, FG will get a huge seat bonus with most of the last seats falling to them.

So where do the other parties go from here? Attacking Enda for being weak has failed, ignoring Enda has failed, attacking each other has failed. It seems to me that FG have taken a long hard look at the New Labour strategy from 1997 and it is working for them. Just stick to the message and ignore everything else going on around you. The big problem for FF, Lab and SF is the sharp focus of their campaigns on their respective leaders. FG have been smart in letting Bruton, Varadkar, Reilly and others take the lead showing it as a team effort.

There are still two weeks to go and in Irish politics, where there are 43 local elections happening around the country, anything could happen. But at present it is looking good for FG but they may be wondering have they peaked to soon or are they still building momentum.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 10 - Abortion

Well it was only a matter of time really. As I mentioned before, the abortion issue hasn't gone away and in today's Independent, that well known liberal conservative David Quinn, brought the issue back into sharp focus. Entitled "Any vote for Labour is a vote for abortion", Quinn's rant involves a lot of misrepresentation and twisting of opinions to suit his own view point.

Labour is not for abortion. Labour is for legislating in line with the X case. There is a huge difference between those two statements. The former implies that abortion on demand would become the norm. The latter states that  if in government Labour would bring in laws that back up the rulings of the Supreme Court and the European Court. The Irish people have already rejected referendums on overturning X and so all you can say is that a vote for Labour is a vote for implementing the will of the majority of the people. The 1992 amendment that would remove the X case justification was rejected by 2-1. Since then it is most likely that views have moderated and were that wording to be put again it would be rejected even more strongly.

What is most annoying about this issue is the hypocrisy of parties and lobby groups such as the Iona Institute when dealing with constitutional rights. The crime of blasphemy, while anachronistic, was legislated for because it was in the constitution and the religious right welcomed the proposal because it closed a legal hole caused by lack of legislation. However, legislating in line with the X case, which is what the constitution says we should do, has been left open for almost 20 years.

Either the constitution is the primary document of law of the country or it isn't. You can't have it both ways. From my point of view, I am proud of the Labour Party's stance and look forward to legislation being brought in that respects the view of the majority, rather than continuing with the sham that panders to the Ionas, Cóirs and Youth Defences of this world.

Update (21:30) - this evening I got given a set of plastic rosary beads by a kind gentleman while canvassing in Sandymount to help save my soul. I wonder if I need to declare it on a SIPO return.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 7 - TV3 Debate

Like most of the political twonks in the country, I ditched last night's canvass a few minutes early to get to a TV to watch the first Leaders' Debate on TV3. After all the fuss over Enda Kenny's no show, it was good to finally get the show on the road and get some actual interaction between some of the leading politicians in the country. Over the course of an hour or so, Martin and Gilmore got stuck into each other in what was, surprisingly, a very entertaining debate.

Here are just a few observations having had a night to sleep on it.
  • Vincent Browne showed that he can be well behaved and not harangue people. This was nearly the biggest surprise of the night.
  • Micheal Martin has a brass neck of epic proportions. He did very well distancing himself from the current government despite Eamon Gilmore constantly referring to him as Minister.
  • Gilmore came across as calm and collected which will stand him in good stead. For a long time he has been portrayed as a shouty firebrand and while his hardline support (me included) wished he got stuck in to Martin a bit more, the moderate stance will have played well to the middle ground, floating voter.
  • Enda Kenny would have been destroyed by either of them. The 5 way will give Kenny a bit of match practice but the final two debates will leave him with nowhere to hide.
  • Martin's performance vindicates his shafting of Brian Cowen. Had Cowen been debating Gilmore, Labour would be heading for an overall majority after the debate.
  • Neither side lander a killer blow or made a major mistake. Both sides will be happy to have one debate under their belts and will be more "match fit" than the other leaders for the remaining debates.
Enda Kenny didn't have a great night of it down in Leitrim either. The video of 8 odd minutes (RTE) of a heckling from a disgruntled attendee (Newstalk) is very funny. There really seemed to be no way to stop the man once he was in full flow despite some attempted strong-arming by FG handlers and loyalists. Lidl's spoof interview between Browne and Kenny is also quality entertainment.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Campaign Diary Day 5 and 6 - Canvassing

For years I hated the idea of canvassing. I didn't like the idea of cold calling on a door and trying to convince whoever answered the door that my preferred choice of candidate was best for them. I also didn't like the idea that if I was asked about party policy on some obscure issue that I would be expected to give a comprehensive response. So I just volunteered as a leaflet dropper, something I started off my political career doing in the early 1980s as a nipper.

Then in the 2004 local elections I went out knocking with Mary Freehill and discovered that it's not so scary. Most people are polite at when someone knocks at the door and don't ask awkward questions. Most of the time they are too busy doing something else to want to spend more than 20 seconds being asked for their vote. But it is important to be asked as the exit polls have shown that being asked for your vote and meeting the candidate personally are two of the main influences on how you mark your ballot paper.

While I wouldn't consider myself a master canvasser by any stretch, having witnessed the real hard sell from some in the final days of a campaign, there are some basic rules which should see you right if you decide to knock on people's doors.
  • If you have never canvassed before, tag along with someone fairly experienced to learn the ropes. In dark areas or on streets with long driveways it can be safer to canvass in pairs even if both are used to canvassing.
  • Always smile and look positive when the door is opened. As the old TV ad used to say first impressions do last.
  • Present the canvass card or leaflet with the candidate's name and picture towards the person. It focuses them on what message you are trying to sell.
  • Clearly state what you are doing: "I'm canvassing on behalf of Jim Murphy of the Monster Raving Loony Mad Party who is running in this constituency".
  • Then take a second and see what reaction you are getting. Either the person will already be looking to close the door or will be looking for a chance to ask a question
    or make a comment. Let them have their say - canvassing is a conversation not a broadcast medium.
  • If they don't do either of the above ask them a question: "Have you considered who you are going to vote for in the election?" People like being asked their opinion and so that should elicit some response. If it doesn't then you're best off just finishing up with a parting line "Well please consider giving Jim your number one".
  • If the candidate is with you don't leave them alone at a door - they may get stuck and need help moving on to the next house.
  • Always remain polite. If you disagree with someone, don't get in a fight. If you disagree with party policy, now is not the time to bring it up - you are acting as the salesman here!
  • Make sure the printed material ends up in the person's hand. They may look at it before throwing it in the green bin.
So far there haven't been too many strange incidents on the doorsteps. Most of the issues being brought up are the national ones - economy, jobs, health, education and emmigration. Very few local issues have been mentioned except when down in Ringsend and Sandymount where the Incinierator continues to be of serious concern. At one door I did meet the stereotypical anti-abortion campaigner for whom all other issues are secondary. After 30 seconds of being told how I killed babies and that she could never vote for Labour because of what they do to the unborn all I could do was agree to disagree and wish her a pleasant evening. But apart from that people have been pleasant enough considering the dark and wet evenings. Mind you, I wouldn't like to be an FF canvasser based on some of the things that have been said to me.

So all in all, canvassing is a great way to get clued in to what the polulation at large are thinking. Being heavily involved in politics means we often don't see the wood for the trees and knocking on doors brings a big dose of reality back into the process. Sure, it won't make you as fit as a brisk leaflet drop for two hours, but it will open your eyes and mind to how other people live and think. Give it a go sometime!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Campaign Diary Days 3 and 4 - Debates

The last couple of days have been dominated by the issues surrounding the number and format of the Leaders' Debates. The research shows that about one third of the electorate only make up their minds during the election campaign and that the set piece debates form a key part of their end decision. Whether we like it or not, the debates are important.

Micheál Martin, on the day of his election as FF leader, came out with a suggested debate schedule that would have had the leaders on TV practically every evening of the campaign. For obvious reasons this proposal was quickly vetoed by the other parties and the media itself. The one element of his proposal that looks like it will be retained, and rightly so in my view, is the díospóireacht as Gaeilge to be held on TG4.

Despite statements saying he would debate anyone, anywhere at anytime, Enda Kenny has ruled out appearing on TV3's debate scheduled for next Tuesday where he would face tough questioning from Vincent Browne while sharing a podium with Martin and Gilmore. The squirming and spinning by FG in an effort to get out of this debate is pretty hilarious. About a week ago Browne announced that he was inviting all the leaders to a debate and that if Enda didn't show up he would proceed anyway with an empty chair for the FG leader. Alan Shatter, FG's rep on the show that evening, announced that it couldn't happen as it would be a breach of the fairness in broadcasting regulations. OF course this was like a red rag to a bull for Browne and he has pushed ahead with the debate.

Then on Friday Kenny categorically stated that he would not participate in the TV debate due to a statement made by Browne about 4 months ago relating to suicide. Within hours, Browne stated on his show that he would step aside as moderator of the debate if the FG leader would attend but the Taoiseach in waiting still refused to attend. Then yesterday afternoon Kenny re-affirmed his plan not to attend by saying the empty chair at the debate would represent all who have had to emigrate during the recession.

This stance by FG is farcical. If Kenny wants the top job in the country then he should be out front, without handlers and spin doctors, answering the hard questions. It is daft to suggest that Vincent Browne has a grudge against FG. Well actually it's not, but he has an equally large grudge against all political parties - that is what makes him such an effective interviewer. He is able to challenge both the left and the right equally strongly.

The suicide issue also needs to be examined. On the night in question, Browne said to his panel "Is there any truth in the rumour that that Enda has been sent into a darkened room with a bottle of whiskey and a revolver?" after another poll had shown Kenny's approval ratings to be extremely low. While this turn of phrase is somewhat common in talking about political careers coming to an end and equivalent to "Is Enda going to fall on his sword", it could be construed as reducing the issue of suicide to a joke. Browne apologized on his show the next day and wrote to Kenny apologizing for any offence. And that's where the story ended until the other day.

When Kenny brought up the suicide defence he opened a huge can of worms. Not only did he not object to the comments publicly at the time but he accepted Browne's apology. Secondly the BAI rejected a complaint about the show, noting that TV3 and Browne's response to the statement was sufficient. Finally, after Bertie's famous suicide gaff, Kenny proceeded to debate against him in the Dáil repeatedly without making any statement of offence.

The entire debate debacle has shown Kenny in a very bad light. If he is not brave enough to take on Martin and Gilmore while being prodded by Browne, what hope has he on the EU and World stage when elected Taoiseach? Running away and making inane excuses gets you nowhere. Grow a backbone!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Campaign Diary - Days 1 and 2

Those who are regular readers will note that every so often I do a bit of analysis on opinion polls. However, three polls released within 24 hours is getting a bit much. Overall the polls show FG in early-mid 30s, Lab early 20s, FF mid teens with SF a little bit behind with Others making up the difference. What worries me slightly about the spate of polls is that we end up moving to the American style of politics where parties are continually chasing the polling figures and reacting to public opinion. While there will always be a bit of that, Irish politics has tended to be a bit more policy and ideology based.

A winter election was always going to bring bad weather but I had hoped it would hold off for a little while longer. While I have never been involved in the postering part of the campaign, it can't be fun to be up a ladder in the wind and rain that rolled in today. This evening I was designated as the coordinator of the leaflet drop in the Rathgar area. At about 6 the rain really started pouring down and I was sorely tempted to cancel the event. However we braved the elements and our team of 5 hardy souls hit about 70% of our designated areas before the brewing storm got the better of us.

It doesn't seem to be going well for constituency rival Chris Andrews on the legal use of a vehice front. After being clamped on the afternoon of the Dáil dissolution, this evening while trudging up Rathgar Avenue a van decked out in FF logos and Chris' face on the side came racing down without a single light on. Luckily the traffic coming the other direction were blinded by Chris' smile and forced to stop before careening into the Andrewsmobile.

Depending on the options on post-work pints tomorrow, my next outing on the doors will be down in Ringsend tomorrow evening or Saturday morning before cheering on Ireland in the 6 Nations against Italy.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Campaign Diary - Day 0

In my real life I'm a C programmer and we count from zero. It's just the way we are, being obsessed with integral things rather than using the natural numbering scheme and starting from 1. Hence yesterday, when Brian Cowen finally went up to the Phoenix Park and got the President to dissolve the Dáil, counts as day zero in my world.

The big item was the dissolution and the speeches from each of the party leaders. Cowen was surprisingly statesmanlike but then again as he is retiring he probably didn't feel the need to stick in a very partisan speech. Kenny and Gilmore both got straight into the election mode outlining their plans for government and all the amazing things that would happen once the reins of power had been handed over. While Kenny focussed more on FG's own stance, Gilmore went on the attack against both FF and FG and their right-wing, conservative duality.

The two speeches that interested me most were the Green and Sinn Féin contributions. Gormley, acutely aware that there may be no Green voice in the next Dáil set out his party's main achievements and put down some challenges to the future Taoiseach and Tanaiste (Kenny and Gilmore) about reform. O'Caolain, for once brief and to the point, got a good parting dig in at the Greens and again highlighted SF's stance against the EU/IMF.

All in all it was a bit unsatisfactory. For a set piece that has been on the cards for ages and had been fixed for over a week there didn't seem to be much in the way of oratory. In a way you wish that someone like Michael D Higgins had been given one last hurrah to deliver a suitably profound, erudite and at times funny speech wrapping up what has been a fairly disastrous Dáil over the last 3.5 years.

On the media front, I still think RTE's new show The 11th Hour needs a fair bit of work. I watched the 1st episode on RTE player and then watched last night's up to the "comedy" bit before switching over to Vincent Browne. However, it is worth noting that their go live date was brought back a few weeks with the early election. Also worth noting that early editions of The Colbert Report were also ropey despite the host's previous experiences on the Daily Show. It took the guts of a year to settle into a pattern that was comfortable in its own skin.

Speaking of Vincenzo Castano, it was interesting to see his all female panel on last night's show. There was minimal haranguing between the candidates but you felt for a while as though SF's Kathleen Funchion was only there to make up the numbers as there were several 10 minute segments where she didn't get a word in. It was also very brave of Noirín Hegarty to appear on the show considering the news about the Tribune.