Is Enda up against the wall?
IT is not every day that a future prime minister looks into your eyes, smiles wickedly and says: “I have you up against the wall at last.” It was the General Election of 2007 and Enda Kenny was forced to squeeze by me in the makeshift press gallery of the Traveller’s Friend Royal Theatre in Castlebar.
As is the norm there were hordes of journalists and broadcasters huddled in the narrow aisles of the theatre’s balconies overlooking the teeming auditorium where the count progressed. Enda had just done an interview with Castlebar Community Radio and was exiting the gallery when we had our intimate moment. I think he may have issued me with a throwaway wink too just like he did for Fionnuala, his wife, in the Dáil gallery all those years ago when Charlie Haughey was the boss and our Taoiseach was more playboy than politician.
Ironically, I was more interested in the Flynnasty during that election than the blue eyed boy of Fine Gael. Eighteen months earlier the bould Beverley had been expelled from Fianna Fáil over her role, when she was a banker, in encouraging clients to invest their money offshore. Made of tough Mayo mettle, she had tossed off her expulsion and was standing as an Independent.
Parish pump and PR
BEING a blow-in to the wild west and still an apprentice regarding the parish-pump power of proportional representation, I assumed she was in trouble after the Castlebar boxes were opened. It seemed a no-brainer, since it was the home town and stronghold of the Flynnasty and tallies for Beverley’s first preferences showed Enda Kenny outpolling Flynn three to one. There were whispers too that ‘she was in trouble’, so I naively despatched off my copy to a certain national newspaper disposed to Shakespearean drama and suggested the end may be nigh for this colourful dynasty.
While the colour in my piece made for good reading, it was a salutary lesson about the vagaries of our electoral system. It was a lesson too about deferring to the expertise of tallymen and their algorithmic computations about boxes already opened, about to be opened or not yet opened from Inishbiggle to Inishturk, Carrateige to Carrowholly, Ballina to Belmullet.
While the Fine Gael leader romped home exceeding the quota after the first count, Flynn was ultimately elected, albeit last, and in the early hours of the following morning after the eighth count. In the end, her freedom as an Independent to canvass countywide, her strong line on gender issues and the fact that her partner, Tony Gaughan, was well-known in the vast area of Erris meant she was very transfer friendly.
YOU have guessed: At the 2011 general election I wasn’t counting any chickens until they were hatched. Of course, as predicted, it did turn out to be a blue tsunami in Mayo with a historic four Fine Gael TDs returned to the five-seater.
Well, with a dauphin waiting in the wings to save the county … oops! and the country, of course … from economic oblivion and banish the clientelism and cute hoorism of Fianna Fáil forever, the bogs and boreens of Mayo appeared to be the cool constituency to enjoy those enfranchisement vibes.
Outgoing Fianna Fáil Minister of State for Public Service Transformation, Dara Calleary, cut a lonely figure as the solitary Soldier of Destiny. But everyone knew the Ballina native needed to suck up the fact that there had been ‘a democratic revolution’, the people had spoken and ‘our Enda’ was elected on the first count with 17,472 first preferences. It was time to celebrate and crack open those cans of Lilt.
Five years on and there is a lot of empty fiscal space in Mayo – and it is not only on the edge of the Wild Atlantic Way, abandoned by tourists until a sliver of sunshine returns. There has been few signs of recovery in Castlebar and Claremorris, Swinford and Ballinrobe.
Enda and his army are out there though these days on windswept doorsteps with the salt of the ocean in their faces.
Well he did say when he was dissolving the Dáil that: “Brigid’s Day has passed. Now the coming of spring, I must raise my sail.” Enda was harnessing the words of famous Kiltimagh poet Antoine Ó Raifteirí “Is tar éis na Féil Bríde: ardóidh mé mo sheol.”
How his seafaring goes – after his stormy last weekend – will become apparent when the tallymen do their counts after the first boxes are opened in the Castlebar count centre on February 27. I will be there in the gallery hoping to lure Enda into a tight corner again.
Promise I won’t whinge.