20 things about this campaign
1. Universal Social Charge had just come in at the start of the campaign and Fianna Fail were hammered on it. It was a massive issue, espeically for PAYE workers.
2. It was a party campaign; not a presidential campaign. This has favoured Fine Gael. It has not favoured Labour.
3. Voters are vengeful against Fianna Fail but also masochistic. There is a defenite mood of people not wanting to hear promises that can’t be kept. Fine Gael has been sanguine and realistic. Labour has been less specific and more woolly. Fine Gael’s five point plan almost became a parody but it worked. Captured the public mood best when forwarding ideas and policies, plans and slogans rather than personalities.
4. Fianna Fail, by my estimation, may end up with only one seat in the capital. That’s Brian Lenihan. At most they will win three or four, possibly one in Dun Laoghaire.
5. Enda Kenny is a poor debater. But Brian Cowen was a brilliant debater and was a poor Taoiseach. Not saying that Kenny will be a great Taoiseach but he will exceed low expectations. Biggest trend in the campaign was the complete 180 degree turn in public sentiment about his wherewithal as Taoiseach. Fine Gael kind of supressed him because they knew he was the weak link. And then amazingly, he became a bit of an asset in the latter stages.
6. Fine Gael and Labour should have 36 seats between them in the capital (out of 50). May end up 18 and 18. I think it’s trending slightly towards Labour.
7. Brian Hayes inappropriately criticised Sinn Fein for cultivating a ‘blacks out’ vote. That was a slur. But what is evident is a soft-shue shuffle anti-immigrant sentiment. I heard it at lots of doors in Dublin – mainly working class but not exclusively so. Candidates from all parties just tip-toed around it. But it’s there. And it’s going to have to be addressed. Or sooner rather than later the far right/foreigners-out parties are going to come up between the seams.
8. Sinn Fein ran a very good campaign. Their target audience was lower and middle income people and those who believe in a United Ireland. That’s why Gerry Adams did so well in the debate. He ignored the rest and spoke to his constituency by staring at the cameras a la Gerry Collins. The party was very mediocre in the last Dail and was not going anywhere because there were no new TDs to give the party impetus. Doherty’s election in Donegal did just that. He’s been great and a few of their smarter and brighter young people will get into the Dail. Their policies? God, where do you start? The economic policies are just bananas. Fine. Burn the bondholders. But besides that their figures just don’t add up. There’s no way they will raise over €1 billion in wealth tax, and an extra €400 million from a 48 per cent tax for those earning over €100,000 when they are cutting out the source of that income by capping all public sector salaries at €100,000. Sinn Fein has some €4 billion in taxes and about €500,000 in cuts. To propose that out of public sector costs of some €50 billion per annum you can do no more than make very minor superficial cuts makes no sense. Populist piffle. And that’s not taking account of the party’s proposals for universal free health care and free education. It will be interesting to see its figurs on how these will be costed.
9. The policies of the all the other parties are full of holes. One of the great paradoxes of this age is despite such depthts of information readily available to us, we still wade in the shallows. Pehaps I’m blowing the trumpet for this newspaper a bit but the IT does attempt deep scrutiny (and among much else, my political team colleague Paul Cullen did a tremendous job this morning comparing all the manifestos).
Having said that, the news cycle is so fleeting and superficial and surface and obsessed with tie colours, that not enough scrutiny is done of polices. For example, the revelation that Fine Gael will flog off 70 per cent of NAMA’s portfolio to private companies may be a a great thing. But it’s contained in the small print of its manifesto and has not been seriously scrutinised. Will the Dutch-model healthcare system bring us to the promised land or will it be just an another expensive dud? Will NewERA really deliver 100,000 jobs or how many of them will be merely replacement jobs or temporary construction jobs? How many jobs will the Labour manifesto deliver? Seems a bit patchy when you start digging for detail. Why has FF not released details of the progress (or lack of it) in terms of implementing the Croke Park agreement.
10. Best video. Dylan Haskins, the independent candidate for Dublin South East. He’s just 23 but has made a big impact. His policies are confined to a very narrow demographic of artsy young things. But his campaign video was a work of art.
11. Funding: Leo Varadkar wouldn’t say who went to his fundraising event in a Dublin restaurant but it seemed to be the great and good from the communications and PR industries that backed FF in the past. Fine Gael seemed to have bottomless resources for this campaign. The Galway Tent may be no more. But has it just merely been replaced by the Presidential Suite of the Aviva stadium.
12. Most unfortunate election slogan: Gilmore for Taoiseach. It was a bellyflop. Labour got over enthusiastic about th bounce in the polls and did not draw back when the wind began to change direction. Until it was too late. Gilmore has recovered some lost ground in the last few days and will lead the second big party in the Dail. Difficulty is will they stop Fine Gael getting an overall majority.
13. The overall majority. Inconceivable. But then we tend to be creatures of habit and don’t think the unthinkable. Fine Gael are close to it. They’sll need to get three in Sublin south; three in Galway West; three in Wicklow; tow in Dublin North West; two in Dublin West; two in Kildare North; three in Laois-Offaly; two in Louth and four in Mayo.
My instinct? Very close but no cigar – 78 or 79.
14. Opinion polls. Are they correct. They have always over-stated Labour support. In this instance, it may well be that Fine Gael is over-stated and that many of the dwindling cohort of don’t knows are secret society Fianna Failers. I really don’t think so. Polls vary and are always off a bit. But the big trends are obvious. That says Fine Gael near to 80; Labour above 30; Fianna Fail closer to 20 than 30.
15. Strangest moment of canvass. In a working class estate in Dublin with a Fianna Fail candidate and his team. About 100 metres away a car pulled up to a driveway; a guy got oout and smashed through the window part of the front door. He went into the house, chased the man and woman inside up the stairs. And emerged out again two minutes later. He got into a car. It sped off with another car that was parked there.
The Fianna Fail canvassers dealt with the whole situation as if they were stepping over a puddle. Needless to say I was agog.
In the subsequent piece I wrote I didn’t include it. The piece was about what people were saying on the doorsteps. to include this little vignette would have reinforced every stereotype of the campaign.
16. Most shocking thing heard on a canvass. The middle-class woman accompanying her young child who was canvassed by Mary Hanafin in Dun Laoghaire. Her snarl of a reply: “Fianna Fail? I would rather stick pin in my eyes. You are a shower of gangsters!”
That stopped us in our tracks.
17. Other below-the-radar issue in Dublin. Anti-social behaviour. Came up again and again in working class areas but did not feature in the national campaing. The solutions offered by some householders to dealing with joyriders, drug-takers and bush-drinkers could have come straight out of revolutionary France in 1789.
18. Proudest moment of campaign (personally): Ag breathnú ar, agus ag éisteach leis, an díospóireacht i nGaeilge ar TG4. Bhí caighdeán na teanga agus na n-argóintí ar fheabhas.
19. Game-changers. Labour’s damaging flip-flop on taxes and on the Budget deficit. Enda Kenny’s performance in five-way debate and on TG4. Labour attack ads (jury still out on whether they had desired impact).
20 My predictions: Fine Gael 79; Fianna Fail 21; Labour 34; Sinn Fein 10; Independents 16; ULA 3; GP 2.
If the Greeen Party lose those two seats, the gains will go to ULA (1) and Lab (1).
Independents: James Breen; Dara Blaney; Maureen O’Sullivan; Finian McGrath; Shane Ross; Sean Canney; Noel Grealish; Michael Healy Rae; Tom Fleming; Catherine Murphy; John Foley; Luke Ming Flanagan; Michael Lowry; Mick Wallace; Joe Behan.
ULA: Joe Higgins, Joan Collins, Seamus Healy (and possibly Clare Daly and Mick Barry)
Sinn Fein: Caoimghin O Caolain; Jonathan O’Brien; Padraig MacLochlainn; Pearse Doherty; Mary Lou McDonald; Dessie Ellis; Aengus O Snodaigh; Sean Crowe; Martin Ferris; Gerry Adams.