Bertie finds safe ground on the southside

Wed, Sep 30, 2009, 01:00

Students at UCD Law Society’s debate voted overwhelmingly in favour of the treaty

YOU WANT a conciliator?   Months ago, the student members of UCD Law Society reckoned they were on a winner when they decided paradoxically that the one conciliator guaranteed to cause a stir would be Bertie. But something happened to the revolution. In the event, he pulled a shockingly small demo outside (against the restoration of fees), while inside, 1,000 students in the packed O’Reilly Hall cheered him to the rafters as he took the chair. No questions were to be directed to the chairman, declared the auditor, knocking another decent possibility on the head.

The secretary of the college’s law society dished out some gentle satire – “You’re on safe ground here Bertie, you can drop the northside accent . . . No northsiders here, especially not when we bring back in fees . . .” – but from there on, the conciliator was a mere extra.

In a long war, you have to love anything resembling humour, even if “the award for a foreigner interfering in an election where he’s not wanted” to Declan Ganley was a touch misjudged.

“That this house would vote Yes” being the motion, the six speakers on either side were unlikely to say anything we never heard before, so humour, energy, originality and the ability to hand off the serial point-of-information merchants would be rare and mighty weapons in either camp.

Ross Maguire, of Generation Yes, played a stormer, designating the No side as the Tinfoil Hat Brigade, laying into what he called the “far-right, right-wing nut jobs”, interplaying it all with a deft exploration and dismissal of the No claims.

Mary Lou McDonald had the misfortune to be selected to speak. Maguire and the extraordinary tour de force that was Garret FitzGerald, courting sniggering disaster by inviting them to “call me a simple soul but . . .”  When Garret bounded up to the podium like a 20-year-old, speaking at a rate of 460 words a minute and running them all into each other, he brought the house down.

How did the Lisbon Treaty come about, he asked and then named the distinguished Irish people who were involved in its drafting. “The only thing we didn’t get in it, we’ve got now. What ARE you complaining about?” he asked with an expansive wave at the No side and the crowd roared. “Irish neutrality is IN the guarantee. What ARE you all complaining about? . . . It’s all nonsense. Vote YES”, he said with a massive surge of energy, before bounding back to his seat.

Was he preaching to the converted? Maybe. The crowd voted overwhelmingly for the motion in the end.

But mercifully, everyone got a respectful hearing. And one student put us right on one outstanding mystery: the old Giscard d’Estaing quote so beloved of the No side: what they failed to mention, said the student, was that he added: “To do such a thing would be unworthy of the EU.”