Ganley insists 'this is a pro-European message'

Sat, Jun 14, 2008, 01:00

Even in his finest hour, the Libertas leader was modest and reasonable to a fault, writes Kathy Sheridanwith Declan Ganley of Libertas at the RDS count centre. 

BY 11.30AM, Declan Ganley is still "holed up" in the Four Seasons hotel, next door to the RDS count centre, where - the word is - he intends to remain until the Irish people have made their intentions clear.

Now the word is that "it's like pulling teeth" getting him to leave the hotel, for some reason. As the Irish electorate has pretty clearly snapped No by now, The Irish Times goes to find him.

The man formerly known as The Man Who Read the Treaty, now The Respectable Face of the No Side (to the obvious chagrin of several of the No proponents) is lingering in the lobby with his glamorous wife, Delia; the Austrian MEP Hans-Peter Martin; Christophe Beaudouin, a French lawyer and member of France's No party, the Movement pour la France, and John McGuirk, Libertas press director, who - it's worth noting in the blame game already firing up - was recruited as long ago as last October.

Even on this day of days, Ganley manages to look sphinx-like. "It's a great victory, against all the odds . . . We took the flak, we stayed on message, we didn't get caught up in claim and counter claim. Today is a great day for the Irish people. I'm so proud to be Irish . . . "

So there would be a glass or two of champagne then? "I don't drink. I'm a pioneer," he says. As in Pioneer Total Abstinence Association? "Yes."

Then he takes Delia's hand and walks up the road to the count centre for the first media mobbing of the day, he in a pinstripe suit, she with her immaculately coiffed hair, in a neat short Quinn Donnelly coat, wearing sensible heels, while McGuirk cheerfully totes her Burberry bag. The MEP and the French lawyer complete the little group. Waiting in the centre are Naoise Nunn, the man described as director of the Libertas Institute, and campaign director David Cochrane. They are joined later by Caroline Simons, a "senior spokesperson".

Compared to the grim little clusters turning out for other organisations, Libertas is conspicuously self-contained.

The strategy clearly is humility, reasonableness and absolutely no presumptuousness. So when someone shouts "congratulations" to Delia, Naoise Nunn intervenes to say "it's too early for that".

When Richard Greene of Cóir - the flag-waving group being typically triumphalist and clamorous nearby - offers congratulations, there is a mutual warmth and bestowal of blessings, but, cautious Ganley, by now being swamped by cameras, says: "We mustn't count our chickens."

A foreign journalist who has just arrived asked an FG tallyman to identify him. "That's him . . . Better run. The Pentagon is waiting for him," grins the FGer at the bemused media man.

In a temporary radio studio upstairs, Ganley does his first interview, while Delia phones home to check on the four children. "It's finished now. You can relax again," says the French lawyer. "May it is only starting," says the Austrian MEP hopefully.

Delia, a confident woman with a lively sense of humour, keeps smiling. Does her husband do emotion? "Oh he's a million times more emotional than me, but he doesn't show it. He's an Irishman... he's a guy."

A New York native, a mix of Italian, Polish and Albanian - "I'm a mutt" - who worked as a municipal bond trader and in her brother's jewellery business, she met her husband 15 years ago while on a three-day visit to London at the age of 27. They were engaged three weeks later. Did that upend her parents?

"Are you kidding? They were very happy. At that age, the only question is 'is he a man? Does he breathe?' " Her job now, she says, is staying at home with the children. "But I'm thrilled with this... I'm so proud of him."

Then on to Dublin Castle, where the foreign media have focused their efforts. Discussion in the Libertas camp is about how to accommodate the dozens of requests from foreign journalists. A press conference is mooted, but the worry is that Ganley might look like someone who has expropriated the European presidency and thereby wreck the carefully constructed image of ordinary-Joe citizen.

The BBC Newsnight reporter is talking to studio about "dismay and consternation across Europe", while Ganley insists emolliently that "this is a pro-European message . . . a great day for hope, a statement of vision, of ambition . . ." Will there be another referendum ? "I'm just a citizen..."

Inside the castle where he conducts yet more interviews, Hans-Peter Martin's officious young male assistant is attempting to control access and getting up the noses of the local media. "It took several hundred years to get our hands on this place . . . You'd think he'd know by now that the Irish don't like being told what to do by Europeans," chortles a cameraman.

At 2.15pm, the Libertas crew break for lunch at the Mermaid nearby, to reconvene at 4pm in the plush surrounds of the Wellington room in the Merrion hotel. Some 30 journalists who have abandoned the count declaration are rewarded with fresh lemonade and fruit. Simons and Nunn join Ganley at the top table.

"We are pro-European," he is saying for the umpteenth time today. "It all boils down to democracy." And for the sixth time, he does not rule in or rule out the notion of a new political party. The original idea for Libertas, he says, was as a think-tank, but he has been "overwhelmed" by the reaction of the people. Man the barricades. A new force is slouching towards Leinster House.