Pious waffle and touchy-feely aspirations set charisma-free tone as seven face off

Thu, Sep 29, 2011, 01:00

AFTER A 14-year lapse, the Charismatic Movement (presidential branch) underwent a strong revival yesterday.

It was highly entertaining fare: much talk of visions, spirit (deeply moved), earnest focusing, indiscriminate waving and laying on of hands, impassioned testimonies of belief, strong manifestations of emotion and some thrilling speaking in tongues.

Unfortunately, the one thing missing from the devout septet of sincerity gathered in RTÉ’s studio 10 was, er, charisma.

But you can’t have everything.

They convened under the stern eye of Seán O’Rourke, Ireland’s grand inquisitor. He ritually sacrifices politicians on the high altar of the lunchtime news.

Some of the seven had limbered up earlier – Martin McGuinness strolled through Dublin city centre, Michael D Higgins officially launched his campaign and David Norris went to the Custom House to hand in his nomination papers.

But it was the first big debate on the first official day of the presidential campaign which concentrated the minds of the potentially charismatic, with their glowing eyes and dreamy smiles.

Seán Gallagher was first to arrive at the radio centre – parking his large black Mercedes out of sight of the cameras and walking the final leg.

Dana rocked up next. “I’m absolutely delighted to be in it,” she trilled, adding that we really “need to focus on the people”. Behind her, candidates were stacking up in a holding pattern. Martin McGuinness strode up to the cameras – just like the negotiation days – and made a speech.

Mary Davis glided in after him. She nodded, but said nothing, so everyone noted her lovely pink suit.

David Norris arrived in what looked like a Black Maria, toppling out of the sliding door in the side in a blur of regal waves, wearing a little St Brigid’s cross in his lapel.

Five minutes to transmission and Gay Mitchell bustled out of a white Audi. “Do I put on my boxing gloves?” he joked to the journalists, who fervently hoped he would.

Michael D arrived late, with a bit of a bockety limp and still trying to master the presidential wave. Apparently they couldn’t stop him talking at his launch.

Speaking of which, his actual speech came in at just under 11 minutes, which qualifies as a sprint for him.

He had theatre folk and poets and a singer – Mary Coughlan – at his gig, along with Labour’s great and good. Two of them were name-checked from the platform – producer Morgan O’Sullivan and costume designer Joan Bergin, both involved in The Tudorstelevision series.

Dear God, but as the vision count mounted on the platform, we started having visions of Michael D in doublet and hose.

“It’s all about Gays and Thespians in this presidential campaign,” snorted one onlooker.

BACK OUT AT RTÉ, the wannabe charismatics laid out their visions while their handlers were corralled in a small room nearby.

According to our moles, the atmosphere was rather tense and awkward and with them all in such a confined space, it got very hot.

“The PR business, which was on its knees, has been resurrected!” quipped one of them afterwards.

David Norris made a dramatic opening. “I am tempered steel! I have been through the fire!” He also provided the highlight of the hour-long discussion when he suddenly appeared to take an alarming turn, lapsing into a strangulated gibberish.

“I can speak Hebrew,” he concluded, with no small hint of triumph, as the journalists outside collapsed in a heap.

Mary Davis said she wanted to rename Áras an Uachtaráin “Áras na Daoine”, something to do with cherishing the forgotten people of Nenagh, one supposed.

Martin McGuinness says on his posters that he will be “Uachtaráin na Daoine.” All this attention should give some measure of consolation to the people of Tipperary after their All-Ireland hurling disappointment.

“We’ve big shoes to fill in terms of filling President McAleese’s shoes,” said Mary D.

Huge feet, high heels like barges, apparently.

There was some speculation that the handlers had slipped a sedative in Gay Mitchell’s Red Bull, because he was very measured and only took some minor swipes at Martin McGuinness.

“Dana grew up on the streets of Derry, she didn’t join the IRA,” he said to McGuinness. That’s all very fine, but can Dana prove this? As for Martin, he continued to make excellent progress on his provisional slogan: Martin McGuinness: Name-Dropping for Ireland.

Had we held a drinking game based on every time he mentioned Nelson Mandela (and Obama), we would have been footless by the commercial break.

He said he was looking forward to campaigning throughout the 32 counties – a wise move, his rivals would undoubtedly agree, as only 26 counties can vote.

Northern Ireland’s former deputy first minister (on a career break) held a press conference on Grafton Street earlier, where he emphasised his credentials as a peacemaker and once again expressed wonderment as to “why people who are here in the media in Dublin” keep asking him about his IRA past.

Not, according to his protestations, that he has much of one. Left the fold in the early 1970s and was, in a happy turn of events, one of the lucky deserters allowed to keep his kneecaps.

He is a consummate canvasser. The merest eye contact with a passerby was met with an impressive charm offensive.

WHEN THE CAMERAS left, he walked from Grafton Street to the Sinn Féin headquarters on Parnell Square. Just one person stopped to talk to him, which was interesting.

He walked in a line with his three colleagues past the GPO, talking on his phone. Under that hallowed portico, past the iconic statue of Cúchulainn and the signs in the window for an exhibition: “Letters, Lies and Liberty”. Not one of them glanced to their left to take in the building.

Back to the studio, where Dana was busy caring for people. She spoke of meeting a man in Donegal whose family was facing eviction. What could she do for him as president, asked Seán O’Rourke.

“They would know I genuinely care about them and I will focus on them.” For a moment, we thought she might go one up on Mary McAleese’s bridge-building mantra by announcing she was going to start house-building.

Seán Gallagher trumped this, remarking that he had met the carers of carers.

Michael D remained resolutely non-controversial and presidential. When he slipped into Irish, O’Rourke whooped: “This is now a tri-lingual programme.”

“I believe that you must be who you are,” said Dana.

“I’m sure I’m probably the only candidate ever to have their own herd number,” declared Gallagher, who is flying so low beneath the radar he can’t even see Mary Davis.

Michael D answered questions about his stamina by saying he had clocked up 23,000km since May 19th.

With his dainty feet, we hope it wasn’t in Mary McAleese’s shoes.

Furthermore, he said he had been to the remotest part of Colombia (where he broke his leg). It was great gas. Then everyone went off for a group photograph in an adjoining field, Norris and Gallagher elbowing Davis out of the picture like a pair of prop forwards.

They split up to do more interviews about value systems and vision and dignity.

The Charismatic Movement (presidential branch) is up and running.

Four weeks of swimming in a blancmange of pious waffle and touchy-feely aspiration.

Offer it up, that’s all we can do.

Sure before you know it, it’ll be Christmas.