Faithful gather for ‘night of the big wind’

Tánaiste happy to talk about water, but nothing fishy thank you

Labouring the point: Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore projected on screens during a video at the party conference in Enfield on Saturday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Labouring the point: Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore projected on screens during a video at the party conference in Enfield on Saturday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 01:00

A large red rose pulsated on the screen behind the Labour leader.

Contracting, expanding, contracting, expanding; the effect was mildly hypnotic, which may explain why the crowd seemed half asleep.

Can’t blame them, really.

At this stage, delegates were up to their gills in wind and water. And here was Eamon Gilmore, back again to give them another blast about the floods.

Talk about the weather.

It’s what people do when they don’t want to address more embarrassing issues such as Cabinet tensions, the direction of the economy, bossy Coalition partners and unsettling developments on the national security front.

Naturally, the press wanted to hear the Tánaiste’s latest thoughts on his party’s curious allergy to any mention of the evolving GSOC spying affair.

No chance.

No appetite
Still, at least the controversy has put to bed that old line about Labour being smoked salmon socialists. Faced with one of the fishiest stories ever to stink up the corridors of power, Labour’s finest in Government have lost their appetite.

Anyway, they didn’t even want to do a little conference, having held their convention proper late last year.

But as all their rivals are holding empty window dressing exercises before the local and European elections, Labour had to put some class of gathering together in order to claim its due slice of television exposure.

In advance of Gilmore’s speech, headquarters filled the day with policy workshops and baby politician training sessions. The election hopefuls were tutored in how to behave in public and then made up for the cameras and a Colour Me Candidate photographic session.

Three Labour women are running for Europe. They had a very onerous task on Saturday which they took to, and stuck to, very seriously.

Phil Prendergast, Lorraine Higgins and Emer Costello tirelessly belted their way to the front of every photo opportunity involving their leader and/or Ministers.

As it happened, the Irish women’s rugby team was in the hotel on Saturday. The stirring sight of Phil, Lorraine and Emer smashing through mauls of eager council hopefuls will have piqued the selectors’ interest.

Sitting MEP Costello, who is running in Dublin, appeared attached by Velcro to Gilmore’s shoulder. The party seemed to be pushing her forward far more than the other two.

Emer, for example, was given the plum job of introducing the Tánaiste to the crowd before his televised address.

But first, the obligatory short film featuring funny swipes at Fianna Fáil and the ministerial aristocracy explaining how they rescued Mother Ireland from ruin.

Poor Ruairí Quinn looked like he was about to burst into tears as he recalled travelling to a teachers’ conference in Sligo and wondering: “How are we going to communicate to these people and tell them we’ve lost the country?”

Brendan Howlin was equally emotional: “I remember walking down Baggot Street thinking, ‘if people understood how really precarious our economic wellbeing was, they wouldn’t continue on as normal.’ ”

“We were beggars on horseback . . . we didn’t have the money,” shuddered Pat Rabbitte.

Everyone was pleased to see Minister of State Alex White under the bright lights as he welcomed Emer onstage – what with James Reilly keeping him in the dark so much, he needed the Vitamin D.

Wet, wet, wet
White wasn’t so much gushing as torrential in his praise for the party’s Dublin candidate.

“A terrific stalwart . . . party leader, terrific member of the European parliament, great campaigner, great community activist, terrific politician, great judgment, superb activist for the party and great representative and ambassador for us all . . .” burbled Alex as Gilmore, thinking he’d missed his cue, sat in the Green Room and wept.

Costello seemed to misread the meaning of a wind-up speech, which is designed to crank up excitement levels in the hall.

Instead, she put the wind up everyone.

“Delegates! One hundred and seventy years ago, Ireland was ravaged by violent winds that swept through the country on a cold January night. That was the ‘night of the big wind’. Hundreds of people died. Ships were wrecked. Bodies were thrown onto beaches for weeks after. Houses and churches collapsed. Fires erupted in the streets of Castlebar . . .”

On she went, as the audience wondered if they were at a Labour Party conference or the agm of the local historical society.

Emer eventually reached her seamless link.

“Delegates! Over five years ago, Ireland was ravaged again. The bank guarantee was the critical moment.”

We were too exhausted to care.

One gusty lady

“And like our ancestors, who dealt with the aftermath of

the big wind, we need to learn the lessons of the past so that mistakes are not made in the future. We need to build resilience in our economy, so that it will never again fall off a cliff.”

This is why Emer and all the other candidates are “out on the doorsteps selling our message of stability, recovery and social democratic principles”. They should be out on the door steps selling sand bags and replacement roof tiles.

Finally, having completely blown the backside out of one big wind, Costello heralded another.

The crowd rose and music swelled to mark Eamon Gilmore’s big entrance.

In a nod to windy Labour’s Let’s Talk About the Weather theme, they chose a song by Snow Patrol: Just Say Yes!

With the red rose pulsating away on the backdrop, was this some sort of post-Valentine’s message to Enda Kenny to give Labour a break?

Was Eamon going to drop down onto one knee?

“Just Say Yes!”

Just say anything. Just stop with the weather stuff.

Naturally, he began with the floods, and they washed him neatly along to another disaster – our economic one – and the chance to say that Labour is vital to the rescue mission.

Ireland “has been to hell and back”, he quivered.

Lucky old Ireland.

Because judging by the Tánaiste’s discomfiture on The Week in Politics yesterday when questioned about the GSOC panic, he is still stuck in departures and desperately hoping to make that return journey some time soon.