Hopeful Micheál Martin denies he is on the ropes
Fianna Fáil is speaking with one voice as party leader launches manifesto for European elections
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: “I’m not going to comment on unsubstantiated stories. My entire focus is on the campaign”
”Hope for us all.” Full marks to Fianna Fáil for optimism.
From the slogan we could see – displayed across the top table at the launch of their European election manifesto yesterday – that appeared to be the message. But the room was crowded, and we were sitting at the back. When the man in front shifted slightly, more was revealed.
”Rope For Us All.”
Inspired. We thought slogans couldn’t get any better since Fine Gael hosted the European People’s Party congress in Dublin earlier this year. ”Believe in People.”
Sure, you’d have to. But “Rope for Us All” is better.
As we pondered the meaning, Micheál Martin, surrounded by all but one of his candidates, got down to business. Missing was long-serving MEP Brian Crowley, the only politician on Micheál’s ticket assured of a seat. But Brian, already streets ahead in the opinion polls for Ireland South, decided to skip the launch and go campaigning in Tipperary.
The atmosphere in the Royal Hibernian Academy was less strained than it had been the night before, when the Labour Party hosted a reception for president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz.
But Micheál was overshadowed by the entertainment highlight of the evening: a toe-curling display of forced bonhomie between Eamon Gilmore and outgoing MEP Phil Prendergast, who had shocked colleagues by claiming her boss possessed the political finesse of a cantering elephant. Happily, all breakages were cleaned up by the time Fianna Fáil arrived into the art gallery for their event.
Smiling with their leader behind “Rope for Us All” were four hopefuls: the veteran Donegal MEP Pat The Cope Gallagher, who is contesting the Midlands North West constituency with Meath-based senator, Thomas Byrne; Kieran “Pylons” Hartley from Waterford, who has the thankless task of running with the vote vacuuming Crowley and Mary Fitzpatrick, who is in with a shout of a seat in Dublin.
Mary’s unique selling point is that she is the northside woman Bertie’s Drumcondra mafia couldn’t elbow off the political pitch.
The newcomers put on their dynamic faces as Micheál set out Fianna Fáil’s stall. As he spoke, a large TV to his right played the party’s campaign videos on continuous loop, without sound.
This made it difficult to concentrate on his speech, as the words competed with his silent image on the screen saying something entirely different, before cutting away to shots of the candidates talking to ordinary people in a dynamic way.
Pat The Cope chose not to take to the streets. Instead, he was filmed sitting in an office doing a statesmanlike piece to camera.
As he expounded away silently, it was Micheál’s voice which filled the room, revealing Pat’s hitherto unknown powers of ventriloquism. Fianna Fáil is well got in Europe, explained Micheál, before confusingly veering off to talk about supermarkets.
The party has links with Aldi which “occupies the vital middle ground.”
Away to the side, on the silent screen, candidate Kieran Hartley appeared to be reinforcing the German discounter theme by accosting a customer outside Lidl.
We discovered later that Fianna Fáil is part of the ALDE grouping, which is the Alliance of Liberal Democrats for Europe.
Meanwhile, Thomas Byrne kept popping up on the same doorstep, gurgling at a baby. Crowley repeatedly accosted the same busker in Cork, while Fitzpatrick was showcased again and again in deep conversation with a woman in Phibsborough.
Needless to say, the Leadership in Peril question reared its familiar head during the question and answer session. Is there truth in the rumblings that Micheál will be in trouble if Mary isn’t elected?
Mary, who is mainly wearing red during this campaign, tried not to look alarmed. Pat The Cope looked very relaxed, wearing one of those new-fangled bracelets which tell you how many steps you are taking, how many hours of sleep you are getting and the state of your blood pressure.
Thomas Byrne, wearing his new election haircut, nodded sagely from the platform when his leader spoke while simultaneously nodding sagely at the baby on the doorstep.
“I’m not going to comment on unsubstantiated stories” said Micheál, dismissing the rumours.
“My entire focus is on the campaign.” The candidates, he threatened with no small amount of pride, “will be putting themselves about.”
It’s all about the doorsteps. “I’ve been out and about with my frontbench colleagues.”
Unlike in Fine Gael, where the massive constituencies of Ireland South and Midlands North West have been carved up among candidates for canvassing purposes, Fianna Fáil’s hopefuls have been allowed full roaming rights.
This decision didn’t extend to the byelection in Longford/Westmeath, where headquarters decided no candidate from the Longford side need apply and Aengus O’Rourke was given the nomination.
Back at the launch, TV3’s Ursula Halligan was determined to find out “how much grief” Fianna Fáil was experiencing on the doorsteps.
Micheál was determined not to give the answer.
”It’s not as simple as that” he argued, “People are engaging with us – there’s a different mood in that respect.”
They finished their launch by trooping out for a photo opportunity.
While this was going on, two party workers dismantled the TV screen from its stand and carried it out, silently. And when the man in front of us got up and left, we saw the slogan in all its bland, unobscured glory.
“A Europe For Us All.”
And with more party launches due today, just the usual old rope for the next three weeks.