Six try to make capital at party’s election launch ahead of daunting campaign

Full horror of constituencies’ massive size finally dawns

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Fine Gael’s  six MEP candidates at the launch of the party’s European election campaign. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Fine Gael’s six MEP candidates at the launch of the party’s European election campaign. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Tue, Apr 29, 2014, 08:46

Ah, there’s the coffee and an attractive display of cookies, some wince-inducing obstetrical instruments and a sign saying “Do Not Spit.”

Yes, it’s the launch of Fine Gael’s European elections manifesto in the venerable old Royal College of Physicians on Kildare Street in Dublin, and the six candidates have the grim air of people dreading exposure to the last two from members of the electorate.

The chatter is of Nessa Childers’s “Queen of the Capital” showing in a Sunday Independent /Millward Brown poll. It is greeted with studied scepticism. “She got the seat handed to her on a plate... Everyone in Labour will hate her.”

Meanwhile, the full horror of the gargantuan constituency sizes is dawning.

“When I was canvassing at the weekend,” says former MEP Mary Banotti, “most of the people had no idea what Deirdre Clune was doing in Bray.”

Or what Simon Harris was doing in Cork.

Or – Banotti again – “if the unfortunate candidate from outer Kerry [Sean Kelly] turns up here and the plain people are asking what’s he doing here?”

She has written to the Government, saying someone will have to come and explain that “there’s a European constituency here”.

Ireland South is geographically almost the size of the Netherlands, adds Harris .

Anyway, tomorrow the FG barrier drops and Harris, Clune and Kelly will be confined to their respective bailiwicks in the constituency. Huge sigh of relief. Possibly.

For now all six candidates are squashed together on one side of a podium in a kind of visual representation of pre-electorate tension.

Alan Shatter, happily reconciled to being snubbed by the GRA, gazes benignly upon them from the front row, while the Taoiseach, his director of elections Big Phil and MC Paschal Donohoe have the other side of the podium all to themselves.

Paschal’s job is to introduce the candidates, which he does by pressing play on their videos, and in fairness, they are quite soothing.

This is because nearly all of them feature dogs, cattle, sheep, water, bridges, mountains, trees, a surprising amount of sunshine and a fair bit of meaningful staring into the middle distance.

Big stick
Mairead McGuinness begins in Strasbourg and ends on what may be the Boyne with a big stick and her dog Sam, intercut with bucolic scenes of her bottle-feeding a lamb, with lots of sheep, cattle, a castle. Even her office is bucolic.

Harris strolls along a sun-dappled beach with his brother amid wide calming shots of the sea, Greystones , a bakery, trees and a dog.

Kelly is driving a tractor and there may be dogs. There are certainly mountains, a GAA stadium, an office, a science lab, Killarney, a castle, lots of lovely rushing water, trees and some cattle.

Jim Higgins is standing on the Great Western Greenway in his native Mayo amid lots of bikes, a ram or two, beaches, Westport, more bikes, cattle.

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