How to drink your way to the top in local politics
It started as a joke, a throwaway line over a late night Lenten jar by Vinny Fitzpatrick about having a public house representative for Clontarf, but it had gathered momentum to the point of no return
It started as a joke, a throwaway line over a late night Lenten jar by Vinny Fitzpatrick about having a public house representative for Clontarf, but it had gathered momentum to the point of no return.
Unlike Vinny’s aborted attempt in the 2011 general election, which was pulled at the 11th hour, the “Joe Public” campaign was in full spate, like a high tide in Dublin Bay.
Joe Byrne had been the agreed candidate, as there was no better man to represent the five main pubs in the area: The Schooner, Foley’s, Shingles, The Holyrood and Vernon Castle.
Regular as clockwork, Joe rolled up in each hostelry once a week. Unlike Vinny and the lads, who drank like there was no tomorrow, he was restrained. His tipple of choice was MacArdles by the pint bottle, which he supped while reading the newspaper of record from cover to cover at a funereal pace.
He averaged an hour over a bottle which, according to Vinny, meant he often left the pub more sober than when he arrived. Always smartly dressed in a crisp shirt, bright tie and blazer, Joe, whose real surname was Bernsteyn, was a retired dentist from Oulton Road. He was a bachelor, had no immediate relatives, and had time on his steady hands to take all day over a jar, which he generally did.
Crucially, Joe possessed a wry sense of humour and had required little persuasion to buy into the jolly jape.
It helped that he had been promised €20 worth of free gargle every week from each of the five pubs whose interests he would represent in City Hall, if elected. “Hey, for €100 a week, I’d give myself a filling, left-handed, without an injection,” smiled Joe.
The Joe Public campaign was unique in Dublin in that it didn’t involve a single poster, leaflet drop or door-stepping.
Even the offer of a live radio debate with the other candidates on CLR (Clontarf Local Radio) was turned down by Joe’s director of elections, Vinny. One snotty researcher even claimed there was no such person as Joe Public.
At that, Vinny took umbrage. “Joe is a real person, like you and me. He’s got the same issues with medical cards, property tax, water tax and will protect the sea wall in Clontarf until his last breath. It’s just that he likes to keep the profile of a limbo dancer.”
On the face of it, the Joe Public crusade was doomed. He had no political affiliations, no profile and nothing to stand for.
“What’s my platform?” he asked Vinny one night over a slow pint in Foley’s.
“Platform one for Howth, platform two for Bray,” replied the deadpan bus driver.
Yet there was a cunning plan at work which, if successful, could catapult the dapper dentist into Dublin Castle from a competitive electoral area headlined by Seán Haughey, son of Charles J.
By Vinny’s calculations, it would require 1,000 first preference votes for Joe to win one of the seven seats. Five pubs “Here’s what we do,” said Vinny, rubbing his hands together. “We need 200 guaranteed votes for Joe from each of the five pubs. It should be a cinch. Sure, every Tuesday to Saturday, without fail, he’s in one of them.