Jim Carroll

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On the Polls – the anti-social election campaign

Conversations with canvassers, opinion polls, bringing back the young people, Pudsy Ryan, ex-TDs, the JNLRs etc

The lads and the lasses. Pudsy Ryan out of shot

Tue, Feb 23, 2016, 14:00


The anti-social election: whatever about this campaign being the country’s first social media election, it most certainly is the first anti-social election. The media may be able to find candidates knocking on doors and talking to the public to fill their columns and broadcasting snapshots, but candidates are few and far between in this part of Dublin Bay North. Indeed, the lack of candidates and canvassers calling to the door is something which has been remarked on by many observers over the last few weeks. The leaflet shoved through the door with a “sorry we missed you” message on it when you’re actually inside the gaff does not count. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s just the sheer sprawl of Dublin Bay North. On the other hand, my Tipperary contacts report that they’re inundated with visits from prospective TDs for that constituency.

A casual conversation with a canvasser to a wig-out soundtrack of psych-funk: naturally, I then go and meet a canvasser, though not at the front door. Let’s call him Harry because, well, that’s his real name. Harry is a canvasser with one of the political parties and he has been out knocking on doors these last few weeks in Dublin Bay North (though not OTR’s door). He was on a night off at the Shuggie Otis show last week and we were introduced via a mutual friend. So, Harry, what’s coming up on the doors you’re knocking on? For the most part, Harry says it’s housing and health. Other issues come up now and again such as crime and jobs, but it’s a need for affordable homes and a functioning health service which are getting the most mentions. He says a lot of people are raising the issue of how exactly the billions lost by cutting USC are going to be replaced and they reckon more stealth taxes are on the way to make up the shortfall. There’s not as much anger and rage as you’d be led to believe, more a sense of getting on with things and fearing the known unknowns coming down the road. Out on the mean streets of Dublin Bay North, Harry notes, houses and hospitals are what matter most.

Bringing back the young people: there was obviously a memo issued last week about bringing back the young people from all parts of the globe because you’d Enda Kenny, Joan Burton and Micheál Martin spouting platitudes about this notion at various set-pieces on the same day. The question is, though, what kind of country are you bringing back these young people back to and, more importantly, do they actually want to come back in the first place? There has been very little debate or discussion during this campaign to indicate that any of the political parties or would-be power holders have the first notion about what this audience actually want from a modern republic. The broad brushstrokes which are the pledges of thousands of jobs and tax cuts have no place for the kind of nuanced thinking which may appeal to younger voters, who want much different things from society than those in their thirties or forties. The cliche of “bringing back the young people” sounds good to Mammy and Daddy who naturally want their youngsters back in the home country, but the young Irish abroad will probably see this for the nonsense that it is. Also, the cliche of “bringing back the young people” is a bit of a kick in the teeth to the many thousands of young people who stayed here and didn’t go away.

Vote Pudsy: thanks to Cliff Taylor for catching a bizarre exchange which I thought I was imagining the other day when I first heard it. During a Morning Ireland discussion between Michael Noonan and Seán Fleming, the pair of them started talking about some lads called Pudsy Ryan and Chicken Licken who were not, it seems, running for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael in Mayo and Wexford. That both politicians sought to bring in fictional characters is bad enough (to be fair, Leo Varadkar is at it too), but I’m sure those particular references went over the heads of anyone listening who under the age of 40 or even 50, especially the Pudsy boyo. As with the previous point about bringing young people back, it shows up the growing gap in age and experience between those who live here and those who we elect to run the country. Inevitably, the results on Friday won’t match the narrative about recovery and renewal which was circulating before the election was called, because that perception never really took root on the ground.

The polls: speaking of results, we’ll have a good idea by about 2pm or thereabouts on Saturday if the copious amounts of opinion polls which have punctuated this campaign are worth the paper they were written on. The polls would indicate that we’re heading for an unclear outcome with a lot of horsetrading to come down the road as the process to form a government begins in earnest next week. If the polls are to believed, Fine Gael will be the biggest party but will be down on the last election (inevitable given the reduction in the number of TDs in the next Dail and geographical changes across most constituences and that’s before you consider people’s views of their performance in government); Fianna Fail will be back (like Dracula); Sinn Fein will be bigger in number than they were going out though not as big as they thought they would be; Labour will be…ah here, Labour will be; the various smaller parties will be rocking and rolling and there will be independents for everyone in the audience. Of course, should any other outcome come out of the ballot boxes, we can have a good laugh at the pollsters and especially those who’ve leaned so heavily on them for analysis rather than discussing actual policies.

Interviewers of the campaign: while anyone facing Gerry Adams in a studio about economic matters is already on a winner because of the Sinn Fein leader’s incompetence when it comes to financial issues, Sean O’Rourke’s interview with the Louth TD was a masterpiece last week as he bossed Adams around with great finesse. O’Rourke was also in good form when he grilled Enda Kenny the previous day, though the best interview with the Taoiseach was probably Neil Prendeville’s session with the Mayoman on Red FM. What was interesting about Prendeville’s interview was both the direct and to-the-point nature of the questions and the fact that he gave Kenny the time to tie himself up in knots over several issues. Memo to some radio interviewers: you don’t have to spend an entire interview talking over and interrupting an interviewee to make your point.

The sour grapes interview of the campaign: we’ll just link to this, note that Pat Rabbitte has competition and leave it at that.

The JNLRs: it would be fascinating to know if the numbers listening to the big-box radio shows drop when you’ve a posse of politicians in the studio. Certainly, it’s the kind of radio which makes you reach for the off switch. Surely all those big name broadcasters and their back-up teams know you can mute the microphones of the various politicians who believe that shouting and yelling like a belligerent three year old is one way to avoid answering straight questions and run the clock down? I’m beginning to think it’s time for presenters and producers to go on a refresher course in how to drive a desk. As for the candidates, it’s hard to credit it that junior minister Ann Phelan has been the only one to go ‘feck this for a game of soldiers’ and storm out of the studio so far.

The ex-TDs: naturally, there will be a lot of former TDs walking around in a daze on Sunday morning as they realise they’re out of a job. It’s never nice to be let go from any job and there will be a fair bit of coverage about these former big beasts and what they will do now. However, it’s worth remembering as these soft stories roll out that these politicians will be looked after fairly well by the tax-payer with severance payments and pensions, while they’re sure to be tapped for various jobs and gigs in the weeks and months to come. Unike many employees who are let go in often equally unexpected and sudden circumstances, they won’t have to rely on just statutory redundancy payments like the former workers at Clerys’ department store in Dublin.

Banter’s general election review: if you’re after more general election yakking, join Sinead O’Carroll (News Editor, TheJournal.ie), Hugh Linehan (Culture Editor, The Irish Times) and Jane Suiter (DCU School of Communications and Institute for Future Media and Journalism) at Banter’s general election campaign review at MVP (Clanbrassil St., Dublin 8 ) tomorrow. Doors open at 6pm, the action starts at 6.30pm sharp and there’s more information here. Free admission to all general election candidates who fancy a night out – just turn up with a poster with your mug on it.