If anyone doubted Fianna Fáil’s genius for publicity they need only look at a bizarre video that emerged on social media last week. The History of Deirdre is an extraordinary short that introduces us to the party’s candidate for the upcoming byelection in Dublin Bay South. It would be understating the case to say it leaves us wishing to place our arms around the venerable party. The thing is so debilitatingly embarrassing, one yearns to gather the participants into a warm huddle and take them all out for recuperative pizza. “There, there, lads. I’m sure nobody saw it,” you say as you pour out the Cidona. “I’m sure nobody will be writing a sarky piece about it in The Irish Times. Look, I was going to vote for the Maoist Revolutionary Alliance, but I think I’ll vote for ye instead. Oh, that got a smile.” Geniuses, I tell you. Geniuses!
Cut to traditional music, The History of Deirdre begins with Senator Erin McGreehan striding forwards with a rough staff in a manner that doesn’t call up as many reminders of Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings as the director may have hoped. “Fadó, fadó in Éireann [sic, apparently], Deirdre was a legendary woman, who was forced to marry the King of Ulster, Conchobar,” she says in earnest tour-guide style. “If you look to your left you will see the ferry port and the site of a new 12-storey Hilton.”
She doesn't really continue thus. Instead, we cut to … Oh, I don't know who these people are. There is a lady in a flowery dress. There is a man with a dog. Some other lady in a blue jacket sits beneath photographs of Countess Markievicz and Éamon de Valera. Let us just say that if Frank Hall rose from the grave, his Pictorial Weekly could scarcely imagine more stereotypical incarnations of the Fianna Fáil forest spirit. A fellow in a blue suit clutches hands before his manhood and reads lines that, if his robotic delivery is any guide, he has not seen before the current afternoon. "My captors are treating me well," he says. "They want only freedom for Outer Baloonia and $1 million in unmarked … "
I’m being hilarious again. He doesn’t say that. “I wonder are there any Deirdres like that in Fianna Fáil?” the man actually asks. “Ah sure, Eugene, we have loads of great Deirdres in Fianna Fáil!” the lady in the flowery dress replies. Oh God. They’re not going to read out a list of Fianna Fáil politicians called Deirdre. Are they? This could be more humiliating than we initially feared. We may have to follow the pizza party with an outing to Peter Rabbit 2.
Where were we? After a man on a bridge mentions "Cllr Deirdre Geraghty-Smith from Meath" and a man beneath a tree namechecks "Cllr Deirdre Heney from Clontarf" we get to this film's equivalent of Edward Woodward's immolation in The Wicker Man. A lady sitting beside our national flag announces "the best candidate in the Dublin Bay South byelection". Please may she be called Saoirse or Niamh or Consuela. Anything but Deirdre. That sort of unexpected twist might redeem the entire sorry project. No, it is top property blogger Deirdre Conroy and, dressed in entirely in black, she is here to ask for your vote while standing beside a rare stretch of water in the misleadingly named constituency.
Anyway, it’s not very good. When politicians make a collective effort to be great sports, the results are almost always excruciating. There are few worse subgenres of these propaganda pieces than those that attempt to sell the political party as a merry huddle of good chums – the Little Rascals, Our Gang – who wouldn’t dream of clawing out a colleague’s eyes on their frantic ascent to the next rung of the greasy ladder. This may well be an accurate representation of the political experience, but it is not one the public are much open to believing.
Individual politicians can be funny. Barack Obama's timing was so good at the White House Correspondents' dinner in 2011 that he inspired Donald Trump to annihilate the planet in retaliation. Harold Wilson, late British prime minister, occasionally took on, with some success, the persona of a stand-up comedian at the dispatch box. Others are terminally unamusing. Mrs Thatcher's delivery of a "dead parrot" routine at the Conservative Party conference was considerably less hilarious than her speeches presaging the annihilation of the British manufacturing industries.
Politicians are, however, rarely funny when, away from ego-enhancing podium or the accommodating panel show, they attempt zany versions of the people they seek to govern. Don't rap. Don't wear comedy baseball caps. Please God, I'm begging you, don't attempt the latest popular dance step on TikTok or Instagram.
Such behaviour is embarrassing. It makes us pity you. Then again, that may be the whole point. Which is where we came in.