When clone voting meets peak viewing


AT WHAT POINT in his life did Michael Healy-Rae give himself wholly to being his father? The flat cap, the mannerisms, the political ambition, the linguistic trickery, the neck: each has contributed to the Dolly nickname of which the nation was reminded all week.

 But when was he cloned? Was it at conception, so that he has never known what it is like to be anything other than a facsimile of his father? Or was it gradual, a fraught, tormented scraping away of individuality until he eventually gave in to his destiny, climaxing in the flat cap being symbolically, portentously lowered on to his head to a backdrop of lightning and hissing pub taps?

Either way, this strange existence is now his, and his journey from young apprentice to master seemed complete this week when, on Wednesday, the story of the phone calls that helped him win Celebrities Go Wildhit a peak that was unrelated to his cap. In a sequence of interviews he brilliantly portrayed himself as the victim and ultimate hero of this tale.

“I’m being dragged into an issue that I had nothing in the world to do with,” he announced on RTÉ Radio 1, before proceeding to outline his demands that nothing like this ever happen again, that people step forward to take responsibility and that the media get on with their work. He was, he made clear, performing a selfless act in handing over money he didn’t even owe.

Meanwhile, back in Kerry, his father/ mentor/prototype, model Healy-Rae 1.0, told the Kerrymanthat the row was unimportant. “He got so many votes, but what we’re talking about here is only the same as one straw in a bull’s mouth,” said Jackie.

But Michael Healy-Rae wasn’t the only clone in all of this. Over the first decade of this century RTÉ successfully developed Irish copies of UK reality shows, but with a distinct parochialism of their own. The broadcaster encouraged voting campaigns, posters, straight-to-camera pleas for votes, campaigns run by the families and friends of girl bands and fiddle-playing siblings. And on to the hustings it didn’t just bring celebrities; in 2007 it introduced an actual politician.

Healy-Rae’s appearance on Celebrities Go Wildoffered a perfect confluence of parochialism, personality politics, ambition and political machinations. Yet it would seem that somehow RTÉ had no notion that this could lead to problems with the voting, regardless of how beneficial the whole exercise would ultimately be for charity. Four years on, RTÉ’s capacity for self-examination appears to be still missing, and this week it delivered a woolly statement that simultaneously answered questions and said nothing at all. It was almost Healy-Rae-esque.

RTÉ’s statement emphasised how much money had been raised for charity and said that Healy-Rae had been consistently ahead in votes, winning with twice as many as the next person. The calls from Leinster House, it stated, had made “no material difference to the outcome of the competition”.

The statement continued: “People are entitled to vote as many times as they choose, but are cautioned that they will be charged for each call. Regular tallies are taken and if any large spikes in voting are detected from a particular number, that number is phoned in order to ascertain if a) there is an individual at that number making the calls, b) the person is aware that calls are being registered, and c) the registration of votes is intended.”

But it seems this didn’t happen. The statement doesn’t say whether RTÉ noticed a spike, or phoned the relevant number, or knew whether it was an individual, a computer or a clone making those 3,636 calls. RTÉ has its rules, of course, and it has this to say about phone voting: “Any viewer who, in the opinion of RTÉ, attempts to tamper with or inappropriately influence any part of the voting or interfere with or manipulate the tele-voting procedure may be disqualified from further participation in the voting . . . RTÉ reserves the right to discount votes if RTÉ suspects bulk voting is or has taken place to inappropriately influence or manipulate the tele-voting procedures.”

A few years ago, when UK television and radio were shaken, and then shaken again and again, by revelations of widespread fraud to do with competition winners, RTÉ declared a “clean bill of health” in this matter, although staff were warned to be vigilant. It was 2007, the year of Celebrities Go Wild. This week RTÉ’s language was less brusque than that of a Healy-Rae, but its message was similar: the money went to charity, we don’t know who made the calls and, sure, he was going to win anyway, so let’s move on. One straw in a bull’s mouth.