A cruel trade indeed for the lonely losers


ANALYSIS: The shock and pain of electoral defeat was quickly brushed aside in the rush of the victors to stake claims to the new political order, writes Kathy Sheridan

The moment of menace was not when Nora Owen crumpled, sustained only by the humane embrace of Labour's Seán Ryan. Nor even when Mary O'Rourke kissed Donie Cassidy after he took her seat.

It was when Charlie McCreevy said to Mary: "Well, you won't be going back to your knitting anyway." He may even have repeated it. By then, this share of the audience had dived under the sofa.

Yes, you meant well, Charlie. The thing is, Mary never knitted, as she told you through bared teeth. She's been busy, being a senior government minister and stuff like that. And now she's nothing. And she was blaming you or someone very bloody like you for bulldozing her into one of those beastly arrangements with the lovely Donie Cassidy.

"Charlie," she said mournfully, "I never got a quota." But nobody wanted to hear that. Selfish bastards.

Avril Doyle took a different tack. Asked what had gone wrong with the game plan, her reply was an acid: "I didn't get enough votes."

Austin Currie's defeat, he noted, came in his 13th election and 13th year in the Dáil - "but I'm not superstitious".

"Is it time to chuck it all in?" asked Brian Farrell, as if he'd just been pipped for the pitch and putt prize again.

After 38 years in politics, said Currie, he had intended that this would be his last election anyway.

He quoted Enoch Powell (someone always does), who said that all political careers end in failure. "I'm happy that I contributed to public life and will leave it at that."

Dick Spring was one of several to quote Lord Birkenhead - "Politics is a cruel trade" - though one of the few to credit the man. Then he twisted to look at Martin Ferris - fresh from wrapping the count centre in the Tricolour - and asked: "Can I quote lords, Martin?" (I'd say so, Dick, having witnessed his colleague, Seán Crowe, wrestling with a large bottle of bubbly earlier on).

In a classic Spring combo of grace and grump, he drew on the memory of the late Tom McEllistrim's dignity in 1987 (when he lost to Spring by four votes) as his model in this hour.

He said that, if he had to, he would do the same all over again and warned about a raft of Springs ready to spring from the political traps. Then he wrecked it all by sniffing that the "prospect of being a backbencher for the next five years" had not been a "rivetting" one anyway.

Well, Martin, Tom and Jim, do YOU feel stupid or what? And just in case they still hadn't got the message, he outlined the job requirements: "I wish you luck in filling all those potholes because, by God, there's a lot of them out there in North Kerry."

As Vincent Browne intoned that he was the "outstanding politician of his generation", along with Alan Dukes, Dick left us with some final words to treasure. These came after a soothing Brian Farrell had heaped praise upon his graciousness and sent regards to Kristi and the children. "I'll send you a postcard", drawled Dick.

Meanwhile, as Seán Haughey pulled streamers from his hair and Eamon Ó Cuiv wrestled with more bubbly, a procession of Fine Gael's best and brightest left their ghostly, pole-axed imprints on the screen: Frances Fitzgerald, Jim Mitchell, Alans Shatter and Dukes, Charlie Flanagan, Brian Hayes . . . They included a grandson of a founder of the State; a grandniece of Michael Collins; the party's deputy leader; a former leader. Having no Fine Gaeler in Dún Laoghaire was comparable to the Tories losing Kensington or Chelsea, said Ursula Halligan on TV3.

"It's like the St Valentine's Day massacre," said Alan Dukes.

A bereft Richard Bruton said that the fallen would want those remaining to pick up the pieces and move on. Pat Rabbitte was cross: "For half the population, sleaze didn't even feature . . . It's a new Ireland, an individualistic, materialistic Ireland."

Sinn Féin's Pat Doherty wasn't buying that: "Pat came close to blaming the people for the result that Labour got . . ." A cruel trade?

While the bodies were still warm and within minutes of Michael Noonan falling honourably on his sword, Brian Farrell was bludgeoning allcomers about whether John Bruton would be welcome back in the leadership slot. "I have no ambitions at all in that regard," said Bruton repeatedly, before taking Farrell to task. It's not easy to find your balance in a cauldron.

But yikes, who let the dog out? Yup, the Rottweiler was back, seeking whom he might devour. If Socialist Party man Joe Higgins got back on the "It's the bins, stupid" platform, Michael McDowell was the "Kick 'em in the shins and run" merchant.

Dick Spring took his hat off to him. Sort of. "No constituency work, just turns up in a constituency and then heads the poll," shrugged a thoroughly disillusioned Dick.

And the Rottweiler Party? "Ran the most effective anti-Fianna Fáil campaign", said Fergus Finlay, "the most cold-blooded and ruthless tactical decision I've ever seen."

Upon which Mary Harney popped up to say that she was "too nice" to force humble pie on those who had written them off.

And here was McDowell, almost puppyish in his effusive acknowledgement of his canvassing army. By yesterday, on Today FM's Sunday Supplement, he was back in ankle-biting form, mercifully, insisting that the PDs shouldn't be taken for granted by anyone.

The double act is back: Rabbitte and McDowell. Let the games begin.