'And they all rowed together with the rowlocks between their knees'


A romantic political melodrama opened in Dublin yesterday for one performance only, writes Miriam Lordat the joint canvass by the main party leaders.

THREE MEN and a Vote - a romantic political melodrama - opened in Dublin yesterday for one performance only. A touching story of star-crossed legislators who overcame their mutual distrust and learned to love each other through a shared passion for the EU.

And for the sake of the children.

The underlying message of this production was that opposites can attract, if the incentive is strong enough. At the end of the show, there wasn't a dry armpit in the house. Which is what you get when the sun is beating down outside and all the action takes place under a glass roof.

Three Men and a Vote had been billed as a major event. Its all male cast having temporarily put aside their deep artistic differences for a unique collaboration in aid of Project Lisbon. This might explain why it took them so long to get their act together.

They should have taken to the boards an awful lot earlier. With just two days to go to the referendum vote, the impact of their joint appearance is considerably lessened.

Given the political egos involved, and the fragile notions of their respective entourages, the performance was carefully planned so that there could be no complaints about upstaging from any of the principals.

Brian Cowen, as Taoiseach, had the main speaking part, with meaty character roles from Opposition leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore.

They stood side by side in the airy atrium of the National College of Ireland and presented a united front to their audience.

To a man, word perfect.

Brian, Enda and Eamon. They outlined their reasons why Ireland should vote for the Lisbon Treaty. Three wise men, or at least that's the way they hoped they would appear, dismantling the arguments of the strolling players of Libertas, Sinn Féin and Youth Defence.

Three identical lecterns were placed against the back wall of the atrium. Taoiseach Cowen stood in the middle, with, appropriately, Fine Gael's Enda to his right and Labour's Eamon to his left. Their make-up was fabulous.

A slowly overheating trio of dark grey suits.

Three Wise Men, or Huey, Duey and Louie? Groucho Cowen, Chico Gilmore and a golden haired Harpo Kenny? They were positioned next to a display panel of photographs called "The Academic Wall of Excellence," from where they present their unprecedented wall of political consensus.

When Brian spoke, the other two looked at him like twin Nancy Reagans to Biffo's Ron. He returned the compliment when Enda and Eamon made their contributions.

An expensive treble of advisers, party secretaries, chefs de cabinet and media handlers looked on. Had a bomb dropped on the National College in the IFSC, the expense account business of the city's restaurants would have taken a major hit.

The three leaders stressed their differences to underline their cohesiveness. They acknowledged that politics here is a blood sport. "There is a time when good political leadership requires us to set aside party differences, and to stand together in the interests of our country" said Eamon Gilmore. "We represent different viewpoints," said Enda. "Very different viewpoints, but we stand together today, united."

"Our parties have separate identities and programmes . . . in the midst of different views and opinions, there are issues where we stand together beyond partisan party politics," said Brian.

A reassuring confirmation that normal hostilities will resume when the referendum is over.

They were all acutely aware of accusations that the political establishment is trying to browbeat the electorate into backing the treaty, and at pains to stress that this is not the case. Much as they wanted to swash their buckles like Three Musketeers, they were mindful not to appear as if they were lecturing the electorate.

A BBC journalist wondered if it was wise to warn that a "No" vote will mean national "catastrophe". Biffo bridled. "I don't use those words for fear of being accused of browbeating" he smiled.

Maybe that's the problem, countered the man from the Beeb. Perhaps the Yes campaign hasn't been strong enough in its use of language. Biffo chuckled, but said nothing.

His questioner was probably unaware of the Taoiseach's familiarity with strong language, and the problems it can cause when there are live microphones around.

And what would he say to his European colleagues in a few weeks time if the No campaign prevails? "Shower of f******" came a whisper from the media ranks.

The soundbite of the day belonged to Eamon Gilmore. "This isn't the time for this country to throw a wobbly over Europe." Afterwards, as they took their bows, the trio posed for photographs. And with that, the curtain went down on Three Men and a Vote. Predictably, the reviews have been mixed.