British victory means RTE can see light at the end of the Eurotunnel

 

THERE could hardly have been a better result. Coming second in the Eurovision Song Contest was a case of honour without responsibility for Ireland. For RTE executives, it must have felt like liberation.

A burden which RTE has shouldered for four of the past five years has been lifted. Next year, the BBC will host the event after Katrina and the Waves won with Love Shine A Light.

Katrina was clear favourite with the audience at the Point and as the douze points mounted there was little doubt the entry would win.

RTE executives paled during the early part of the evening as the first songs were performed.

They were so appalling Ireland's Marc Roberts seemed likely to win.

But after Marc left the stage, he was given a run and then the last but one number, the UK's Katrina and the Waves, took the place apart.

People waved their arms and sang along.

British journalists in the press centre were so overwhelmed they held lighters aloft as Katrina sang. Not a Eurosceptic in the house.

Ireland looked set for second place although a nasty period in the middle of voting suggested we might be overtaken.

The UK and Ireland exchanged maximum points. Turkey gave Cyprus nothing and Greece gave Cyprus 12 points - an interchange as traditional in Eurovision as the tacky songs and the chumminess between juries and presenter.

Cool, assured and confident, Carrie Crowley was the evening's star. At a post Eurovision party, at the National Concert Hall colleagues predicted great things for her.

From early last week, as final preparations got under way, senior RTE staff felt second place would be the best result for Ireland.

The Minister for Arts Culture and the Gaeltacht, Mr Higgins, and chairman of the RTE Authority, Prof Farrel Corcoran, discussed separating winning the event from hosting it.

Prof Corcoran said it might not be good for the contest if Ireland were to host Eurovision again. Mr Higgins gave a lesson in logic as he pointed out that there was no connection between winning and paying for the following year. It is simply the European Broadcasting Union's rules.

Prof Corcoran was "delighted" with the result. Mr Higgins thought it inexplicable that a song praising the music of Jimi Hendrix (San Francisco - the song from Norway) should get no points. It had been a great showcase for the Irish music industry, he said.

When Katrina and the Waves returned for a triumphant encore, journalists in the press room embraced and sang along. "That's the end of expensive costume drama on the BBC," muttered an Irish journalist.

Winning Eurovision should allow the BBC to reequip and invest in the latest technology in time for next May, according to insiders. Arguments about fiscal rectitude will be silenced by the BBC's wish to offer a show as professional as RTE's productions, which European broadcasters have rated highly.

The song contest will not go to BBC Northern Ireland. "It's time someone else hosted the contest, not on the island of Ireland," said Pat Loughrey, the head of BBC Northern Ireland.

So certain was the RTE press office that it prepared press releases for only five eventualities: wins by Ireland, the UK, Germany, Estonia or Italy.

"I'm walking on sunshine and, boy, don't it feel good. A big thank you to all the people who voted for the song.

"It is a very positive and optimistic song which reflects the new era about to begin in Great Britain. We're back in the spotlight and on the move," Katrina said in a press statement, available long before she took to the stage.

Had Marc Roberts won he would have said, "I'm over the moon to win and to carry on the tradition of Ireland's previous winners." His press release adds: "Tonight is the eighth time Ireland has won the Eurovision, the most frequent number of times any country has won the song contest."

A poisoned chalice has been passed on, as far as RTE is concerned. This year, hosting the event cost RTE nearly £1 million. Contributions from the EBU and sponsors made up the rest of the £2.8 million.

One RTE source, however, said the organisation's recent success, winning for four of the last five years, had not bled it dry. It benefited from the success of Riverdance, the interval act three years ago. It has earned £2.5 million, about the equivalent of its contribution for three contests.

Since the chances of repeating that success are about nil, the cost to RTE, already facing financial strains even without Eurovision, would have continued to rise at a time when it faces more competition and an increasing drain on its income.

Last week, RTE sources were saying, officially, that they wanted to win. Privately, it was a different story: "it's time it went elsewhere"; "we have done our bit"; "it's very bad for the contest".

More than 400 gardai, along with Army and security personnel, were involved in a heavy security operation. Even the buses ferrying the audience from car parks in RTE and UCD to the Point were given motorcycle outriders.

And alter the contest, the party mood inevitably took hold. The more establishment event was at the National Concert Hall, where Prof Corcoran hosted a supper party for contestants, broadcasters from RTE and abroad, the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, and members of the Government.

At UCD, there was a wilder party which looked like it was only starting as the Concert Hall was clearing. As ticket holders queued at 2 a.m., Katrina left to go back to her hotel and rest before facing the press yesterday morning.

Of course, the contest going to the BBC might be only a temporary reprieve. Remember, Norway was Eurovision host last year and then Eimer Quinn won for Ireland. And it all came back to Dublin.