Fate makes feathered friends of old disputants


ANALYSIS: After the great flood, Michael McDowell of the PDs had climbed the mountain where sat the Ark of the 29th Dáil, and shared an olive branch with John Gormley of the Greens, writes Frank McNally

And lo, the great flood of polling day at last subsided. The Ark of 29th Dáil came to rest on dry ground, containing at least two of every political animal known to man. But when a pair of TDs from Dublin South East stepped down the gangway together on Saturday, nobody in the RDS count centre could recognise the species.

Michael McDowell of the Progressive Democrats and John Gormley of the Green Party have as much in common as the raven and the dove. Yet fate has made them feathered friends. And five years after they disputed an epic recount for the last seat, here they were again, sharing an olive branch as they celebrated taking the first two.

Appropriately for a man in an after-the-flood metaphor, Mr McDowell felt he was on top of a mountain. Specifically, he claimed his campaign had been "inspired" by the early RTÉ poll which gave him no chance. "Our team had to go from the bottom of the mountain to the top, and we've done it," he said.

Less poetic commentators believe his crucial climb was of the extensively-photographed pole on which he hung posters warning about a Fianna Fáil majority, but nobody questioned the success of the survival strategy.

John Gormley left the count on his trademark bike, complete with baby-seat on the back. The baby seat is completely safe, apparently, and in the new political order, so is Mr Gormley's. Indeed, he was on his way to Dublin South, for Eamonn Ryan's imminent election. The Greens had not only survived; they had gone forth and multiplied.

Back in the RDS, there was remarkably little weeping and gnashing of teeth, perhaps because many of Dublin's Fine Gael representatives, swept away in Friday's deluge, were nowhere to be seen. Frances Fitzgerald bravely turned up to witness her defeat and was receiving handshakes like the widow at a funeral. A happier Richard Bruton was there too, one of the few who had not missed the boat.

For Labour people, the consolation was that they weren't Fine Gael people . There was palpable exasperation among back-room staff, but Ruairí Quinn interpreted the results philosophically. "I think it's called democracy," he said. If Fine Gael's unseated deputy leader had been present, Mr Quinn might have added: "It's democracy, Jim, but not as we know it."

While the PDs and Greens shared with Sinn Féin the claim to being the story of the election, there was no competition for being the noisiest. Republicans stormed Dublin 4 on Saturday the way they storm Belfast's City Hall, creating the odd spectacle of people waving the Tricolour as if it was the flag of an ethnic minority, and not the one hanging securely from the RDS pole.

Car stickers displayed a favourite slogan: 26 plus 6 = 1. And whatever about that equation, the party's numbers were adding up inside. The election of Aengus Ó Snodaigh gave supporters a special reason to cheer, not that they needed one.

But when Dermot Fitzpatrick edged Nicky Kehoe for the final seat in Dublin Central, they were silent for once, and the cheers of Fianna Fáil were too much for one Tricolour carrier. "Free State bastards!" he shouted, in what sounded like a Dublin accent.

The Taoiseach was not there for his running mate's election (immediately subject to a recount). His arrival was expected all day, but he remained as conspicuously absent as most of Fine Gael.

Perhaps the risk of Sinn Féin celebrations persuaded him to stay away, but tension in the Fianna Fáil camp in Dublin North Central might have been at least as dangerous.

The Haugheys had been bitter at perceived favouritism towards Deirdre Heney. Nobody spoke publicly about the row on Saturday, but when Sean Haughey was elected, the reaction said it all. Apart from Sinn Féin, it was the loudest cheer of the day.