Late surge of reality for Libertas as truth dawns


Declan Ganley had grabbed the last warm, golden rays as the sun set on his grandiose pan-European project, writes KATHY SHERIDAN.

AT ABOUT 7.30pm, he arrived without the lovely Delia, smiling, buffered by a media-wary crowd of about 30 deep-dyed Libertas activists. He did a few mischievous moves that left the media standing in the wrong place, then somewhat to our surprise announced that Declan Ganley could take no for an answer. Yes, that was the end of his political career, he conceded. He would not be involved in the Lisbon campaign.

That was just before Michael McNamara, barrister/farmer and Independent MEP candidate, presented him with a tray of cabbage plants, less a gesture of goodwill than a horticultural injunction to keep his campaign promise to go back and grow cabbages if not elected.

So how was he feeling? “I’m disappointed obviously. I’m human. I’m more disappointed for this phenomenal team . . . the best and the bravest of Ireland.” They cheered themselves to the rafters, and when an elderly woman’s voice broke through to intone: “A good man is remembered forever,” they roared.

Was he really bowing out? “I think so, I have to get back to work. I have a wife and four children. It’s over to Delia, she has made huge sacrifices. It’s been difficult, all the challenges, the things you go through, you know what I mean. It’s been tough on her, on the kids, on my parents. Delia will decide what we do next . . .”

It was a gracious swansong, the acknowledgment of his family, supporters and democracy itself, but for two interminable days Declan Ganley had done what he does best. He made himself the centre of the story, grabbing the last warm, golden rays as the sun set on his grandiose, pan-European political project. Twelve other candidates seethed, the front-runners’ glory stolen, while 210 count staff rechecked half a million votes.

The recheck – triggered by the suspicions of an elderly Libertas observer two floors up in the public gallery and some magical mystery moving wheelie-bins – would take no more than two to three hours, Ganley said soothingly on Sunday night. It took eight to nine.

As dread mounted of a count till Christmas, Libertas demanded a check of the big brown envelopes in which the votes had arrived. Yet more laden wheelie-bins were trundled into another count area, where photographer Brian Farrell’s attempt to record the drama resulted in the returning officer Kieran McDermott being summoned. His direction that the envelopes be opened in the main arena in the presence of photographers and all the candidates’ representatives sparked a late surge of reality in Libertas. They withdrew the demand.

The truth was dropping slowly, but it was dropping finally. The realists were winning out over the fantasists in the squabbling, divided camp. As word trickled through that far from gaining votes, the recheck was haemorrhaging votes from Ganley’s bundle (3,000 restored to grateful Independent, Fiachra O Luain), there was quiet talk of how or when he could concede. “It’s about the man’s dignity,” said one.

From that point on, it was a matter of how Declan Ganley would sign off on his political obituary. There had been no sign of him since lunchtime, and one of his senior aides said he didn’t expect him to return. “Unless he gets another 35,000 votes,” he said wryly, “he’s hardly likely to come back on a chariot with neon lights flashing. He’s a very bouncy character but even he’s a bit disappointed.”

It was a measure of the off-message aura of the camp that within five minutes, we were told by John McGuirk, his PR, that Ganley would indeed be back, if not as Charlton Heston. As he addressed his supporters and the media outside, the misty hinterland of Declan Ganley’s back story reared its head again when he was asked about his campaign spend.

“I don’t know the answer . . . You know what? I’m out of this game now, OK? The same old boring questions and the same answers . . .” he said to a raucous cheer from his supporters, the ones designated now to carry the Libertas torch of transparency, accountability, etc.

Meanwhile, three MEPs newly elected for the North West constituency were relegated to bit players in the Ganley drama, and the arrival of a plainly agitated Mary Coughlan, “doing a Lady Di” – as one observer put it – for the camera, putting her hand out to block the lens, was only a mild distraction.

Earlier, Enda Kenny had also arrived with little fanfare, hung around for a good 20 minutes to congratulate his re-elected MEP Jim Higgins (still in bed with Noreen when he got the call, and he intended to return there, he said happily), and when asked why he wasn’t looking rather more effervescent, replied that he had been around politics for 35 years and knew the fickleness of public opinion. And as for the media’s continued scepticism about his leadership, well he’d got a text from a well-known international politician that morning telling him about Lyndon Johnson, who said if he managed to walk across the Potomac [river], they’d say he couldn’t swim.

Back in the press area, Sean Ganley was heard to ask John McGuirk what he was doing on his laptop. “Looking for a job,” said McGuirk with a hollow laugh.

Watch out for that familiar face among the Cameron crew come the British elections.