Plain-spoken Banotti takes a swipe at psychobabble in rival camps

 

This is not the Mary Banotti we thought we knew. The Mary Banotti of fond memory was a busy, bustling mother-figure. The sort who'd organise the schoolrun down the telephone, while patching a child's grazed knee with one hand and stuffing a chicken with the other.

Oh sure, legislating away good-oh in Strasbourg and where-have-you, but in a chirpy kind of way, never letting formality stand in the way of fun.

Then yesterday, as she walked slowly to the podium for her "launch" as Fine Gael candidate in Dublin's Berkeley Court Hotel, she adopted an air of gravitas. The made-over Banotti could pass for Robinson - sharp red jacket, sensible knee-length skirt, medium-height shoes, controlled hair.

Don't tell us she's suddenly Mrs Serious.

No, thank God. She may have gone through the hoops for the image-makers but the real Banotti is still there. And she showed it quickly; first by admitting she was a bit nervous, then by ridiculing the psychobabble of the other female candidates' campaigns.

"If we had a farmer in the race, that candidate's campaign would rightly speak of the significance of agriculture. But in the language we have heard so far in this contest, that campaign would speak of `the resonance and vibration of the earth'." A pause, and then a hearty guffaw from party supporters.

"If we had a computer programmer. . . we would hear about `the network of the human spirit across the globe of cyberspace.' If we had a plumber, that campaign would speak of `Erin's waters running free'. " More laughter from the faithful.

It was time, said Banotti, "to get down to what the Presidency is really about". She wanted the nation's prosperity shared among its people.

She would highlight the dangers of drugs, protect the environment and improve relations with Britain. Her supporters cheered happily.

Then came a press question prompted by John Bruton's speech about referring Bills to the Supreme Court. Bruton had wondered about referral "on the basis of an abstract argument". Banotti was asked what she thought.

Hard to know where we went after that. The candidate took us off to the Aras, into the Council of State, out again and down the quays, twice around the Supreme Court and back to the Dail before a last spin past the will of the people and into the Aras again. There was a baffled silence, broken by a single supporter's clap which suddenly grew into a cheering ovation. The handlers couldn't help grinning. Everyone knew that if you asked the 300 people in the room what she said, you'd have 300 different answers.

Outside the hot ticket was for a fund-raising breakfast - £25 a head for "coffee, croissants and craic". There were stickers from the Friends of Mary Banotti. She has no posters and no slogan but a new logo with her name. "Mary" is written formally, in a stern dark blue but "Banotti" is more of an easy-going scrawl. That's the mix. Vote for Banotti, she says, "the woman you know I am".