Elder lemon lookalike edges vote but Fine Gael not bitter

Miriam Lord’s Week

Independent  Gerard Craughwell speaking after his election. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Independent Gerard Craughwell speaking after his election. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

 

It says a lot about the state of politics in this country when the main Government party loses a Seanad election it should have won by a mile and this sorry state of affairs is greeted as the best possible outcome under the circumstances.

Fine Gael followed the path of least humiliation – it was touch and go for a while – and heaved a huge sigh of relief yesterday when their chosen candidate was narrowly defeated for a seat in the Upper House.

Now, with the budget to come next week, the party can only hope that the farce surrounding the non-election of Enda’s chosen one, John McNulty, is over.

At least their triumph of failure over ineptitude made one man happy: Gerard Craughwell declared himself “ecstatic” when his victory was confirmed.

He hadn’t long to wait to hear the result. There was only one ballot box and the only people entitled to vote were Senators and TDs.

Even so, out of these 223 paragons of our democracy, 16 didn’t bother exercise their franchise and 14 more of them couldn’t manage to do it right. There were 12 spoiled votes and another two were rejected because the politicians concerned failed to properly complete their “declaration of identity”.

Which is reassuring.

The count was held in a small room off the members’ restaurant and stuffed to the gills with politicians, photographers, reporters, supporters, observers and ushers whose main job was to stop people from standing on the seats for health and safety reasons.

There was no sign of John McNulty, the Donegal man who was put onto a State board by a mystery Fine Gael operative shortly before he was nominated to run for the vacant seat.

The third person in the race, Sinn Féin’s Catherine Seeley, was also missing.

Craughwell, who is a former president of the TUI and was in the British army, looked on as the count progressed while David Norris kept up a running commentary for the entertainment of the crowd and Peter Mathews reminded everyone that he was one of group of politicians who had nominated the new Senator.

Spectators of a certain vintage were astonished at Craughwell’s uncanny resemblance to former Labour minister and MEP Barry Desmond, a man who in his heyday was known as “the elder lemon”.

Norris marvelled loudly at the sight of the little piles of ballot papers. “Appalling . . . disgraceful . . . look at them: that amount of vote for a parliament seat,” he boomed.

When the result was announced, politicians of all stripes pushed forward to congratulate Craughwell, who looked slightly shell-shocked. The Fine Gael whip in the Seanad, Paul Coghlan, and his colleague and leader of the House, Maurice Cummins were particularly warm in their advances.

Fine Gael has lost its majority in the House, so they’ll be extra nice to the new man. It won’t do them much good. “I will not be whipped by any party,” he declared to journalists during his maiden outing on the plinth.

Given that Craughwell is a former member of the Royal Irish Rangers, there was some surprise at the fact that it was Sinn Féin’s second preference votes which won him the seat.

The new Oireachtas member thought it was “very brave” of Sinn Féin to vote for him and he commended them for taking such “a phenomenal step”.

Others wondered aloud if these votes were a case of simple political pragmatism. Had McNulty – who is likely to be a general election candidate for Fine Gael – won and insisted on taking his seat, this would have meant a high-profile senator on the ticket in the new Donegal five-seater, where Gerry Adams’s party has two sitting TDs.

Twitter aficionado Craughwell will take his place in the Upper House next week, to be promptly ignored with the rest of them.

And the Dáil will have two new members too – we’ll know who later today.

 

Big Phil stocks cabinet with four home boys

Meanwhile, over in Europe, Phil Hogan is settling into his new job as commissioner for agriculture.

One of the first things he had to do was choose his cabinet – and no, we’re not talking about the furniture in his office on the top floor of the Berlaymont building.

Big Phil has his own cabinet now, just like Enda.

Commissioners have six people on their team, two of whom must not be from their own country. There has been much speculation about the four Irish members.

Phil’s chef de cabinet is Peter Power from west Limerick, a man with considerable Brussels experience. Power began his career working for former IFA president and MEP TJ Maher at the European Parliament, before moving to the European Commission.

He worked in Chris Patten’s cabinet and became the commission’s spokesman on trade under Peter Mandelson. When Gordon Brown controversially appointed Mandelson to his cabinet in 2009, Power moved to Whitehall as his press spokesman.

More recently, he worked with EU vice-president Neelie Kroes before heading up the press team for the European Commission in Dublin.

Also in Big Phil’s line-up is Dermot Ryan from Tipperary, who formerly ran the agriculture division of the Irish representation in Brussels. Then there’s Kilkenny man Tom Tynan, former adviser to Ivan Yates when the politician turned bookie turned broadcaster was a Fine Gael minister for agriculture.

Tom is a brother of singer Ronan Tynan.

The final man in Hogan’s quartet is barrister Shane Sutherland, son of former Goldman Sachs boss Peter Sutherland.

Shane, aka Son of Suds, is noted for his absolute politeness no matter what the circumstances. This might explain how he is now starting a stint with his third commissioner, having previously served in the cabinets of Charlie McCreevy and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

 

Government candidates submerged by Irish Water

The arrival of letters from Irish Water in the middle of two byelection campaigns went down like a lead balloon for Government candidates.

 

Former Labour minister, Pat Rabbitte, was canvassing in his Dublin South West constituency one night last week. As he rang a doorbell in Templeogue, his hand brushed against the letterbox and the dreaded package from Irish Water fell out of it.

Pat bent to pick it up. At that very moment, the householder opened the door.

“Jesus, it’s bad enough that you’re charging us for our water, but now you’re delivering the f****** envelopes as well!”

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