Ming’s hemp suit steals show as proverbial dogfight awaited

Who stole our perky Taoiseach and sent a weary man in his place?

Kathy Sheridan reports from the European elections count centre for the Midlands North West constituency in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Ming, the main man, turned up early in a smart, green ensemble. “It’s the hemp suit . . . He usually wears it to weddings,” said his brother-in-law Jimmy Kelly, a quiet, sensible man often mistaken for The Edge on the campaign trail. “You can’t smoke hemp,” he added helpfully.

In the absence of other shiny toys, and with a first count still at least 24 hours off, this was easily the most exciting thing to happen until the Taoiseach – or someone who looked very like him – turned up. But who had stolen the perky, incurable optimist and replaced him with this weary, dispirited man in Enda’s own home town?

It hardly helped that he had to be diverted to a different entrance due to the presence of half a dozen “Mayo Says No” protesters with handmade posters and a dopey little sheepdog who was trained, said a woman, “to bite the arse off Enda Kenny”.

Led by the movement’s full-time co-ordinator, Somhairle Mac Conghaile, a 24-year-old Dubliner, they included Independent candidate Mark Fitzsimons, who said he was delighted to have received 1 per cent of the vote. “For a first-time showing, I think it’s brilliant – especially after RTÉ damaged my campaign. How can you explain who you are in a minute and a half?”

They crowded Michael Ring, filming him while asking how austerity had affected him. His answer was to gallop around the corner to escort his leader in by a side door.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach was gearing up for his RTÉ interview. “You can take your finger out, Taoiseach,” said the producer causing some of us to snap awake. (She meant out of his ear, where he was holding the earpiece.) But his demeanour was that of a man not to be trifled with.

This was a leader whose own home town had thrown out half his councillors and whose countyman and MEP, Jim Higgins, was probably about to lose his seat.

He paid Higgins a generous tribute, thanking him for his service to party and country, even while Higgins was outside insisting he would be “okay” as there were “no proper tallies out”. Then again, the expected “solid transfer” from Labour’s Lorraine Higgins wasn’t happening, he said. About half her vote was from “plumpers” (just the single vote). The other half was “definitely” a vote for the “sisters” (other women).

Refreshingly, Rónán Mullen was telling anyone who asked that he hadn’t “a snowball’s chance in hell” of winning a seat. Bratty teens Meanwhile, Enda restated much-repeated lines in defence of his governance while having a swipe at the groups – Independent and Sinn Féiners – who are going to have to make “difficult decisions” in their new-found positions of authority. It was like listening to a despairing father of bratty teens who prays he’ll live long enough to see them being tortured by bratty teens of their own.

Could he see Fine Gael in coalition with Sinn Féin? He listed off several examples of how the two had collaborated in various arenas, concluding philosophically: “Who knows what the future holds in politics?”

A definite “could happen” then. Swiftly followed by a definite “no thanks” from Gerry Adams, who said the only common ground between FG and SF was Mayo for the All-Ireland, before acceding to the woman pleading for a handshake – “Gerry , I’m from the United States. Will you please shake my hand?” and later, to the journalist who wanted a selfie with him.

Matt Carthy, who could well be his third MEP, according to the latest tallies, was skipping through the centre, glorying in the fact that the party had won half the seats on Carrickmacross council. And, oh yeah, since you ask, he had headed the poll. Sitting quietly among Sinn Féin people in the centre, was a man believed to be John Downey, the Hyde Park bombing suspect whose letter of immunity from the PSNI forced his acquittal from his Old Bailey trial in February.

It’s hardly surprising if Enda is looking at Herman von Rompuy’s job in a new light, as some local Fianna Fáilers suggest. Or maybe it’s wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, the 210 counting staff continue to shuffle voting papers between pigeon holes and Dunnes shopping trolleys. Today, the tallies are putting Ming, Mairead McGuinness and Carthy in the top three seats. The fourth is going to be the proverbial dogfight between Marian Harkin and the two Fianna Fáilers, Pat the Cope and Thomas Byrne. But the latest speculation is that Ming might not have that much-touted surplus after all – or any kind of a surplus.

All we know is that this is not going to end anytime soon.