Miriam Lord: Birds echo Ruairí Quinn’s rallying call

The former Labour leader’s farewell speech moves the think-in audience to tears

That’s the think-ins done for another year.

The political parties are fully bonded and shovel- ready.

And the only thoughts worth thinking now are of the general election.

The final family photographs were taken yesterday by Labour and Fianna Fáil. Each party takes one on both days, in case they forget themselves over dinner and drinks on the first night.


These group efforts showcase smiling Senators and TDs clumped together and looking like they’re on the starting line for a 50-legged race.

But then, the think-ins are all about the political parties taking advantage of cheap publicity opportunities with photos, column inches and air time guaranteed across the media.

Fianna Fáil fizzled up quietly with a low-key press conference, to follow Micheál Martin’s low-key press conference the day before. There was an unnerving sense of calm about the whole event, right down to the party leader’s light-hearted pre-dinner remarks and the gentle few drinks in the bar afterwards.

Did Wendy have anything to do with this? The bulletin board in the foyer of the Marine Hotel in Sutton had Fianna Fáil occupying all the conference rooms on the ground floor and first floor, save for one. The nameplate next to the Fastnet Suite read “Wendy Quinn – Clinical Hypnotherapy and Coaching”.

What with the candidates at loggerheads in Dublin Bay North, the recent loss of Senator Averil Power from the same constituency, troublesome TDs and an election steaming down the tracks just as the economy is looking up for the Government, a blast of hypnotherapy mightn’t have gone amiss.

Reporters reminisced wistfully about it being five years to the very day since "Garglegate" caused ructions at Fianna Fáil's Galway drink-in when a "nasally congested" Brian Cowen arrived for the traditional Morning Ireland interview sounding suspiciously hungover.

Chips in the early hours

Did one backbencher really try to send a Garda driver down the town to buy chips in the early hours, only to be told that nobody was being sent anywhere for chips because he was fat enough already?

No chance of that sort of carry-on happening these days.

The depleted ranks of the Soldiers of Destiny marched across the lawn down to the sea at the Marine Hotel in Sutton for their photograph. That was the high point of the day.

Labour, on the other hand, had a much more raucous think-in, fuelled by the continuing good news about the economy and a tsunami of free prosecco.

Ruairí Quinn was the star of the show, despite Labour's famously demure deputy leader, Alan Kelly, casually mentioning to all and sundry that he's off to see the pope this week with fellow European environment ministers. That should be a real honour for His Holiness.

As his time in the Dáil draws to a close, the former party leader – a Labour stalwart for many decades – gave an impromptu after- dinner address to his parliamentary colleagues and friends. A fired-up Quinn, bursting with party pride, socialist fervour and a tinge of sadness, cut loose on Monday night and delivered an emotional rallying call to his delighted and teary audience.

After so many years at the front, his undimmed political passion is compelling.

He even managed to get in the word missed by local TD Anne Ferris, who unveiled an election poster littered with eff words. "Ferris – fearless, fair, focused, fair-minded, fighting for your future."

Ruairí had only the one but he made the best of it: “The great thing about socialism and social democrats [is], because we don’t believe in capitalism, we know how to f***ing manage it.”

If they had been in good form already, they were flying by the time Ho Chi Quinn resumed his seat.

Combative form

The mood obviously got to Joan Burton, who was in combative form for her stint on Morning Ireland. She had a right go at presenter Gavin Jennings, who questioned whether increased child benefit payments target those most in need.

Joan, clearly highly put out by the broadcaster's tone, huffed "I think that's quite an extraordinary statement by RTÉ that child benefit doesn't benefit families with children. I don't know what world RTÉ inhabits. Perhaps, in Dublin 4?"

The Taoiseach was in Dublin 4 later in the day to make a jobs announcement. In the pre-election spirit of not upsetting anyone, Enda went out of his way to declare that “Ballsbridge is the heart of Ireland”.

Joan’s sharp exchanges with Jennings (she didn’t seem too impressed when told afterwards that her interviewer is also a medical doctor) didn’t go unnoticed across the bay in Sutton. Micheál Martin was out of the traps immediately to demand justice for Dr Jennings (if not Dublin 4).

The Tánaiste’s “tone and tenor and her demeanour brought home the sheer arrogance of the Government”, he declared.

She all but insulted poor Gavin, he added.

Meanwhile, Joan toddled out to take advantage of the beautiful Glen of the Downs for her final interview. As she told journalists about the improving economy, all hell broke loose in the trees and shrubbery behind her as two screechingly large birds tried to murder each other.

Never mind, she’ll get plenty more chances to repeat herself.

And back over in Sutton, as Fianna Fáil move out, local Independent TD Finian McGrath moved in. He held a public meeting about helping small business and promoting enterprise. This necessitated the (legitimate) plastering of many posters around the constituency for weeks in advance.

Nothing to do with the election, of course.