Miriam Lord: No more thrills at top of Misery Hill

Candidates bleat fairness and balance – but after that, things become more complicated

From press conferences to door steps and photo calls, Conor Pope attends every media event on the last full day of coverage for the general election. Video: Enda O'Dowd


It’s been a FAB election. No matter who wins and what configuration of candidates make it to Leinster House, one outcome is assured: it’s going to be a FAB government. They’re all for it. We’re all for it. Everyone wants Fairness and Balance. But after that, things get more complicated.

Yesterday was the last full day of the campaign. All the parties, and those Independents who insist they are not a party but an umbrella, were out pushing their claim as the one most dedicated to the principle of FAB. Final, overlapping, press conferences were held within hours of each other in Dublin. One last push for votes. A last-ditch appeal to voters.

The outgoing Coalition of Fine Gael and Labour, having gone their separate ways three weeks ago, moved closer to each other again. To their surprise, they encountered a frostier reception on the doorsteps than they might have imagined when entering the race. With polling day imminent, they huddled together for warmth.

Opposite sides

Both are billeted in premises on opposite sides of the Liffey, but within the vibrant enclave of Dublin’s financial and information technology district. The perfect shop window for a Government hoping to be returned on a platform of economic stability and further job creation. Except up to now, a lot of people haven’t been in the mood to buy.

Fine Gael chose the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre for its wrap-up. Labour, having held press conferences in the same venue earlier in the campaign, hosted its finale a few blocks away in its riverside headquarters on Blood Stoney Road. Neither event was exactly buzzing with excitement. Although with the end in sight, the principals were more persuasive, coherent and passionate than they have been for most of the election.

Then again, nothing concentrates the mind like a hanging. Or a hung Dáil. Did any of them notice over the days as they made their way to various events in the docklands auditorium that the building is at the top of a road called Misery Hill?

The Labour Party, stuck in a bad place in the opinion polls and desperately trying to claw back critical percentage points to make itself a viable coalition proposition, decided to kick off its gathering with a novel outdoor photo op. Two strapping staff members lugged a large sofa down from their seventh floor eyrie and positioned it on the quayside.

Then Alex White, Joan Burton and Brendan Howlin were arranged on it for the delectation of the photographers. Their little tableau could have been interpreted as a representation of things to come for many candidates facing the loss of a seat this weekend. Alex and Joan among them. From on the canvass to on the couch. A lot of disappointed politicians will be in need of therapy when all this is over.

Back inside, the three were keen to share that morning’s good news on foot of the results of an academic study of promises made by the Coalition parties before the last election and those that were delivered. Labour, for the minority element of that partnership, did very well when the results were tallied. But you could sense the disappointment at their arrival so late in the day for them.

Names from history

Meanwhile, over at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Leo Varadkar decided it was time to mount a raid on the 1916 territory annexed by Sinn Féin during its campaign. In that party’s final press conference in the National Gallery, party leader Gerry Adams, not for the first time, invoked the Easter Rising in his speech, calling on voters to join his party in “an entirely peaceful people’s rising”. Thank God for his calming words.

Leo invoked two hallowed names from history for his contribution. “Just a few weeks before he died, our founding father, Michael Collins set out his vision for a free and independent Ireland,” he began, sending the Taoiseach and his Ministers misty-eyed at the mere mention of their hero. Collins had said that the building up of Ireland’s economy was done with a particular purpose, continued Varadkar: “Social justice for all. And FG today, in this centenary year, holds to those values true.

“When Michael Collins left the GPO the building was in flames, but he turned and said defiantly: ‘At least the flag is still flying’.”

That nearly did for Enda and the FG Ministers entirely. Having outlined the Government’s achievements thus far, Leo trembled: “Today, our flag is not just flying, it’s flying proud, with our economic sovereignty restored and our political independence asserted. Five years ago, that didn’t seem possible, but it is a reality today because the parties of Connolly and Collins worked together to restore our sovereignty and restore our pride.”

Then, with all the humility he could muster, he concluded: “There is much yet to do, and we just ask for the time and space to do that and to finish off the job. Thank you.”

Going to cry

The assembled handlers were in a heap. Simon Harris looked like he was going to cry. Connolly and Collins. Labour and Fine Gael. Back at Blood Stoney Road, Howlin was getting a bit emotional too as he extolled the virtues of the existing arrangement. In their five years together, the two parties “had disagreement and settled them”. They had compromised when necessary. “We have formed friendships,” he continued, pointing to his own political bromance with the Minister for Finance.

“In the case of Michael and myself, that friendship will endure.” It was all very touching. That was before he started tearing strips off Fianna Fáil and the possibility of a FF/FG coalition. Those two will never see eye to eye, he said. “The dogs in the street know that.”

Joan Burton continued the assault, talking of the return of “smugness to Fianna Fáil” and Micheál Martin’s “smugness with a smile”. It’s just old wine in new bottles, “the Micheál Bottles”.

Then she changed tack to stress Labour’s commitment to delivering a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment on abortion. “Instead of doctors and midwives being around a woman in her pregnancy, in Ireland, we have to reach for the lawyers,” remarked the Tánaiste.

Back on Misery Hill, Noonan was refusing to rule out a Fine Gael/Labour return. All it takes is a few more percentage points for both parties. But at the end of what Labour’s White accurately termed a “long, short campaign”, it’s a tall order. Still. Whatever happens, one promise remains from all sides. Fairness and Balance? Absolutely. FAB!