With running mates like these . . .
Radio ReviewSo that's what a political shafting sounds like, what a politician feels like when she's been stabbed in the back, not by a cruel electorate but by her own party, writes Bernice Harrison
That's how Fianna Fáil's Mary Fitzpatrick saw it, anyway, as she made crystal clear in this week's riveting Documentary on One: Patricia, Mary and Mary Lou Too (RTÉ Radio 1, Wednesday). Made by Ann Marie Power, it didn't sound promising in a week when most of us were all electioned out - her idea was to follow the three female candidates, Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, the Green Party's Patricia McKenna and newcomer Fitzpatrick as they canvassed for one of the four seats in the Taoiseach's own constituency of Dublin Central. "Surely," she said "one of them would win", but in the end none did. As Power said, "It started off about women pitted against each other - that's not how it ended up". McKenna's story quickly faded away and it became clear from the omnipresence of popular local Shinner Nicky Keogh that McDonald's biggest hindrance was the giant parachute she was trailing around Cabra (there's a documentary in that story), but it was Fitzpatrick who dominated.
There were three Fianna Fáilers on the ticket: Bertie Ahern; Cyprian Brady, the man who has run St Luke's, Bertie's constituency office, for the past 20 years; and Fitzpatrick, who had met Bertie "a good few times" and seemed pathetically eager to ingratiate herself with him. After one of his speeches, she gushed: "You were predictably excellent." She should have saved her breath.
At a rally-the-troops jamboree in Dublin four days before the election she tried to doughnut Bertie. That's when someone stands around the main man in the hope of a bit of reflected glory, or at least a photo in the paper. Mary Lou, who seems Velcro-ed to Gerry Adams's shoulder, is a master at it, but so too, as Fitzpatrick bitterly discovered, is Cyprian Brady. She beat her way through the crowd, scrambled up to the podium and got beside Bertie, but in a flash Cyprian was there too, standing right in front of her. "She's 5ft 5in, he's well over 6ft," Power drily noted. At 4am, just hours before polling stations opened, the Taoiseach sent around an official-looking, super-urgent letter to the entire constituency instructing the faithful how to vote: first for him, then Brady and lastly Fitzpatrick. As Bertie routinely wins twice the quota, it was clear he was gifting the second seat to Brady. And Brady needed massive help: he polled a miserable 939 first preferences - "900," squawked Fitzpatrick, "after 20 years in politics" - nearly half her first preference vote, and, thanks to Bertie's largesse, he was elected without even reaching the quota.
"They didn't want me to get elected," she said as the grim results emerged from the count centre, "but I never thought they'd go out of their way to shaft me." Mary Wilson gently quizzed Cyprian Brady about Fitzpatrick's take on her running mates on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, Wednesday). "There's no animosity," said Brady, and then, using the sort of what-on-earth-does-that-mean? sentence he could only have learned at his master's feet, said: "Not everyone can be a winner, not everyone can be a loser."
"It does drag on. It's grand for the first day," said Bertie Ahern of the media coverage of the count (This Week, RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday). Amen to that, but there were some entertaining gems in the weekend's coverage and analysis, notably Eoghan Harris's hissy fit and walk-out of Matt Cooper's studio during the presenter's election special (The Last Word, Today FM, Saturday), and the ding-dong between Eddie Hobbs and Dick Roche (The Wide Angle, Newstalk, Sunday). "Come on, come on, test me honey," challenged Hobbs as Roche, in his usual patronising tone, suggested that Hobbs hadn't read the Fianna Fáil environmental manifesto. "It's bad radio and it's bad manners," harrumphed Roche as the guests in Karen Coleman's studio fell about laughing while he protested his greenness.
A happy side benefit of all this election coverage is that there hasn't been the space for the media to - as has become the norm - massively fuel Leaving Cert exam stress. Evelyn O'Rourke's nightly exam preparation programme, Countdown 606 (2FM, weekdays), began this week, but she started with a sensible, reassuring message that - let's hope - sets the tone for the rest of the coverage. "The exams do end, and while it's really important, it's only one obstacle in life, don't let it overwhelm you." Good advice for Mary Fitzpatrick too.