16 October 2003 Edition
A lot of Blarney in Killarney
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
Tourists strolling through the streets of Killarney last weekend must have thought the Irish equivalent of the Oscars was being held there.
Perhaps another of the Taoiseach's daughters is getting married, they may have mused.
No, not in this country, anyway.
This was the annual gathering of Fianna Fáil.
As the party faithful limped down to the Kingdom for the 67th Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, publicans all over the scenic town showed their hospitality by clearing their windows of all match dates and filling them with 'No Smoking Ban' cards. Jackie Healy Rea held court in a hotel down the road, promising to go to jail in protest against the ban. Nurses locked themselves indoors to avoid being run down by plastered, speed crazy TDs.
Yes, this one was going to be a tough sell.
Seventy weeks into this term of government, nobody can deny that Fianna Fáil is a battered and bruised party. Last month alone, it was forced to deal with the Laffoy Commission debacle, the infamous GV Wright incident, and Michael Collins' tax problems.
As a person who has no chance of ever buying a house, who can't buy a car because insurance is astronomical, and who'll have to be dying before a visit to doctor becomes feasible, I couldn't wait to hear what Bertie and Co had to say for themselves last weekend.
But did Bertie slink up to the microphone, head hung low and beg my forgiveness? Did Charlie McCreevy look into the camera apologetically, seeking me out, and say "I'm sorry, I've really cocked up this time"? Did they heck.
What we got was an event worthy of any Hollywood production team. Not since the heady days of last week, when Arnie became government of California, have we seen such a shallow and staged affair.
Bertie didn't slink up to the stage for his annual rib-tickler. He didn't even cast a furtive glance to the skies, in fear of being struck down dead for the diatribe he was about to come out with.
He bounced onto the stage. And then he gave us his blarney stone best, reminding us that he is indeed a man of the people. The imaginary voting people of Drumcondra that is. The people who regularly pull him aside on the street when he's skipping down to the baker's to buy buns for the poor, who tell him that he's doing a great job.
It was hilarious. Ahern pledged to purge the 'greedy' land hoarders. Half the hall must have been quaking in their boots. Séamus Brennan told the naysayers that they would eat their words when the Luas was up and running. I had to jump over ten feet deep holes in the capital to get lunch today. They didn't resemble tram tracks.
Charlie McCreevy paraphrased Mark Twain on the economy, saying "rumours of our sinking are greatly exaggerated!" This from the man who, in the same speech, referred to Ireland as an island in the middle of the Atlantic.
Mary Coughlan promised to raise old age pensions from €157 to €200 in the next budget. The extra €43 will probably help most old people pay interest on the debts they've accumulated from trying to live on next to nothing since they retired. The extra money will come from a levy on chewing-gum, ATM receipts and take-aways. Yeah, that's what I'd tax as well. Not the developers, or land speculators, or rich businessmen. Too many of them in the party.
Brian Cowen tackled the North, saying both sides had to commit to work together. Yes Brian, but can your government stop backing down to the big scary bully in number 10?
By the time it came to Míchéal Martin's speech I was positively jumping up and down on the couch with excitement. "This is going to be it," I yelled to all those who had deserted me in the sitting room. "One of them's going to get it now!"
I was expecting cigarette packets to be thrown at him by angry, nicotine crazed audience members. Fianna Fáil minders would have to rush to the stage, slipping on Marlboro's and John Players as Martin ducked and squeaked: "It's your health, stupid!"
But foiled again. He was applauded, and praised for standing strong. I agree with the ban, but come on! Half of Fianna Fáil don't and they've been very vocal about it. In the end, only one delegate got up to criticise the Minister. What a letdown.
Ahern's keynote speech was the best script I've ever heard. Listening to that man at the podium, so earnest and determined, visitors from another planet would have sworn that this was the best leader the human race could have chosen.
Bertie the infallible. Fianna Fáil, a party bereft of sin. This was his message. Never mind the thousands of patients propped up on chairs in A&E departments across the country, laughing scornfully as boloney Bertie skilfully stirred his discussion on health towards the smoking ban. Never mind the people who are working three jobs, but who can't afford a telly licence to watch him, because they're desperately trying to raise enough money for a deposit on a €350,000 three-bedroom house, while handing over half their wages to their landlord, who owns every house on the street and is now a millionaire. Never mind the people who couldn't make it home to see his circus performance because they were sitting in traffic for two hours, while the Transport Minister's minions continued on their mission to drill further into the earth's core and bring the city to a standstill.
Never mind those people in Cork who had just been told by Mary Harney that their CE schemes were about to be cut. Or those students who threw themselves out in front of her car because the government had cut childcare places in colleges.
Where do all those whiners live anyway? Bertie has certainly never come across any of them in Drumcondra.
As his final act drew to a close, there was no way he was going out on anything other than a bang. With all the lads (and one token woman) surrounding him, Bertie fisted the air in a führer style pose, showing that he is indeed an inept, sorry, innate leader. Then, in a final display of theatrics, Páidí Ó Sé, more at home these days with the party faithful than the county faithful in Kerry, was wheeled out for one last photographic feeding frenzy.
The display, while tear-jerkingly funny, was at the same time incredibly disturbing.
As the strains of "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" played out on the speakers, bringing the whole sorry affair to a close, the choice of song must have been prominent on everybody's mind. Many were probably musing that if the government started thinking about today for a change, something might get done. I was thinking that tomorrow is something the voters can definitely start concentrating on. Let's just see how many seats the dream team can pick up at the local elections after what we've seen so far.