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11 June 2009 Edition

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Election Count RDS

Cloud-gathering with Harry Potter at the RDS

Cloud-gathering with Harry Potter at the RDS

Every cloud has a silver lining


CLOUDY with sporadic bursts of sunshine describes the atmosphere in Dubin’s RDS last Sunday as Sinn Féin activists rallied to the count centre to await the outcome of the EU elections.
The Shinners’ mood was a little bleak as the capital had lost four of its councillors and was preparing for a possible additional loss as Cabra’s Seamus McGrattan was awaiting the result of a recount. Of course, the big prize – a possible EU seat for Mary Lou – was the story of the day, and it was a long day for both Seamus and Mary Lou with their results coming in from close to midnight to the early hours of the morning.
“Thorough and tedious” is how the woman doing the count described her job as she fingers her way through thousands of Mary Lou Number 1s. The count had been arranged so that each candidate’s ‘firsts’ were counted at the start.
It may have been 9am on a Sunday morning but there were a few expletives unleashed.
“I’m doing a ‘colour piece’ for the paper,” I offer as various Shinners scurried about, estimating transfers.
“There’s nothing funny going on here,” says one Shinner before bending over in a heap of laughter.
Another declares: “Them f***ing Greens helped screw up this country. Well, there’s nothing rosy in their garden now.”
The political animal is complex and republicans are the most complex of them all, a particular species weaned on a mix of ‘black humour’ and ideological passion. There was no way of telling which way they’d turn on you.
“What happened, in the name of God?” demanded one wide-eyed activist as she pondered in horror the loss of one of Dublin’s best councillors in Sinn Féin’s Daithí Doolan.
Then one of those intellectual types leaps in. “The people don’t see us as really Left; they perceive us as being willing to go into an alliance with Fianna Fáil,” he hypothesises. God, I’m sorry I opened my mouth.

This was indeed to be a trying if not disturbing day for this scribe as I wander around looking for something remotely resembling the ‘colour’ the editor had called for when he gave me my instructions going out to the count.
“Sure, do one of your colour pieces,” Gerry Adams suggests, slapping me on the shoulder in one of his inspirational moments. It was getting worse by the minute. First the Editor and now the Chief!
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a former editor of this paper, Mícheál Mac Donncha. The staff of An Phoblacht are noted for their sober commentary and balanced opinion. “After a gloomy yesterday today looks brighter,” Mac Donncha philosophises. “We’ve a chance of getting Seamus McGrattan elected on a recount and Munster is doing great.”
True, I think. Sure, Toiréasa Ferris in Ireland South was polling at a major rate; things look good in Cork; and Tipperary North has secured its first Sinn Féin county council seat since 1957. 
Things were lightening up at last as Harry Potter lookalike Sinn Féin’s Paul Hogan and his partner, Claire, arrive. Paul had been contesting a town and county seat in Westmeath. “I’ll give you a good one,” says Potter, before retelling events at the count in Athlone the previous day.
Himself and Claire were at the count in Athlone when someone raced up to them, looking for chocolate or anything that might rescue an unfortunate diabetic who was collapsing for want of adrenaline at the count. Claire ran over to rescue the victim with a bar of chocolate only to discover that the patient was none other than Labour TD Willie Penrose.
What if... What if she hadn’t had the chocolate?
The stress and strain of forward thinking along with electioneering can bring out the worst in anyone. But then there was the deeply consoling thought that they had, after all, done the right thing! The nobility of the republican was truly remarkable.

Jokes, frivolity and lightness aside, the nobility and pride of the republican shone throughout last Sunday and most remarkably in Mary Lou McDonald. As it became clear that she wouldn’t ‘make it’, people were transmitting good vibes in her direction.
My French husband does that mildly absurd French thing – the kiss on both cheeks – and asks her how she was. “Je suis a peu triste,” she responds. The Frenchman is astounded. “She said she’s just a little sad,” he translates, remarking on her staunch composure as she speeds over to see how Seamus McGrattan is getting on in the recount.
Then, like an alarm clock on a gloomy Monday morning, the sound rang out. “De Burca is demanding a recount so she can get her deposit back,” someone groans. How could she? A whole recount? It’ll take hours and hours of more thorough tedium!
“Would someone give her a brown envelope so we can get on with the count and get the hell out of here?” one woman growls. “We’ll be here till Tuesday,” croaks Peter Graves of the Sinn Féin Bookshop and Dublin Central.
The gloom is folding in fast and furious before a commotion starts down where McGrattan’s recount is winding up. After some shuffling, followed by erratic motion and a flurry of cameras, the sun bursts through again. Seamus has taken the seat, albeit by a tight margin. But by now we aren’t fussy. A win is a win. We’d taken back the Cabra seat and knocked another hole in the Fianna Fáil edifice with the council eviction of Maurice Ahern, brother of the seemingly invincible former Taoiseach, Bertie. The wheels have come off of Bertie’s previously legendary vote-getting machine.

Monday morning, Dublin, Ireland...
Another cloudy day with sporadic bursts of sunshine.  There’s no signs of devastation in Parnell Square, home of Sinn Féin Headquarters and the offices of An Phoblacht. The Sinn Féin Bookshop staff are about their brisk business as usual while comrade Patrick of Rebel Tours, undaunted as always, gives me an update on his republican analyses from elections as far back as the Fenians. Inspiring stuff. I’m feeling better and better.
Our Man in Accounts looks chirpy for once. Had we been bequeathed a big sum from some foreign philanthropist, I wonder. No, it was a bonus from less far-flung terrain – Cabra.
“Jeeze, isn’t it great to see an end to the Drumcondra Mafia’s hold on Cabra?” he chirps, referring to the demise of the Ahern dynasty.
Every cloud has a silver lining after all, and the jokes are texting in fast and furious. Did you get the one about the Fianna Fáil obituary?  You know the one about them being savaged at the elections: ‘Remains reposing in the Galway racecourse: no flowers just brown envelopes.’
I better stop coz it gets worse.
Sure, I’ll see you at Bodenstown.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1