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15 April 2010 Edition

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Wobbly ladders and flaming sods

It was just after one in the morning on a country road up North a few years back. It was cold, wet and windy. I was wobbling slightly in the wind while the Fat Man, who was borderline anorexic as people called that always are, held the bottom of the ladder. I was at the other end with a knife in one hand and an SDLP poster in the other, sawing through the cable tie.
Christ, I love elections. Hold on a minute. Now I know what you’re thinking. Julia, you’re saying to yourself, you’ve let yourself down. How can you take down SDLP posters? It’s just wrong. A violation of free speech no less.  This is not the principles on which our party was founded.
In my defence, two arguments. Firstly, as the lads in the American cop shows say, this is how I roll. The Carneys have been doing this for generations. It was long the proud boast of Pa Carney and uncle Tomás that no Fine Gael poster stayed up more than two nights within a radius of five miles from our home.
Some of my earliest memories are of holding ladders while one or the other went up to remove an offensive blueshirt poster. At one election the Fine Gaelers sat out in a car watching for us but, being notoriously useless at anything even slightly dodgy, had left the car light on so they could chat and were easily identified. We simply waited for three hours until they were bored and out we went.
This is politics, real politics. None of that policy or ideology nonsense. No carefully crafted soundbites or nuanced message schedule. Old school my friend, the Carney method. 
My other defence is one that might be familiar to some of you from school; they started it. The evening before, the son of the local SDLP councillor was spotted walking through the village with a couple of friends. There is, as yet, no law against members of the SDLP being out in public, and won’t be until we introduce the necessary legislation, but a Shinner driving by couldn’t help notice the lad was carrying half a dozen Sinn Féin election posters.
Now the boy might be a big enough eejit to take down posters at seven in the evening. He might be daft enough to then walk down the main street heading towards the bridge where undoubtedly they’d have been tossed over the side. But he was smart enough to drop the posters and leg it when our two lads jumped out of the car and were after them. Say what you like about the SDLP, they can’t be beaten for running away.
When we turned up to the office after finishing canvassing and heard the story there was outrage. The whole election team sat round the office talking about it, except me. I was out the back soaking sods of turf in petrol.
“Ahh, Julia, what’s that you have there?” asked the Director of Elections when he wandered out looking for the mouthy Cork woman. “I think it’s a sod of turf,” said the likewise mystified brother of our candidate. “It’s a weapon,” said I. And in the face of their disbelieving looks I solemnly stuck the sod with a hook, immersed it in petrol and then set it alight. “What is it now lads?” I roared.
I’d recently watched Michael Collins as you might have guessed. You know the scene I’m talking about. Anyway, after they took me away for a nice lie down it was gently explained to me that burning out the homes of SDLP supporters was frowned on in this new Peace Process context, regardless of what they did to our posters.
Northerners. Like I’ve always said. Soft as cream.

A few hours later the Fat Man and I were on our way back from a fundraiser for the local GAA club that we’d attended with the candidate. We were there to show support for the club and in my case to do so by drinking gin. The candidate headed off to think deep thoughts about policy or read the manifesto or whatever. The Fat Man gave me a lift to the house I was staying in.
Five minutes down the road we realised the SDLP had been out postering while we’d been at the function. There were Stoop posters everywhere. The Fat Man pulled over the car and we sat there silently.
He cleared his throat.
“I have a ladder in the back...” he began. Say no more my skinny friend. And I slept that night on a bed of SDLP posters. 
Just to say by the way, this column should in no way be taken as recommending that people take down election posters. It’s wrong and it’s illegal. Don’t do it. Seriously.
Unless you can get away with it. And you’re in Fermanagh South-Tyrone. Then remember to cut away from you and ádh mór comrade.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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