Friday, May 25, 2007

Bertie's Eyes Are Smiling

I don't pretend to know much about Irish politics, but I am finding the Irish election night coverage on BBC Parliament fascinating. I have been watching it for 75 minutes now and there hasn't been a single woman in the studio either as a presenter, politician or pundit. There is no air of excitement at all either in the studio or at any of the counts. See how boring PR and STV can be!

Interestingly even the programme pundits and presenters are calling the Taoiseach by his christian name. I noticed this when we had an Irish Election Special on 18 Doughty Street this week. I asked Jarleth Burke, the Fine Gael representative, why he kept calling his opponent 'Bertie'. He said it was because everyone else did!

Fianna Fail seem to be heading for an absolute majority will remain in government, but probably with new coalition partners, despite the reemergence of the main opposition party, Fine Gael. It's a cracking achievement for third term Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Sinn Fein have thankfully not done as well as predicted, but I am disappointed that that right of centre Progressive Democrats look like being wiped out. Indeed, all the smaller parties and Independents seem to be doing badly as the two party system reasserts itself. Where Ireland leads, may Britain follow!

UPDATE: Dan Hannan on why they decided to stick with Ahern HERE.


Simon Harley said...

"Indeed, all the smaller parties and Independents seem to be doing badly as the two party system reasserts itself. Where Ireland leads, may Britain follow!"

Hear, hear Mr. Dale. Hear, hear.

Anonymous said...

So you find boring fascinating? I knew it took special qualities to run this blog.

gwe said...

Two party system? What - like Man U and Chelsea? Sounds pretty boring to me!

Anonymous said...

yes indeed, as you say, you don't know much about Irish politics

Anonymous said...

I was in Dublin (just looking) by chance on the weekend they had their referendum on divorce (or was it abortion? who cares?) The atmosphere wasn't like you might expect for, say, a General Elaction in Britain or America, more like locals idling away a bit of time chatting about a Parish Council 'election' in Cornwall.

James Higham said...

I should have thought that would be very much of a plus for the Irish - the boringness of it, as distinct from exploding bombs in crowded market places.

Anonymous said...

"Ireland's prosperity derives, rather, from the decision of successive administrations to cut tax, especially corporation tax.

To the extent that the EU has been involved at all, its contribution has been largely negative: at the height of the growth spurt, the European Commission instructed Charlie McCreevy, then finance minister and now (appropriately enough) Ireland's Commissioner, to stop undermining the Single Market by his "excessive" tax cuts.

It is often said that Irish voters would rather elect a knave than a fool"

The same reason why Putin keeps winning in Russia & Le Kuan Yew kept winning in Singapore & why Clinton "its the economy stupid" beat Bush Snr. I think electorates are wise to make such choices.

It is why Cameron is completely wrong to go for greenery rather than corporation tax cuts & it is Brown's chance of winning.

Nonetheless it is good to see somebody in the British media noticing & saying exactly why Ireland has prospered, it has after all only been 17 years. Such prosperity is also ours for the taking & the Tories should say so rather than letting Brown away with saying that our economy is performing well just because it is doing better than Germany, Japan, France & Italy. It is doing much worse than the world average.

Manfarang said...

"as the two party system reasserts itself"
Two Tory parties!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Test Match Special without the cricket.

Anonymous said...

"I have been watching it for 75 minutes now and there hasn't been a single woman in the studio either as a presenter, politician or pundit. "

Don't know what point you're trying to make here Iain, but there are plenty of female newsreaders and journalists on RTÉ. And there were plenty involved in the election coverage also.

"There is no air of excitement at all either in the studio or at any of the counts. See how boring PR and STV can be!"

Well that's not even remotely true. Perhaps you just didn't comprehend what you were watching.

Anonymous said...

"There is no air of excitement at all either in the studio or at any of the counts. See how boring PR and STV can be!"

I must admit I was confused at this statement. RTE had excellent coverage of the election throughout the day, from 9am well into the wee hours of the night, and there was plenty of excitement for all to see.

From some of the other posts, its plainly obvious that punch magazine still has some loyal subscribers

Anonymous said...


Iain, am disappointed in you! You sound just like a Yank dismissing soccer or cricket - fact is, you've got to know what to look for in order to appreciate the play.

Take for example, Bertie Ahern's own constituency, Dublin Central . . . which I canvassed with my pals in the Irish Labour Party back in 1992, when the party under Dick Spring (one of the key architects of the Peace Process) led the party to its greatest victory . . . coincidence???

Anyway, note the following:

1. The Taoiseach topped the poll, as per usual, with nearly two quotas. No surprise there, he ALWAYS gets a huge share of the 1st preference vote. When I canvassed in 1992, little old ladies of all classes & conditions would tell you, “Yer man’ll get something, but mind, Bertie get’s my Number 1.” You are right about that, Iain – EVERYONE calls him Bertie! Which is one of the secrets of his success

2. The real story with the Fianna Fail vote in Dublin Central was how Bertie’s two running mates faired. Mary Fitzpatrick is the daughter of his former FF seatmate, who retired this year; in the last local elections she got more votes than the Taoiseach’s brother, which was less than politic. Cyprian Brady served for 17 years as Bertie’s constituency secretary, attending six surgeries per week for his boss, who made him an Irish Senator to help set him up for his own Dail campaign. Now realistically there are only 2 potential Fianna Fail seats in this 4-seat constituency, and Ms. Fitzpatrick was determined to run, so Bertie let her – for one thing, would help hold the fort against some tough women candidates (more on this below). But he also insisted that Mr. Brady also have a shot. When the campaign began, both of them stuck like glue to Bertie, who campaigned hard in his home constituency – along with a horde of Fianna Fail election workers. The Fianna Fail strategy was to let Bertie’s faithful followers give him their 1st preference, but then ask them to give their #2 & #3 to the other FFers “in your order of preference.” But on the eve of the election, letter went out requesting that the faithful give their #2 to Cyprian Brady! Mary Fitzpatrick protested, but it was too late.

3. Now here’s what happened: Bertie topped the poll with 12,734 votes in the first count, exceeding the quota by 5,806. In contrast, Mary Fitzpatrick got 1,725 first preferences, and Cyprian Brady just 939. Almost all the commentators wrote Cyprian off at this point . . . except for a few wise old tallymen who knew the score. Which was revealed in the 2nd count, when Bertie’s massive surplus was redistributed, giving Mary +1,362 additional votes . . . and Cyprian +2,403, which put him ahead of her by a small but as it turned out very comfortable margin. Because when she was eliminated in the 6th count, most of her votes (remember, the bulk of them Bertie’s to begin with) transferred to Cyprian, and put him on track to win the 4th and last seat.

4. Now this was a masterful triumph of vote management - in more ways than one. The pundit’s were VERY impressed with the resurrection of “Lazarus” Brady; was this an historical first, to get so few votes but end up with so many? Answer is no: because in the 1923 general election in Clare, Eamon deValera received over 17,000 first preference votes, and one of his Republican running mates, Brian O’Higgins, got a measly 114, or less than one-third of 1% of the total 1st preference votes. But O’Higgins was ELECTED in the 12th count, thanks to transfers from Dev’s surplus. So not only is Bertie Ahern the most successful Fianna Fail leader since de Valera, but he’s also matched the Long Fellow’s amazing vote transfer feat in rising up his own Lazarus!

5. All of the excitement in Dublin Central this weekend was NOT confined to the Fianna Fail “instant runoff primary” (the common term for STV in the US) for the 3 FF candidates collective garnered 45% of the 1st preferences; what about the remaining 55%? Well, one-quarter of the 1st preferences were split between two working-class warriors: Independent Tony Gregory and Joe Costello of the Labour Party. Both are long-serving TDs noted for their hard-work before, during and after elections. Costello’s base is traditional Labour Party support (and this is a constituency where the oldest voters still remember Jim Larkin and James Connolly, and quite favorably too! As for Gregory, he emerged as a tribune for the residents of the worst slum areas (which even today are not hard to find in swaths of the North Inner City) back in the 1980s, when after a close election he supported Charles Haughey for Taoiseach . . . for a price; millions for investment and projects and services in the days before the Celtic Tiger; extortion it was, from a guy noted for his hand-made French shirts, and voters of Dublin Central still love him for it. Anyway, at this election Gregory and Costello came in 2nd & 3rd place respectively in the 1st count behind the Taoiseach. As other candidates – Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, Green, Progressive Democrat, Christian Solidarity and 3 other independents, these transfers helped propel Deputies Gregory & Costello back into the Dail.

6. Now of course the results for all the counts in Dublin Central are known; but the picture was naturally less clear when the counting began. Except for a intrepid breed known as the Tallymen – including a few women – who closely observed the sorting of the ballot papers as the boxes from the polling places were brought to the counting center – for Dublin Central, the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) a large convention complex dating back to the days of British rule (hence the Royal!) which was used for counting most of the Dublin constituencies. As the ballots were sorted for the first count, the tallymen (those for Fianna Fail being the most experienced & accurate) not only tallied the number of 1st preference votes, but also got a good look at the 2nd & 3rd preferences. So they could not only see how the first count was going to come out, but also the transfer patterns that would be critical to the final outcome. And not just that: they also recorded tallies for the polling places, information not officially recorded, but extremely valuable for targeting purposes in the NEXT election.

7. So what about the remaining 30% of the 1st preference votes in Dublin Central? The bulk of this vote went to three candidates: Pascal Donohoe of Fine Gael, Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Fein, and Patricia McKenna of the Green Party. Now before the election, almost all the pundit had given FG little chance, but Mr. Donohoe, a local councilor, is a very hard worker and did much better than anticipated and came in 4th place in the 1st count. Behind him in the 5th place was Ms. McDonald, a member of the European Parliament who was considered a solid bet to win a seat for Sinn Fein, because in the 2002 election the SF candidate for Dublin Central, a local man, missed winning a seat by less than 100 votes. Instead of going with him again, the SF leadership decided to parachute Mary Lou into the constituency, because she had the perfect image as an articulate, telegenic, well-educated, middle-class young woman. But this strategy backfired, as she receive -5% fewer 1st preferences than the 2002 SF candidate, which destroyed her chances. As for Ms. McKenna, a former MEP (McDonald defeated her at the last Euro election)

8. NOTE that this was just ONE constituency, with just 4 seats out of 166; there were plenty of others with equally interesting results. As for Dublin Central, one of its members is the Teflon Taoiseach, who has made modern history leading his party to a hat trick, and bringing his faithful companion Deputy Brady into the Dail in the bargain. Deputy Gregory could end up being one of the key votes to sustain the next government; while Deputy Costello might end up with a ministerial post IF Labour enters into government with Fianna Fail.

9. Back in 1992, the day after the election count, which I had the privilege of seeing firsthand at the RDS, I was lazing in my bunk at the Dublin Youth Hostel, when I heard a loudspeaker coming from a sound truck: “This is Bertie Ahern [he was then Minister of Finance] thanking you for your support and your vote at the election.” Now even though I had neither supported nor voted for him, must say that I was VERY impressed – and I’m very sure I wasn’t the only one!

Mike Snyder

PS - Hope the Irish will forgive my mistakes in the above, while the English will forgive the length of detail!