All together now in no man’s land, nothing learnt and nothing gained

IT’S the fairytale election — just without the happy ending.

Eamon Gilmore began the week reading The Gruffalo to children and ended it stuck into another work of fiction — the Labour Party manifesto.

All the while Micheál Martin and Michael Noonan attempted to defy the laws of gravity — and reality — by competing to see who could do the biggest back-flip and then pretend nothing had actually happened when they fell flat on their faces.

Mr Martin used to think he was indecisive — but now he just can’t make up his mind on the issue.

On Monday he insisted there was no way he was giving-up his big, fat €88,000 ministerial “severance” pay cheque just because of the little matter that he’s still in the Dáil and helped lead the nation to the brink of bankruptcy — talk about taking the money and running (for election).

But by Friday he suddenly turned up in the Real World and realised he had to say farewell to the golden goodbye. Though, of course, it wasn’t a U-turn. Micheál doesn’t do those — he just completely changes his position, then denies anything has happened.

He used this tactic most successfully in the mini-debate between him and the other main party leader who has no chance of being Taoiseach either — Mr Gilmore.

Mr Martin decided to behave like an Agent of Chaos in the TV showdown, attacking from all directions and delivering a truly unbelievable — in all senses of the phrase — performance.

Mr Martin even got away with saying reform was needed in health and education. Er, Micheál, weren’t you actually Minister for Health, and also Education in your time?

But it seems for Mr Martin Year Zero started on January 27, 2011, when he became Fianna Fáil leader — the other 4,955 days he spent as a Cabinet Minister before that just don’t count.

But the aggro-antics saw pundits give him a victory on points, though the political pugilism no doubt turned-off floating voters just as much as it energised what’s left of Fianna Fáil’s fragile base.

Mr Gilmore looked a bit harried for much of the encounter, and the morning after the fight night before the Labour leader knew that his performance in the policy punch-up with Mr Martin had been decidedly more rocky than Rocky.

Labour’s swanky manifesto launch at the Aviva stadium was meant to give Gruffalo Gil back his Big Mo, and saw Ireland’s rugby boys practice rough and tumble for Les Blues on the pitch below while Joan Burton practised smashing into Les Blueshirts in the corporate bar above where the party was setting out its stall.

Attacking FF was almost an afterthought for the two main opposition parties as they spent 90% of their time knocking lumps out of one another, with Ms Burton even going as far as to call Enda Kenny the dirtiest four letter word in the left-wing lexicon — Tory.

So, will Labour stick to its principles and aspire to lead a Red government with Sinn Féin and the Socialist Alliance? Er, no, Joan and Eamon would rather jump into bed with Evil Enda’s Toxic Tories than do something as logical as that.

Which means Labour’s carefully thought-out 90 page manifesto is just a wish list of aspiration and assumption that will need to be mangled and mutated into a bastard offspring with the Fine Gael gaggle of Tory promises.

The Aviva was a lovely Blairite backdrop of enlightened modernism for Labour to bathe in, but a bit more thought should have been put into choosing the theme song.

The Farm’s early 1990s hit All Together Now looks good on paper, but listen to the lyrics and it reveals a much darker take on Labour’s current situation — and neatly encapsulates the in-built fault-line in their post-election hook-up with Fine Gael.

“All together now — in no-man’s land/ The same old story again, all those tears shed in vain. Nothing learnt and nothing gained — only hope remains.”

The fact Mr Gilmore’s programme for recovery has 100 steps just shows how banjaxed they think the country really is — even alcoholics only need 12 steps to get back to normal.

And all the while Enda was loose somewhere in the country, hidden by his handlers in overnight safe houses as he slipped between county towns, trying to keep his head down so that people would forget about him and vote Fine Gael anyway on February 25.

Oh, how Enda must have chuckled as the brains behind the operation — Mr Noonan — got tangled-up in knots trying to look far too clever for his own good. He initially welcomed Brian Lenihan’s blatantly partisan decision to postpone pumping yet another €10 billion the country doesn’t have into the banks, before seeing it for the shameless stroke it was just an hour later.

But the damage had been done and Mr Noonan suddenly made even the FF leader look like a solid rock of single-mindedness.

And so onwards to Valentine’s Night and the five-way hate-fest of the main debate of the campaign. But will anyone be brave enough to tell the truth?

Mr Gilmore dodged a question about whether he’d countenance a structured debt default by Ireland on his watch if the fabled re-negotiations with the IMF don’t deliver.

But really, what other leverage does Ireland have with our paymasters, except for banging our begging bowl in their faces?

It looks like the much vaunted post-election bail-out showdown with the IMF which all parties are predicating the end of the slump on could prove to be the biggest fairy tale of them all.

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence