MICHAEL CLIFFORD: After all the talk, the show is finally under way. Expect plenty waffle

With only 21 days of electioneering, there is lots of guff to get out there, writes Michael Clifford

ENDA Kenny was up and at it bright and early for a late, late show. The general election is under way, after a few false starts and a few days later than predicted. The campaign is to last the bare 21 days, the shortest in a long time. The Taoiseach finally did the decent thing by announcing it in the Dáil at 9.30am, and promptly fleeing before he could be subjected to anybody in the House raining on his big day.

“St Brigid’s Day has passed and spring has arrived,” he told the Dáil as Gaeilge, as if seeking a universal franchise was a time-sensitive, ancient ritual rather than a relatively recent phenomenon.

For those inside the Leinster House bubble it was simply the end of a lot of flaffing about: At last, the starter’s gun had sounded.

Both Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams were denied the opportunity to make statements about the sun going down on the Dáil as Enda disappeared like a man already on a whirlwind canvass. “The Taoiseach has gone into hiding,” Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley shouted in his wake.

Not long afterwards, the outgoing Taoiseach made history by announcing on Twitter that polling day would be Friday, February 26. Is this a portent of things to come for the next three weeks? Will Enda only come out to canvass in cyberspace, many miles from mics and awkward questions?

“The choice you face is as stark as it is clear,” he told the country, before promising to do all the things he didn’t do since he last promised to do them.

Thereafter he took himself up to the Áras to sort out the formalities with Michael D, who, if form is anything to go by, probably whispered in Enda’s ear that he should give up his ’oul tax cuts.

The rest of the day was taken up with endless gatherings, on-air debates, and the sight of telephone poles being desecrated by bright, shining faces. For most of those seeking election, this was the day the law permitted them to hang their mug from on high. Others who had their posters out ahead of the starting gun might — and should — face the prospect of a fine for littering.

The first hours of the campaign involved plenty of bickering on the airwaves.

The parties that formed the opposition of the outgoing Dáil made a point all day of saying: “Everywhere we look, there is chaos.”

The outgoing government parties spent the day warning: “You think this is chaos? Imagine what the others would do.”

One leader spoke for all parties. “Polling day is the citizens’ day, I hope they vote for fairness.” Who could be against that, but it was Gerry Adams who was first to put it out there.

Enda had an audience with party hopefuls in Dublin’s O’Callaghan Alexander Hotel in the afternoon. It was all about “keep the recovery going”. When in doubt in the coming weeks, Fine Gaelers will revert to “keep the recovery going”. The answer to all the country’s woes will be distilled into: “Keep the recovery going.”

Elsewhere, the ascending posters set out some stalls. Sinn Féin wants to build a better, fairer Ireland. Fianna Fáil is chasing an Ireland for all. Labour is standing up for Ireland’s future. Renua just wants a few floating votes. The Social Democrats are giving Ireland a skip, but they do want honest politics.

The rest of us would like to see a fair fight. This election is going to be transformative, but to what exactly remains to be seen. Never before have so many entities been in the shake-up. Never before have clear ideological chasms opened up between some of those vying for the vote. Never before have so many independent candidates come forth with a real chance of election to fill a void of disillusionment with politics as usual.

This will also be the first general election where social media will play a major role. Twitter and Facebook are platforms where politicians can get their message out, unchecked, unmoderated, and often unseen by those whose function is to shake promises down for porkies.

It’s going to be slogans and key words from here on in. Keep an ear out for: Deliver. Fairness. Protect the most vulnerable. Deliver. Make work pay. Jobs. Deliver. Fairness. Families. Deliver. Lower and middle blah blah. Families. Lots of families. Work. Pay. Deliver. Deliver. Deliver. Deliverance.

Deliverance, please. Deliverance from all waffle that will be spouted in the name of democracy. Keep the head down and try to enjoy showtime.

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