A round up of week two in the election campaign
The outcome of Michael McDowell's weekend of reflection following further Bertiegate revelations was revealed with much hullabaloo at the Progressive Democrats' press conference on Sunday morning, thus ending almost two days of blanket press coverage on the Tainiste's moral quandry. At the conference, McDowell said that the PDs would remain in government because it could not hand over such important minstries as health and justice to ill-prepared junior ministers. In relation to the payments, McDowell said that he had received information during the week that rendered Bertie's previous disclosures “at best selective”, and he called on Ahern to make a full and public disclosure about the monies he and his then partner, Celia Larkin, received in the early 1990s.
The inevitible flurry of reactions from opposition parties promptly ensued, and in the final analysis, it was Michael McDowell, not Bertie Ahern, who bore the brunt of the criticism. Enda Kenny doggedly refused to be drawn by reporters on Bertie's payments, musing instead that this was not the first time that McDowell had 'reflected' upon the Taoiseach's financial irregularities. On the first occasion late last year, McDowell told the public that he was satisfied with An Taoiseach's account of payments to him in the early 1990s.
While Trevor Sargent supported McDowell's call for a full discosure by the Taoiseach and referred to Bertie as a “dead man walking” politically, Sargent also said that McDowell had “very little principles other than survival” and called on the Tainiste to put whatever information he had in relation to Bertie's finances into the public domain.
Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, expressed the view that McDowell's antics were another case of blatant electioneering and questioned why McDowell would address the press about the information he received before directly seeking an explanation from his partner in government. Adams said that McDowell “is a notorious attenetion seeker” and that he hoped in this election that McDowell would “get his comeuppance”.
Meanwhile, Bertie told reporters that he is not a crook and that never misled people on his finances. Other members of Fianna Fail rallied around with allegations of "ongoing partial leaking" from the Mahon tribunal and a “dirty tricks” campaign against the party leader. Bertie has yet to make a statement about the payments he received in the 1990s but today intimated that the details of his statement would focus upon the house he rented and later purchased from Micheal Wall rather than on his personal finances at the time.
While Tuesday saw the historic political engagement of the DUP and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein's prospects of governance in the Republic took a less fortuitous turn. Fianna Fail ruled out government with Sinn Fein in the next government on the back of irreconcileable economic policies. Referring to an interview with Gerry Adams about his economic policy for the South, Fianna Fail Minister for Communications, Noel Dempsey, said that he had “no clear idea what [Adams'] policies were except that he was fudging”. With no place in the alternative coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens that is presented to the electorate, Sinn Fein currently campaigns with no prospect of a partner in the 30th Dail.
In the south-west of the country, Enda Kenny's tour of Kerry and Cork would take the wind out of any less determined politician. Starting with an address in a school in Listowel at 9am in the morning, by 11am he was to have departed for Tralee, having already stopped for a photo opportunity, a walk about of Listowel and a visit to the Three Mermaids Pub. Before lunch time, Tralee and Killarney were walked about and ticked off. Whirlwind Kenny would see Kenmare, Ballincolligg and Dromhane before eight that evening. Kenny wears a pedometer, which he happily shows to anyone who asks. When he sees the rapidly increasing digits on the machine he shouts "It's going up! Fine Gael is going up!".
In every town he passes he adheres to the age-old Politicians Guide to Canvassing. He kises babies, he waltzes grannies, he ogles fish in the fishmonger. He cannot pass by a butchers or chemists without running in to say hello. Trailed by hacks and photographers everywhere he goes, Kenny has been seen to point at an imaginary voter in the distance, if no real citizen is handy. He occasionally sings, while his rival makes history in Stormont, no doubt worrying that Enda, as they call him on the streets, could be making headway with each voter he smiles at.
Alas, Enda's endeavours would not (he should hope) influence the latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll published on Friday which showed Fine Gael down three points in its approval rating to 26 per cent in the past fortnight. The poll shows Fianna Fail up by two percentage points bringing it to 36 per cent and Labour up by three points to 13 per cent. With the PD's dropping a further point to an overall approval rating of merely 2 per cent, these results place the alternative coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens at 38 per cent, two points ahead of the incumbent coalition. However, the results also indicate a stronger possibility of Fianna Fail and Labour meeting the required majority to form a government. However, asked in a Listowel book keepers during the week if 9/4 odds were good for a FF/Labour coalition, Pat Rabbitte replied that they were if one wanted to lose money because "it's not going to happen".