One of the remarkable aspects of the Progressive Democrats under leadership of their controversial Minister of Justice, Michael McDowell is just how quiet things have gone for them since he took over last September – it’s almost reminiscent of what happened to the firebrand leftist Kinnock when he took over British Labour after Michael Foot. No time for barnstorming. A May election would leave a settlement of the dispute in the Heath Service a long way over the electoral horizon. Mairtin, who’s been lunching with TG4 and it’s talking head crew, clearly hopes so. And he thinks that Sinn Fein are currently being underestimated. As Noel Whelan noted in the Irish Times last Saturday, it is easy for Dublin based journalists and commenters to get blindsided (subs needed). He quotes Garrett FitzGerald:
In an address to the Patrick McGill Summer School in Donegal in July 2004, Garret FitzGerald, emphasising that he was no longer actively engaged with the Fine Gael party, revealed that he had been surprised at how well it had done in that June’s local elections. He attributed his surprise, in part, to the fact that national media no longer seemed to cover politics outside the media and government beltway of Dublin 2 and 4, to the extent he felt it once had. As a consumer of political coverage at national level, albeit a relatively astute one, he felt he had as a result been left blind-sided about the extent of the party’s improvement around the country since its disastrous 2002 election.
It’s a point worth bearing in mind as we head into the last, intensive, phase of this election contest. There are real limitations on the capacity to which any of us involved in covering or assessing the forthcoming contest at national level can identify the true significance of happenings in individual constituencies. In 2002, much of the national media failed to recognise the significance of the relatively rapid rise of some of the new Independent candidates, whose support surged on the back of concerns about hospitals or other local issues.
Bertiegate may (or may not) be over, but a certain dynamic may still play a role in chipping votes away and in that direction. And national polls may have little to say about the final result of what could be a very tight fight for Bertie’s hand in coalition.