Tue, Sep 28, 2021
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COMMENT: Election 2020 was great reality television

WHATEVER the eventual outcome of this month’s general election results, it must be said that coverage of the campaign represented reality TV at its best.

Even people that I wouldn’t have previously regarded as political animals became overnight experts on proportional representation, tallies and transfers. Netflix had to play second fiddle as the nation broke out the popcorn and binge watched the rolling election coverage on RTÉ and Virgin Media.

It was a short but eventful campaign, with more lows than highs. Leo Varadkar looked more comfortable during television debates than he did when mixing with ordinary people out on the campaign trail. 

He certainly got off to a bad start. When a homeless man sustained serious injuries as his tent was being removed by a mechanical device along the Grand Canal, Varadkar was accused of politicising the horrific incident by asking Dublin’s Lord Mayor – Fianna Fáil candidate Paul McAuliffe – to make a statement on the matter.

Leo’s student days also came back to haunt him when a previous admission about smoking cannabis resurfaced during an early television debate.

At times, Fine Gael did a tremendous job of damaging its own campaign, not least when one of its candidates, Catherine Noone, suggested that her party leader was autistic. It was an extraordinary comment that was offensive on so many levels. Under normal circumstances, I suspect that Noone would have been disciplined by the party and possibly deselected as a candidate. However, given that the election was just weeks away, it was probably considered more politically expedient for Leo to accept her apology and take the air out of the controversy. 

Fianna Fáil managed to largely steer clear of banana skins during the campaign, although Micheál Martin kind of overdid it on the anti-Sinn Féin sentiment, an approach he may well live to regret. The party’s most entertaining moment came when young gun Jack Chambers clashed with RTÉ’s Claire Byrne as she repeatedly asked him, justifiably, why children’s internet safety had been included in his party’s climate change manifesto.

Sinn Féin seemed immune to bad press. The more their past was dragged up by rival parties and elements of the media, the better they did in the polls. One thing is clear from the result: Irish voters resent being lectured about how they should think and feel.

It would be unfortunate for Sinn Féin if its unprecedented electoral success was tarnished by further outbursts of rebel songs or slogans associated with the Troubles. 

I fully agree that Mary Lou McDonald shouldn't have to be her TDs' mammy, as she put it herself. But she does need to show leadership by not tolerating such behaviour in the future.

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