Polls, debates, rows – It’s almost over!

The end is near! By the time you read this on Thursday some of you will have voted. Some will be getting ready to do so. Whatever the case, February 26 is the end of all the polls, the debates, the noise, the rows. The day belongs to you, the voters.

Please go and vote. I know I have said it before. It does not matter to me who you vote for, but please go out and exercise your democratic voice.

Looking back, where do I begin to describe the whole campaign? Well, it began for me on one of the last days of August when I went to Portmagee on Valentia Island in County Kerry to support Norma Moriarty as a candidate for Fianna Fáil.

Since then, and until now, I have visited 19 constituencies. Twelve of those were in favour of pushing forward women Fianna Fáil candidates. Nine were in favour of male Fianna Fáil candidates, most of them newbies but one or two on their second run.

Last Saturday, in The Shamrock Lodge, we hosted a coffee morning for Westmeath’s Robert Troy and Connie Geraghty-Quinn from Longford. With it being my 19th such encounter, I looked back in my mind over them all. Some of them were held in church halls, or in parish halls, sports clubs, posh hotels, and pubs; any venue that had a community feel to it did just fine.

There was no big feasting involved, just coffee, tea, and scones. In one place - Wexford for Cllr Malcolm Byrne - we had our breakfast. On another occasion in Donegal for Pat ‘The Cope’ we had a slap-up lunch. In between they were all more homely gatherings.

I met so many candidates, their families, their canvass teams, their supporters, their friends and each one stands out like a jewel in my memory. Each place I went to I began to feel the warmth towards Fianna Fáil rising on each occasion.

Now it is easy to say, as Shane Coleman did to me on The Sunday Show on Newstalk last Sunday: “Well Mary, they were warm towards you perhaps?” But it was much more than that, and it would be too easy to dismiss that increasing warmth as just a personal warmth. No, it was that I sensed instinctively that each place I went to the vote for Fianna Fáil was beginning to come through and the appeal of Micheál Martin was beginning to show up with increasing frequency.

Now, I have no explanation for that - only that I began to believe it myself more and more as I travelled. Often on those travels, if I was in a town, I would go out on the street and perhaps into a large store and people would stop and talk with me. Again, they were beginning to talk that they would like to renew their link with Fianna Fáil.

I particularly remember it in Castlebar when I went to visit the Foxford Woollen Mills and met there so many people who were open and embracing of Fianna Fáil. Now, I am not making any of this up. Why should I bother? It is what happened to me in this odyssey which lasted nearly six months. As I am writing this, I am laughing to myself. I remember a book I read many years ago when I was a schoolchild called William Bulfin Rambles in Éireann.

I felt like William Bulfin many a time during these journeys I have made. Now, of course the voting has yet to take place, so let us wait until Saturday for further comment. We are all well aware that in the UK there was such a startling overturn of all of the polls leading to that summer General Election. The polls were proven to be wrong and what ended up was an overall majority for the Conservatives. Is the same thing about to happen here? Will all of the polls prove to be just a flash in the plan until the real one happens?

Now, of course, that is what polls are: a snapshot in time when that poll has been taken. Last weekend was worth a study in itself. There were three polls and a fourth one out on Monday night, so four polls in the space of 24 hours. Each of them varied, but there was a distinct element running through all of them. Each one showed a degree or two upwards for Fianna Fáil, a static position for Fine Gael, a downward trend for Labour, ditto for Sinn Féin and the upward climb of the Independents.

There were some terrific debates since I last talked with you all. There was an outstanding discussion/debate on Sunday night at 9.30pm on RTÉ 2. I only came across it by chance when I got a telephone call from somebody telling me about it and I turned it on. Normally I would associate RTÉ 2 with a debate geared towards young people, but this was far from it.

Keelin Shanley ran it and she did so with great confidence and aplomb. Keelin, like Claire Byrne, has shot to prominence during the course of this General Election campaign. There was also a terrific Primetime debate on health on RTÉ 1. Claire Byrne was the star on this occasion. On Tuesday night we had Miriam O’Callaghan with the four leaders followed by The Spin Room.

Were there any big surprises in there? No, not really, except that the three leaders decided to gang up on Micheál Martin in the old ploy of pull down the leader. Enda Kenny seemed much more energised in this debate leaving aside his stand-apart look which had been his attitude in the earlier debates.

Debates do not suit Joan Burton or rather she does not suit debates. I have it in my heart, woman to woman, to feel sorry for her, facing as she was on each occasion an uncertain future fighting for her own seat and for her party at the same time.

Readers, I promise to go back to more mundane diary entries when all this is over, but remember there are elections to come right throughout 2016. In May we will have in Northern Ireland the Assembly Elections; in June we will have Brexit in the UK; in November we will have the American elections. So, the next few months are going to be packed with elections but they will not be on our doorstep and we will not be so heavily involved.

Talk to you all next week. In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go fóill,

Mary O’Rourke

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