Donegal Election Candidates On Vincent Browne: Defensive, Loud, Nervous And Calm

While I knew some of you were probably dying to see what I would be saying about the upcoming Donegal bye-election, but I really wasn’t planning on doing anything. I’m not from the area and I know next to nothing about its politics.

But, I did end up watching four of the more high-profile candidates (i.e. not independents) last night in a debate on TV3s Vincent Browne show.

I do not like Vincent Brown. He’s annoying, leads the interviewee around and is a journalist whose main occupation is simply to look for and provoke a negative reaction, the kind of journalist I despise with a passion. Moreover, he fumbles over words, demonstrates lack of knowledge on the issues and makes little attempt to control matters when they get out of hand.

Just wanted to say that straight of the bat. Mr Browne is not someone I watch on a regular basis.

Anyway, lets just go through the night as it happened. Might seem a bit jumbled, apologies, but it all happened kinda fast and my note-taking abilities have suffered since the conclusion of my degree.

Opening arguments – None of them look that good from a PR persepective. All uncomfortable, shifting in their seats. Fianna Fails Brian O’ Domhnaill is kinda desperate to avoid a”national” debate and says “the voters of Donegal” a lot. Labours Frank McBrearty is all about the bullshit promising stuff for everyone, protect everyone from cuts. Fine Gaels Barry O’ Neill is very boring and says litte of actual consequence. Sinn Feins Pearse Doherty goes for the expected line of “Election is all because of me!” because his high court challenge got it in the first place. Also insists that SF would have no cuts at all.

After a break we’re back and Browne starts asking specific questions to the candidates.

And he starts attacking O’ Domhnaill for being a member of Fianna Fail. The candidate ended up defending his party for two minutes here rather then talk about Donegal. Not too bad either, I get the impression that O’ Domhnaill is just trying to push through the parties bad image.

McBrearty gets asked how he will support the myriad of projects and non-cuts he talked about earlier and procedes to flounder. Completly unable to give a satisfactory answer. He keeps saying “Strategic Investment Bank”without explaning what that is or what it’ll do and his only good job is in dodging the question.

O’ Neill gets asked whether he thinks it would be in the national interest to support the upcoming budget and, like his Labour associate, kinda panics. Very, very nervous and flustered, unable to give an answer or even a coherant dodge. What’s worse, half way through his time McBrearty starting talking over him and O’ Neill just gave up and sat silently. McBrearty seemed as if he had just remembered something he was supposed to say when he was in the firing line and just let loose. Mostly, that the government shouldn’t be supported and a general election is required. Thats all well and good, but his interruption made the FG candidate look like a chump.

Pearse Doherty is the best candidate so far. Calmer, more assured, obviously not under as much pressure to impress people at the moment. The problem is that he doesn’t get to talk much as McBrearty starts interrupting and talking over him. Hard to make out what he was saying, but I think it was something about SF not being involved in the next government. Pearse took the borderline abuse calmly, to his credit, and didn’t just give up like O’ Neill did. He also talked about how Donegal might elect O’ Domhnaill instead. I don’t think he’s convinced he’ll get elected, at least not in this bye-election.

We swing round again to O’ Domhnaill and he goes after Doherty big time, criticising SF and the man for lack of policies and headline grabbing. When pressed by Browne, who has lost all control of proceedings by this point, he admits mistakes were made by FF with the economy but then emphasizes himself as a new candidate who is untarnished.

McBrearty refueses to be quiet and O’ Domhnaill has to shout over him the whole time. Literally no-one else has interrupted anyone so far except for the Labour man and its making him look like a douchebag.

O’ Neill, quiet as a mouse so far and just as impressive, gets his chance and starts playing up planned national changes such as the reduction in TDs and the abolition of the Seanad. Predictably, one of the others, Doherty as it turned out, goes for the obvious and criticises him for a lack of Donegal based ideas. Not a bad point, but the candidates, all of them, are going to face the problem in the coming weeks of whether to focus on local or national issues.

Sensing the tone, McBrearty, who Browne decided to punish, ineffectually, by skipping over him to O’ Neill, wants to talk about Donegal all of a sudden, about jobs, investment, growth etc. He starts talking better then his first few speeches here, but then gets into a bickering sessions with O’ Domhnaill who I’m guessing is out for revenge at this point. It’s not good to watch and McBrearty’s insults, that O’ Domhnaill is the “fourth man” for FF (after Gallagher, Gallagher’s wife and Packie Bonner) is completly uncalled for considering O’ Domhnaill is a Senator i.e. higher on the food chain then McBrearty. Moreover, O’ Domhnaill snarks back that he’s been reading too many papers, especially in regard to the Bonner comment. McBrearty looking flushed and a little desperate here. 

Doherty’s back on the mike but has barely any time to speak before McBrearty, again, is shouting him down. McBrearty doesn’t think it matters at all what Doherty says or thinks as his party won’t be in government in the next Dail. Somewhat unfair I thought, as it doesn’t mean he has no right to express his opinions. I feel a bit, a very small bit, of sympathey here for Doherty because he got totally ambushed in this last section with McBrearty borderline screaming at him that his lack of business experience was a major thing.

Following that some woman, whose name I didn’t catch, starts talking and basically spends  a few minutes stating the obvious. FF are in trouble, Lab have the Gilmore Gal , SF also have momentum. The candidates all just sat sheepishly, kinda humoring her in her observations. It was quite odd. They all knew it, we all knew it, why the hell did she get airtime?

Browne closes off the program with a look at tomorrow papers. A poll about the Taoiseach’s falling approval rating gets thrown at O’ Domhnaill here as Browne baits him, or attempts to anyway, into saying something negative about Brian Cowen. O’ Domhnaill doesn’t bite and expresses support for the Taoiseach. I can admire his spine in making the stand if not the stand itself, especially in the face of Browne’s sneer. A somewhat random thing to throw at the guy in what is supposed to be a Donegal debate.

McBrearty kinda cuts in here, again, and starts…I’m not sure, making some comparison between Labour and the picture of an incoming wave on one of the papers. Very, very clumsy, he came off looking like a buffoon here. Browne’s throws the word “socialist” at him like an accusation. McBrearty isn’t backing down and gives a brief speil about his parties plans to tax higher earners more. Nothing revolutionary in that really and Browne’s jibes fall flat. McBrearty’s best bit here, but thats not saying much.

At this point it all gets a little rushed. Browne gives some sort of shout out to the Independent candidates, especially David Pringle and says they will be included on future programs, a little odd considering how the former Sinn Fein man was left out tonight

Browne starts reading out text messages and its so very, very obvious that he is picking them in a very delibertly fashion, only those that criticise all the candidates and call the entire process into question. I imagine Browne gets plenty of texts criticising him but we’ll never hear about them.

Doherty steps in to defend the election, probably since its really his baby, but in my opinon, overstates its importance. He basically made out that the winner could bring down the government single-handed which might be a bit of a stretch.

O’ Neill is getting no time to talk here and isn’t helping his case by not fighting for some like McBrearty did.

We’re back at O’ Domhnaill for some reason and Browne is going after him, again, this time over the lateness of the election. The FF man responds that he’s been calling for the election the whole time and its not his fault that the party wouldn’t schedule it. Starts jabbing his finger at Browne very pointedly, a good closing response. At that point, Browne abruptly ends the show, having run out of time. I deeply suspect that this last question and the leading nature of it was timed and directed very deliberitly at O’ Domhnaill, but he came out of it well.

On the whole, a bit of a worthless debate. Candidates all looked uncomfortable and nobody really stood out in a huge way. Brief, overall impressions:

O’ Domhnaill: On the defensive the whole time, but did not run away from the party line. Had to deal with McBrearty the most. Not bad, overall, but nothing special either.

McBrearty: Assholish, loud, spouting talking points, very little substance. Very insulting to everyone and did not come off well, neither in his speech or his appearence.

O’ Neill: Quiet, nervous, boring. This guy isn’t going to winning any votes anytime soon, unless he can buck up, get exited about his candidacy and become able to defend himself from attacks.

Doherty: Calm, assured and stuck to the SF script – the election is my doing, no cuts, etc. Took the attacks well and gave off an air of confidence that the others, especially O’ Neill sitting next to him, lacked. Knew he was the frontrunner and acted like it.

I really hope that we can get these guys, and some of the independents, on a different stage, give them some decent questions about Donegal and keep the antics under control. Otherwise, its kinda pointless.

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