‘There was menace in the air. It had been brewing. I remember instructions were given out that all chairs in the count centre were to be removed. The Gardai were fearful they might be used as missiles.’
The above is a quote from Denis Naughten, as published in my book ‘Nothing About Sheep Stealing.’ Denis, now an Independent TD, was recalling the incredible drama and tension that prevailed at the count centre during the 1987 General Election. He was only fourteen years old at the time of the count. His father, Liam Naughten (now deceased) was involved in an epic battle (featuring incredibly tense recounts) with party colleague John Connor.
The count featured arguments, scuffles and outbreaks of fighting that led to Garda intervention. And that was the Fine Gael supporters fighting amongst themselves (the Fianna Failers were looking on, with holier-than-thou expressions!).
That 1987 count was pretty exceptional – for its mood of menace – but the atmosphere was fairly reflective of the huge tension and fierce rivalry that loomed large on the political landscape in Roscommon for many decades.
No one wants to see a return to the chaos of the 1987 count, but one certainly hopes that reports of the demise of ‘dramatic Roscommon elections’ has, to paraphrase Mark Twain, been greatly exaggerated.
I’ve been covering elections in Roscommon since 1989. Before becoming a journalist, I had observed the elections of the 1970s and ‘80s. I can’t recall any of these elections being predictable or dull, either in the build-up or in how they eventually panned out.
Is the upcoming election in Roscommon/Galway set to dishonour our tradition? What tradition, you might ask? Well, we have a long track record here of making devastating, informed and clinical calls when we enter the ballot booths. We turf out giants if we feel they have failed us. We lower egos. We punish arrogance. We spot fools and send them packing. We raise new heroes from obscurity. Faced with factions forming within parties, we say ‘bring it on.’ We relish the combat, we pounce on complacency and we reward the honourable.
It usually ends up in drama, frequently in shocks, always in a sense of an electorate having clinically parsed through the spoofing, the substance and the stuff in between, before delivering their verdict.
And, after watching this unfold for well over a quarter of a century, I can vouch for the fact that the electorate here ultimately makes impressively informed choices.
So I won’t be arguing with whatever the people decide in a few weeks’ time, but I will be very nostalgic, not to mention deflated and feeling shortchanged, if current predictions to the effect that ‘it’s all over bar the shouting’ prove accurate.
Surely Roscommon/Galway isn’t going to serve up a dull election? Please say it ain’t so.
Anyways, I don’t know what the dogs on the street are saying, but the political pundits and the grassroot warriors and the merely ‘mildly interested’ are – with a few exceptions perhaps – calling this election already, even though Enda hasn’t fired his starting pistol.
And what they’re saying is that both Denis Naughten and Michael Fitzmaurice should book return tickets when they vacate the Dail to formally hit the campaign trail.
The word on the street is that Naughten and Fitzmaurice are shoo-ins to be returned.
And that the third seat is Maura Hopkins’ to lose.
By the sound of this, there’ll be little need for chairs at all in the count centre, much less for said chairs to then be removed by Gardai.
(And, as an aside, the ‘seats as potential missiles warning’ does not apply for the weekly bingo sessions that are held in the Hyde Centre).
It goes without saying that – whatever about big-hitters Fitzmaurice and Naughten – not everyone is signing up to the presumption that Cllr. Maura Hopkins of Fine Gael is safe.
It remains to be seen how Cllr. Hopkins fares on the campaign trail, particularly when pressed on the Roscommon Hospital controversy and her less than unequivocal stance on the ‘Save Roscommon’ issue. Cllr. Hopkins is a new political force here and she will poll very well, but she has a few potholes to dodge on the road to Dail Eireann. As of now, she is well placed to win a seat, but by no means certain of doing so.
The best prospect of a close (“it’s down to transfers”) contest materialising probably lies with Fianna Fail getting its house in order, rallying its troops and finding some momentum. It is too early to assess how Cllr. Eugene Murphy is going; suffice to say he has a tough battle on his hands. As I write, it appears increasingly likely that Murphy will be a sole FF runner.
The ‘dark horse’ must be Claire Kerrane of Sinn Fein, who will poll strongly. I won’t dismiss the prospects of any of the other candidates, not yet anyway. The game hasn’t even kicked off and they are all entitled to go out, do their stuff and try to woo the audience.
The election is about issues (we will return to that) but it is also the proverbial ‘bloodsport.’
Roscommon doesn’t do dull elections. Why start now?
* See updates on PAUL HEALY’S ELECTION (B)LOG throughout the campaign on www.roscommonpeople.ie