When Vincent browne came to town

Pictured: Vincent Browne.

Pictured: Vincent Browne.

When Vincent Browne announced to the camera with his distinctive dry style that the People’s Debate was next coming to Dublin 4, I thought I would be sprinting down the hallways of the Ballsbridge hotel and barging my way past the politicos for the last seat on the night in question.

Instead, I was met by an atmosphere akin to that in an elevator, pleasant though it was, as I entered the sparsely-populated conference room of the promised senatorial engagement.

As I looked around the half-empty room I did have to wonder if Dublin 4 residents didn’t have much to worry about if there was such little motivation to come to a local hotel and convey their concerns to the nation. Soon the hotel staff would be re-stacking the chairs and taking half the provisions for seating away so as not leave the scene looking empty as it’s shown on TV.

Vincent Browne arrived in the room in his own time and proceeded to inform us of some protocols, some of which included not shouting and heckling from the back, as microphones would be provided for people to outline their manifesto and resistance to the State.

In his inimitable style of a disgruntled old bird, and exasperated by a lifetime of failure to successfully capture politicians in his talons, he was warning people “it was simply no use” to shout as “you will not be heard [on microphone].”

Sure enough, when the show started later, my inner groans started rumbling as a renegade at the back began lashing out at politicians for saying nothing while they were saying so much.

Naturally, he couldn’t be stopped in his emotional rampage and had to be warned to be quiet. A producer wisely concluded he was late for VB’s advice and the show stopped while he reminded him of the rules.

Meanwhile VB was doing his impression of Maria Carey and insisted he be ejected or the show would not proceed. The reasonable producer was caught in the middle and the show wasn’t going on according to VB until the frustrated antagonist was gone. “Get the guards, get the guards,” Vincent snorted, and soon our disgruntled punter was resigned to leaving, knowing his irresistible force had met Vincent’s immovable object.

Vincent was soon asking the audience about issues they wanted to raise once filming restarted. Curiously, he wanted to know who would like to discuss the rescinding of the eighth amendment and three hands were raised.

Vincent rounded the room on a range of issues that I thought were a diverse cross section of interests. When finished, he announced that the show would tackle four themes, and if any of the aforementioned issues didn’t fit into those, then it was not to be discussed.

The intrigue inside me grew when one of the chosen issues was the eighth amendment again. It seemed as though an issue that three people wanted to discuss had been predetermined as premier subject matter for the night.

I thought it strange that a man of self-declared principle had apparently given the illusion of choice and democracy and had both given and taken the same within a few breath, and in broad view of all attendees.

It soon became obvious that another apparently predetermined move was to be pulled. As the show started, candidates for the next election sitting in front were to be cross examined and Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews sitting closest got one of the first bullets. VB’s prepared sting was to accuse Andrews of being a “sneaky underhand human being” in relation to his behaviour of using an anonymous Twitter account back when he was a member of Fianna Fáil to criticise his former leader, senior FF party figures, as well as a local businesswoman.

VB was gunning for him and looked vexed as Andrews pulled that puppy dog look of “I didn’t do it.” It seemed that Browne’s evergreen resistance to Sinn Féin, combined with this issue was particularly irking him and it was a theme he would revisit for an aul dig or two as the night proceeded.

Next was Glenda Lynch, of the Social Democrats, famous for the questioning of Sean Gallagher on the Prime Time Presidential Debate that inadvertently led Sean Gallagher into admitting holding a brown envelope and blowing his chances of becoming Head of State. There was much media speculation for some days as to whether Lynch was a political plant in the audience. While she insisted she wasn’t, her interest in politics has never waned and her path has led back to the newly-formed party of the purple theme. I thanked them for that, as it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the green of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, or even the Greens.

While Lynch insisted that the Social Democrats were about openness, transparency, and integrity, VB noted that “Sinn Féin are saying all that.” Even Lucinda Creighton had opened with that pitch. The future of politics looks set for the evisceration of all corruption at this rate. Except that it’s not. Politics is politics.

A distinct demonstration of that was left to Jim O’Callaghan on the night. JOC took the baton rather enthusiastically but before long he lost the run of himself, unashamedly proclaiming that “we are on the road to recovery because of policies introduced by Fianna Fail,” and praising Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen.

While I was prising my jaw back up from the floor, I wondered if the swooning and fainting might get out of control for the St John’s Ambulance paramedics at the back. If ever there was a statement that revealed such lack of contrition, and understanding, this was the gem of this political cycle.

By Ferg Hayden