I’ve seen only one brief clip of Pearse Doherty’s budget speech in the Dail yesterday, but I can see why it’s been attracting a lot of attention. On the RTÉ News yesterday, the Doherty clip followed on similar clips showing the response of Fine Gael’s Michael Noonan and Labour’s Joan Burton to the government’s austerity package. Since I’m not an economist, I’ve no reliable way of knowing if Noonan and Burton were talking sense. For all I know, between them they may have provided the key to unlocking the dungeon cell where the Irish economy is shackled to the wall. But judging solely on presentation, Noonan and Burton both were in the C- category. Noonan, poor man, sounds most of the time as though he is semi-sedated. It’s also hard to forget that he was once a disastrous Fine Gael leader and that the party’s present leader wobbled terribly just six months ago when the deputy leader tried to depose him. Watching Joan Burton perform, I kept being reminded of another decent but deeply unimpressive politician, Michael McGimpsey. Burton and McGimpsey share the same dolorous tone and undertaker looks. None of us can help how we look, I suppose. But both Noonan and Burton, in the clips I saw, read from a script which they could have helped, with Burton managing to stumble over the bit she had to read out.
Doherty in the clip I saw didn’t say much of substance – it was largely bashing the government for their ineptitude and their willingness to protect those with most while penalising those with least. But if we judge solely quality of delivery, he won by a country mile - an A-, I'd say. He looks and is young, he sounds and probably is sincere, and in the bit I saw he spoke without notes. OK, maybe he spent the rest of his speech with his nose in a sheaf of papers, but not in the bit RTÉ showed. It’s probably unfair but that kind of thing matters a lot to people. Against all the odds, David Cameron won the leadership of the Tory party because he spoke fluently for over half an hour without notes.
In one discussion website posting yesterday, a contributor suggested Doherty’s performance would be worth as much as 5% to Sinn Féin in the next election. I very much doubt that. But it’s another shoulder to a Sinn Féin bandwagon that is beginning to make the enemies of republicanism feel faintly unwell.