Thursday, 13 October 2011
Is Miriam O'Callaghan the worst interviewer RTÉ has ever produced? Excluding Charlie Bird, of course
At one point it began to sound more like a theological discourse or a poor cousin of the Inquisition. Miriam O'Callaghan prodded Martin McGuinness with her ruler: "Do you go to confession?" Michael D Higgins got "Do you believe in God?" David Norris was all set to talk about receiving Communion on Sundays but she drew the line before that.
Mind you, the theological bits were among the livelier in the debate, even if they were largely irrelevant. McGuinness told her yes, he did go to confession (he should have said 'Do you?'), Higgins cast a fairy spell of words and murmured about being spiritual and agin imposing his beliefs on others you see and don't you know, which certainly was a relief. Other notable features were the fact that Higgins has given up on his make-me-big box, Gallagher has taken to wearing what looks like lipstick and Mitchell has the air of a man who's just been told that on 27 October he'll be privately disembowelled and on 28 October his innards will be held up to the public gaze.
Who did badly? Mitchell certainly, likewise Gallagher. Gallagher got stuck with an unpaid bill for €1,000 and having been a FF activist all his adult life. He's now in serious danger of having his glorious balloon pricked. Mitchell didn't so much say anything damaging (although boring/repetitive can be trying) but his big problem is that he just looks like a defeated man. Norris, surprisingly, was quite impressive at points - a cheerful willingness to accept and debate, mini-tributes to opponents - but in his final one-minute summary he went a bit mad, rambling on about something called the Romeo and Juliet case. Come on, David - I've no job and you want to tell me about Romeo and Juliet? Dana's performance was effective enough if a little muted throughout. Until near the end, that is, when she lobbed in the 'vile accusations' thing which woke up everyone, even Higgins. Nobody knew what she was talking about but they all got the message: I am a brown-eyed faun and these people are sticking long sharp spears into me. Twelve hours later we still don't know what she was talking about but she got our attention and, I suspect, some further sympathy. McGuinness was peppered with questions about Pte Kelly and other sad cases but he survived them largely intact and came out with a few short uppercuts himself. "That's a disgraceful question", "That's a stupid remark to make" he told Miriam. He did manage to squeeze in his truly impressive achievements at Stormont, but of course Miriam, much less his opponents, didn't want to know about that. No questions for Higgins about his willingness to serve in a party headed by a former Stickie, naturally, much less a request to read aloud one of his published poems (look, we all need a laugh from time to time).
So, to sum up, Dana, Mitchell, Norris and Davis (shows the impact she made when I'm remembering her only now) did nothing to change their position propping up the table as they say. Gallagher looked damaged and may well slide down the polls as quickly as he went up; McGuinness was more assertive in response to yet-again IRA questions; the image of a strong man being harried by pygmies may do him some good. Higgins both literally and metaphorically kept his head down (no box, just platform shoes) and emerged - atheism apart - undamaged. So it'll probably be as-you-were, with the exception of Gallagher.
But there I go again, as old Ronnie Regan liked to say, predicting. The truth is, anything could happen over the remaining two weeks. But if McGuinness is planning a memoir of the campaign, I have a title for him: call it Stormont: the Forgotten Seventeen Years.