As promised/threatened in my previous post, AFP sent me off for a week in Ireland, covering the blistering story that was putting all that was happening in North Africa in the shade; the Irish election. (Cue lightning strike)
Based at Bewley’s hotel in Ballsbridge (fnarr), I was well positioned for the vote count that would be coming at the end of the week but somewhat cut off from the world for every day up to that point. Thankfully, Roly’s bistro provided some top nosh for me to enjoy, sat in my room like Alan Partridge in his “Travel Tavern”.
So on with the work then. As seems to be the norm when it comes to this type of assignment, I spent the days leading up to my flight trying to work out who was who and why I should take their picture. For those who share my ignorance of Irish politics, there are quite a few phrases to get your head round ranging from the parties in play (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin) to the actual job title that they were fighting for (“Taoiseach” which, confusingly, is pronounced “Tea-Shack”).
On completing my first job, I quickly hit the little snag of transmission. Even though I was just over that little bit of water called the Irish Sea, neither my Vodafone or T-Mobile USB sticks would work. Boo… After being quoted €50 in the o2 store, I then struck lucky at “Meteor”. Never having heard of them, I was stunned when I ended up with a new USB dongle and a weeks credit for €10! That’s about £8!
One of my jobs in the build up to polling day was to head north of Dublin to catch up with Gerry Adams as he canvassed a housing estate. Readers of my generation may be able to relate when I say that this was actually quite an odd meeting. Growing up in the 80s, the news would invariably feature Adams in connection with the troubles in Northern Ireland. On top of this association, British media rules banned the tv stations from broadcasting his voice so, unbelievably, you’d have video footage of him speaking to the BBC reporter in English, but the sound had to be removed and replaced with an actor reading out exactly the same words. For those who remember it, Living God Chris Morris parodied the lunacy of this perfectly in “The Day Today”. By now, you should be getting an idea of how alien and taboo this guy appeared to the average young viewer. Flash forward a few years and I’m following him round a grim housing estate and shaking his hand after an impromptu few seconds in front of the camera . If you’d told the 9 year old me that at some point in the future, I’d be “shooting” Gerry Adams down an alley, just north of Dublin, I think I may have gone and lived in a cave for fear of reprisals.
While shooting in Ireland, I came across a photographer a number of times who I initially thought was taking the piss, but soon realised was the living embodiment of old-school press photography. Thankfully, I didn’t get his name so don’t feel the need to censor myself but every time he appeared at a job, I was mesmerised by how he approached the job at hand. The two examples that spring to mind were firstly in Dublin, after the man who was likely to form the next coalition Government had finished a serious press conference with the nation’s media, the snapper got Eamon Gilmore to lean out from behind a floral display and wave at the camera. The terrifying thing is that he did it. Reuters photographer Darren Staples and I were just looking at each other in disbelief. Secondly, on the day of the count, whenever a result came in, he was at the front of the pack, ordering the newly elected politician to be lifted up onto the shoulders of his colleagues to wave at the camera, whether they liked it or not. Coming from London where the SLIGHTEST hint of setting up a news picture is a cardinal sin, it was actually really enjoyable to watch someone working in a more traditional style. There aren’t many around like that anymore.
Like many events, the Irish election was only going to be covered in one way in the international media; voting nuns. While the local photographers cursed the idea and desperately fought to avoid the clichés, I’m afraid I dove in with both feet. After a five hour wait with little action, suddenly a Toyota Yaris appeared around the corner and… Nun Strike!™
While waiting at the polling station for the nunslaught to begin, I got chatting to the Garda (policeman) that was standing outside. On asking if local resident and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern would be arriving with a police escort, he chuckled at the idea and went on to explain what the best way for me to “take him out” would be, if I so wanted. In disturbing detail, he told me where “the hit” drank every Friday, where he sat and even told me where the best position to base myself would be to use the rifle with scope. Now this guy clearly wasn’t suggesting I did this but it was just another example of how relaxed people are out here of sharing their thoughts. A number of journalists that I talked to over the week were astounded at how brutally honest the politicians were about their own shortcomings and the errors of their party. It certainly makes a difference from the British political leaders and their microsecond of processing they do before answering any questions in the eternal chess game with the media.
Unlike elections in the UK where counting gets under way as soon as the doors close, Irish politics differs in that everyone gets to go home and have a good night’s sleep, returning the following morning to begin the count. While this extra night of waiting will probably be responsible for shortening the life-expectancy of many hopeful politicians over the years, it makes some sense in that the ballot counters get to hit the task with fresh eyes and a clear brain.
Having said that, I’m not sure that it was vital to have the venue’s bar open at 9am.
With the early results showing the polls to be heading in the predicted direction, Enda Kenny flew back from his constituency to talk to supporters in Dublin. With no definite confirmation of what his plans were, it resulted in a few hours of uncertainty where to actually be but eventually, news came from his press team that they’d be at a party at a hotel in the centre of town. On his arrival, a reasonably vicious bun-fight greeted him as he tried to make his way through the hotel foyer and into the conference room. These situations are never helped by members of the public standing right in the middle of the route and then freaking out when the slowly-approaching fist-fight eventually reaches them. I always try to warn people that it’s a good idea to move, but only about half do. The rest end up being pushed, hit, jostled and even trampled. At least we’re getting paid to be in the middle of it! I guess it’s an experience to talk about in the pub though.
With his speech over and Obama’s oratory title remaining unchallenged, the job for me was complete. With the long task of forming a stable coalition only just beginning, I headed back to my hotel to pack my up my toys. With the refreshing honesty and media-friendly approach of the politicians over here making a startling change, it’s good to know that there are places out there that don’t rely so heavily on the polished personalities and media coaching of other country’s elections. In that way, despite the lack of world interest, I guess you could say it was a real vote winner.