One can think whatever one might like of Martin Mansergh (left), but one has to acknowledge that he is an intelligent man and a clever politician.
The Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary South, who spent five years on a waiting loop in the Seanad before winning his seat in the last general election, is probably the brightest spark in the FF fuse box. And as such he is naturally not very popular.
Having played a major (though quite secretive) role in the long peace negotiations up North, the British-educated academic and former diplomat has lately become the most vociferous defender of Bertie Ahern, no matter how many clangers the Taoiseach drops on the country, the Dáil or at the Mahon Tribunal.
Martin is a real Bertie loyalist, and quite understandably so, since both men worked very closely together for many years and share most likely a large number of real secrets no one else will ever know. After all, they were the "Dublin Two" who did the main work in the negotiations in and over the North.
And being as intelligent as he is, Dr. Mansergh must have realised that his staunch loyalty to the Taoiseach and the various verbal attacks he led recently on Bertie's critics are not doing him much good, while they probably won't prevent the inevitable further demise of the Taoiseach's waning support basis. So as much as loyalty means to him, Martin is realistic enough to see what is around the corner. There he finds the Tanaiste Brian Cowen waiting in the wings. He, also the Minister for Finance, likes to keep a tight purse and save money where it is possible.
So in a brilliant political move, which also is admirable for its PR element, Martin Mansergh got himself invited onto today's Radio 1 Sunday show with Marian Finucane (right). There, on the country's most popular weekend radio programme, Mansergh mentioned - almost unintentionally - that he is in favour of the traditional voting system and wants to get rid of the government's electronic voting machines, foolishly purchased for more than € 50 million by the then Minister for Environment and Local Government, the accident-prone Noel Dempsey, and inherited by his successor Martin Cullen. Since 2002, when they were not used after all, the machines have been resting safely - and at high expense to the taxpayer - in a secure warehouse. They have become a running political joke and a permanent albatross around the government's neck.
So now, after six years of doing nothing (except losing money), the government seems willing to sell the useless machines - "to the highest bidder", as Martin put it so nicely - and thus kill five PR birds with just one political stone. Very clever, indeed. The government will be rid of the cumbersome machines, the Treasury will safe money (which must also please the Tanaiste), and the people will be feeling re-assured that the old but well-loved voting system - using pencil on paper - will stay on forever (despite Bertie Ahern championing the idea of electronic voting in the Dáil more than once). And, last but certainly not least, Martin Mansergh's move will take some attention off the Taoiseach, as people will talk about electronic voting again, feeling happy - and unnecessarily grateful - to Fianna Fáil for getting rid of the very unpopular machines (after having burdened us with them in the first place).
Completely by chance, of course [if you believe it], FF Seanad Leader Donie Cassidy happened to be on the phone to the programme as well today, to talk about a different subject. (The former TD from Westmeath seems to have shelved his recent ideas to reform traffic - for details see my entry from 9 February - and is now ranting against alcohol.) But as he was on the line, Marian Finucane asked him about Mansergh's just aired new idea. And guess what? He was all for it.
So there you have it: FF backbenchers and Senators are in league over the issue to get rid of the voting machines and protect our ancient electoral system. What would Fianna Fáil do without Martin Mansergh, and what would Sunday be without Marian Finucane . . .
The Emerald Islander