THE GULF between Willie O’Dea and Maurice Quinlivan is still a bridge too far. But Deputy O’Dea and Michael Noonan appeared as more than comfortable election bedfellows, as the Pat Kenny show on RTE Radio One was broadcast from the city
Fittingly, Limerick’s two political “bruisers” - O’Dea and Noonan sat side by side, shoulder to shoulder, on the front row in The Savoy hotel on Henry Street.
They might as well have leaned their heads against each other for comfort, safe in the knowledge they’ll be re-elected, as Noonan heaped praise on O’Dea and tried to extoll a level of sympathy for the poor “hard-working candidate” who will lose out.
“Willie’s a hard fighter,” he said in his characteristic whispery tones. Limerick already has a super-bantam weight boxer in the shape of Southill man Willie Casey, but the Fianna Fail heavyweight would “give him his best”, added the Fine Gael finance spokesman.
Ding, ding - it was time for a few gloves to come off. Cian Prendiville of the United Left Alliance remarked that the two-hour political focus with the candidates was more of a “love-in”, than a “boxing match.”
Yet there was no love between O’Dea and Sinn Fein’s Maurice Quinlivan who sat divided by one empty seat.
Mr Quinlivan claimed O’Dea - who amassed 19,082 first preference votes in 2007 - is actually “vulnerable” in this election - fighting talk from a Dail virgin.
“Myself and Willie have a bit of history, as you know,” he told Pat, to chortles from the audience.
The word ‘brothel’ was not mentioned, but there was much talk of other sins.
Playwright Mary Coll, while reviewing that morning’s newspapers, remarked that the new ‘Confession app’ for the iPhone might be very useful for Fianna Fail if they seek forgiveness for their myriad of sins.
In the reduced city constituency of five to four seats, the race to the next Dail in Limerick is “a bit like putting the whip to the backside of a horse in the last few seconds of the Grand National”, said John Drennan, the Sunday Independent’s political correspondent and a member of the discussion panel.
With just over two weeks left in the election campaign, the electorate can be assured there are more lashings to come - and even more beaten horses.
“I can look at Willie O’Dea and say it won’t be you,” said Mr Kenny. “I can look at Michael Noonan and say it won’t be you,” he continued, predicting which incumbent might lose their seat.
But who will claim the last two seats in the reduced four-seater constituency is wide open.
The real countdown to February 25 had begun, as the RTE News at 10am announced that “Nominations will close at 12 today.”
Mr Kenny’s attention turned to Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan, who was fittingly seated on the left; and Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell, and said to both: “It might be you.”
Momentarily forgetting Peter Power (perhaps there’s a message there), he added: “It could very well be Peter.”
Mr Drennan predicted a “‘Spring’ tide, a rise [in votes] for Labour, but not enough for two seats.”
While deputies Noonan and O’Dea have topped recent opinion polls to claim the first two seats respectively, Noonan said he expects their share of the overall vote will “equalise out” by polling day.
Labour, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael each championed that there are two seats for their taking in the constituency, but that bolshiness subsided when asked if they were personally safe.
“None of us are safe. We have to go out and fight for every single vote,” said Peter Power.
He said he and running mate O’Dea received 31,000 first and second preferences in 2007.
But O’Dea reminded the audience – and the nation at large – that he transferred almost 70 per cent of his vote.
O’Dea maintained a muted persona during the debate, bar throwing his eyes up to heaven and letting out a yawn when one of the Opposition members spoke on Anglo Irish Bank and the nationalisation debate.
Just two election candidates in the city constituency were absent from the front rows in the Charlotte Suite - Sheila Cahill of the Green Party and Independent Kevin Kiely, who was described as “a loose horse.”
Their attention then turned to the televised showdown between Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin – and of course, the white elephant in TV3 studios - Enda Kenny.
Deputy Noonan said he had no qualms with his party leader missing the debate, citing Enda’s relationship with Vincent Browne has been fractious to say the least.
Mr Noonan said Mr Browne, another Limerickman, hasn’t apologised after saying Enda should go into a room with a revolver.
The best laugh of the broadcast went to Ms Coll, who was commenting on a story in The Sun newspaper, headlined ‘We’re shagged.’
Politicians already look shagged from canvassing, but with Valentine’s Day approaching The Sun has warned of injuries sustained during love-making.
With their egos already taking a battering, this is one injury they really could do without before polling day.