Gerry refreshes the town hall meetings other TDs cannot reach
I spent last night at Sinn Fein's first town hall meeting which took place, not in a town hall, but in the Roddy McCorley social club in West Belfast. Around 200 republican supporters gathered there and waited...and waited...and waited for Gerry Adams and two of the party's new team in the Dail to turn up.
The meeting turned out to be a "stress test" for the logistics of Sinn Fein's all Ireland project as the TDs were delayed discussing the banking crisis in the Dail. In the end both the Party President and the new Dublin Central TD Mary Lou McDonald made it, but the Donegal TD Pearse Doherty had to pull out to "mind the shop" back in Dublin.
But during the wait I learned a few things.
First, the West Belfast Westminster by-election is likely to take place in June - the government had already made it clear they thought it would be too confusing to run the contest at the same time as the council, Assembly and AV votes.
Second, former IRA prisoner Bobby Storey won't be a candidate - whilst making a speech to fill in the time he referred to speculation he could be the next MP with a brief dismissive "no chance!"
Third, if you have to hire a compere for an event you could do worse than Sue Ramsey. She valiantly filled the gap in proceedings with a few quips. When Gerry Adams turned up and asked her to say a few words, she retorted that she'd already been talking forever to cover for him, so he better get to his feet and start straight away. He asked her how she'd entertained the folks and she replied "I read them your notes".
When the Party President got going he defended Sinn Fein's record in West Belfast, praised Caitriona Ruane (insisting she was being targeted by opponents because of the fundamental change she had ushered into education), and set the current campaign in the context of the party's all-Ireland ambitions.
That theme was echoed by Mary Lou McDonald who insisted "the bounce of the ball" is now with Sinn Fein. As an aside, Mr Adams revealed that, because of the largest ever turnover in TDs, things are still a bit chaotic at the Dail, where the Sinn Fein team have been working without offices or computers. This, he promised, would be rectified soon.
The local Assembly and council candidates sat in seats behind the speakers who predictably bigged them up. At one point Gerry Adams resorted to a beer advert analogy, whichs seemed appropriate enough given we were in a big bar. But he got in a bit of a mix when he told the audience that if Heineken made candidates then they would make candidates just like the ones on the stage. He paused before correcting himself - "that was Carlsberg, wasn't it?".
So which party in this campaign will refresh the parts other politicians cannot reach?