From the contests at the chapel gates to one result from a fight that echoed around the world, broadcaster and media consultant Caimin Jones has seen General Elections in many different guises. Here he reels in some election years with Joe Ó Muircheartaigh.
THE electricity around General Elections. For Caimin Jones that comes in many different guises, experiencing as he has many different elections down the years. There’s the parish pump politics of his youth when Civil War modes and splits still flourished; then there’s the electricity of the count centres themselves when the results come on, not forgetting the cutting edge of elections that the Scariff man did so much to create when bringing a live broadcast into to a count centre in Clare for the first time. That political awareness and interest that started in Scariff many decades ago survives to this day.
“When I was growing up everyone to me seemed interested in politics and I thought the people were much more engaged,” he recalls.
“That was at a time when you still had Chapel Gate election campaigns, which have disappeared now. People really got excited about candidates and issues. It was very simple. You were either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael and you were one side or the other.
“I remember coming out of the church in Scariff and seeing different candidates standing up on butter boxes or trucks and making their speeches. Usually one would give way to the other, but sometimes they wouldn’t and you’d get a cacophony of voices and a bit of argy-bargy, which the people loved. I’m not sure the parish priest liked it, but it was a sort of entertainment I suppose.”
And that’s what politics is for many — entertainment in the midst of the serious business of electing public representatives and the formation of governments. Jones was at the coalface of many elections as a broadcaster — at first with RTÉ while based in Cork and then with Clare FM after the station opened in 1989. “I would have been involved in ’81 and ’82 and ’87 while in Cork. I knew Jack Lynch towards the end of his career and I found him an extraordinarily decent man to deal with and very likeable. Equally Peter Barry on the Fine Gael side was a most engaging man and a decent and honourable politician,” he adds.
But it’s Clare FM’s first election that looms largest of all in Jones’ mind’s eye. Because it was Clare FM’s first, but also because of the headlines it created. “It was such a dramatic event,” he says of Dr Moosajée Bhamjeé’s shock election win in 1992.
“A, that he got elected, but B, because of the interest there was, not just nationally but internationally. I gave interviews to newspapers and radio stations in several different parts of the world. Journalists flew in from London to cover the story.
“It was quite unlike anything we had seen before I think. That was the most memorable of them all in my view. The fact that local radio was broadcasting a General Election count in Clare for the first time added an electricity and a frisson to the count that was never there before.
“It changed the dynamic. You add that to amazing results that the count was producing and then you got an event that was really unequalled in terms of election history. You had people like Jim Kemmy coming out from Limerick — it was a seriously big event.
“The late Michael Howard was in a league of his own at elections,” continues Jones. “He was a particularly good number cruncher. He was a Fine Gael man, a former senator and councillor, but when he was doing that work he was completely dispassionate. He just looked at the figures objectively and did his analysis. His brain was like a computer, he was extraordinarily good.”
And the outstanding memory? Jones stays in November 1992 — a time when technology wasn’t what it is today, but it was still plenty good enough. “Cathal McLysaght the sound engineer managed to hook up Dick Spring from a car somewhere in transit to the makeshift studio, our broadcasting position in the West County Hotel,” he recalls, “so that Dr Bhamjeé was able to speak directly to his leader. I recall his memorable phrase when I told him that Dick Spring was on the line he said ‘We did it Dick’.” They did.
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