The Irish Times says there were 700 people at it. RTÉ says there was 1000. Whichever is the case, there were a lot of people at the Sinn Féin meeting in the Rochestown Park Hotel, Cork, last night. From the brief clip I saw on TV, the crowd appeared, as the commentators sometimes say, “good-humoured”.
Neither Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar nor Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien was at the meeting, but they still had some very firm views on it. Leo says it was just another example of Sinn Féin’s “campaign of intimidation and bullying”, while Darragh felt it came “right out of the Trump playbook”.
Naturally Sinn Féin reject these accusations. Mary Lou McDonald believes that “it’s much healthier to involve people to report back to them, to take people’s questions, to listen to them, to listen to people’s ideas.”
Mary Lou’s description matches with most big meetings I’ve attended. For example, when 2000 people crowded into the Waterfront Hall on a wet Belfast Saturday morning, there was no sense of intimidation in the air, even though the aim of the meeting was to further a reunited Ireland. True, Donald Trump did attend a meeting in India yesterday where over 100,000 people were in attendance, but even there, the meeting was for Trump to bring the Indian people the good news that the US was going to sell their government a massive amount of up-to-date weaponry. As far as I know, Mary Lou made no such announcement in Cork last night.
What Leo and Darragh dislike about last night’s rally was that it underlined the massive change that has occurred in southern politics. Sinn Féin, for so long ostracized and censored in the south, has now become the party which got the biggest number of votes in the last election. The meeting last night reminded Leo and Darragh of that fact, which just may have influenced their negative response to it.
Leo and Darragh look to me like two fairly fit and well-fed men. Odd that a meeting of their political opponents would prove intimidating for them, or that they see Mary Lou as doing a Donald Trump. Meetings are an indication of interest, not violent intent; and anyone less like Donald Trump than Mary Lou McDonald I can’t think of. She’s also, I suspect, got a much wider vocabulary than the orange-faced man. Or Leo or Darragh, for that matter.