Credit: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

Video: The horrendous, embarrassing, unbelievably terrible Fianna Fail by-election ad.

No, seriously now, what were they thinking?

As a piece of political communication, the only redeeming feature of this video is that it is so bad that we are compelled to write about it. That sometimes works. It does not, sadly for the party, work in this case, because it is not terrible in a charmingly funny kind of way, or terrible in a bungling their lines kind of way: It is just terrible and encapsulates all the problems Fianna Fáil have at the moment.

Let us focus in on two performances, in particular, in that video. We will start with Catherine Ardagh. For those of you who do not know her, Senator Catherine Ardagh is the nice lady at the end, just before we meet the candidate, whose only line in the video is “and that person is…. Deirdre Conroy!”

Watch it again, there, if you can, and observe the transparently fake enthusiasm in Ardagh’s voice. She actually tries to make a virtue out of her own lack of enthusiasm, by employing a cutesy game-show voice, like a contestant winning a cuddly toy on Bruce Forsyth’s The Price is Right. It is transparently an act, to the extent that there is no effort even made to hide from the viewer the fact that it is an act.

Second, watch Limerick TD Niall Collins: For those of you who do not know him, he is the fellow in the middle of the video who extols the fact that Deirdre Conroy is a “hard worker”. “They want a TD… with energy…. commitment… AND…. who is going to be… a hard worker”, he says, in the manner of a man desperately wracking his brains to find the next word in the sentence. In fact, the telling bit there is how hard Collins is trying, transparently, to find anything at all good to say about his own party’s candidate. Watch Collins talk about something he genuinely believes in, like boycotting Israel, and you will not find any such hesitation.

The candidate herself manages just four words at the end, before they cut her off. It is terrible.

And it is, in several ways, revealing. It is revealing in the first instance that Conroy herself gets very little speaking time: She is not, at least on paper, a very strong candidate. She has stood for election three times previously, winning just one of those elections when she snuck into the last seat, by the skin of her teeth, in the 2019 local elections. The last time she ran for the Dáil, she won only 886 votes. A campaign for the Seanad secured only ten votes. That is not a record that screams “electable”.

In fact, Conroy’s main claim to fame is not electoral politics at all, but social activism: She was the woman who took the “D” case to the European Court of Human rights, claiming that the Irish state had breached her human rights by forcing her to travel to the UK for an abortion.

It is revealing in another way, though, that is even more serious: Compare this video to these produced by the universally-expected frontrunners for the by-election, Fine Gael’s James Geoghegan, and Labour’s Ivana Bacik:

Notice the difference? Apart from actually getting to meet the candidate in them, they both have something the FF video simply does not: Policy.

With Fine Gael and Labour, there’s a sense in the videos of why you might vote for them. Of things that they want to actually do, and achieve, whether you agree with them or not. With Conroy’s video? We get Niall Collins grasping for a compliment and landing on “hard worker”.

The party simply has no idea what it wants to do with power, if you give it to them. All it knows is that it really wants to have power, and to win elections. Note the part in the video above where Lisa Chambers says, with all the excitement of a Liverpool fan the day before the new season starts, “there’s a by-election in Dublin Bay South!”.

With Labour and Fine Gael, you get the impression that they want to do something. With Fianna Fáil, you get the impression that they view the by election the way a football fan views a match – sort of as a bit of friendly competition.

And that is why they are where they are today: On their death beds.

How many votes do we think Conroy will get? She got 1,065 running for the council, and 868 in her last Dáil outing. With videos like this, she might struggle, for my money, to hit four figures this time as well.

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