A Special Report
SPIKE MILLIGAN must be laughing his coccyx into cataclysms of laughter this Friday morning as he studies the brand new Dail constituency for Sligo, his native heath.
Fifty years ago to this day and hour he was scribbling the finishing flourishes to his famed novel "Puckoon."
The book opens in a place he placed North-east of Sligo and dealt in its discourse with how the British split a local hostelry in two, north and south.
The whole shebang was described then as typical of Spike's genius for mayhem and madness.
In the days of Spike we did things in straight ones or two, at most, - rhyming couplets really, like north and south, real and unreal.Hubble, Bubble
Since June 21st 2012, we now have a new Puckoon of a Dail constituency, the likes of it not seen in 90 years of independence. It borrows shavings from two provinces to make a new four-county four-seater.
And there's more, as another famed comedian used to warn us.
With Sligo as centrepiece, we now get four counties and so many further subdivisions inside them that we may run out of sums to describe them all.
Thankfully, there is no such place we ever talk of hereabouts as north-east of Sligo, unless....
In the new constituency there is north Sligo, west, Sligo and South Sligo. Leitrim people also talk of three distinct places too - north Leitrim, south Leitrim and mid Leitrim.
We are halfway on the commuter train to Puckoon already; Spike will probably be the stationmaster, an abacus in hand.
Add into that cauldron of tried spells the names of trusted south Donegal and untried west Cavan, situated in the south west corner of Ulster.
You sure get plenty of opportunity for hubble, bubble..and toil and trouble ahead. Map sellers could prosper. Four Issues
Fine Gael will be happy, privately and publicly, with the outcome from the Electoral Commission.
It must be expressly emphasised, that it is an independent body headed by a High Court judge.
The Commission was circumscribed by (i) it's terms of reference and (ii) by the Constitution. Otherwise, the conundrums facing the Commission could, easily enough, have all been solved with single seat constituencies.
No less than four issues impinge on Fine Gael in Sligo. To a lesser extent the same issues will arise for the other main parties, Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail and Labour.
Each of these four issues will require to be 'managed,' not by the main players on the field, ie the sitting TDs, but by the FG backroom team. Each issue could, therefore, cause some grief going forward.
First is the issue of gender balance, a requirement which has now, additionally, to be calibrated into the context of a new (and unknown) geographical balance.Backroom Brilliance
Geography is the second issue, ie positioning. Handling of that issue has always been a hallmark of Fine Gael backroom at its brilliant best, notably 1981, 1997, 2011 but at other times too.
There was an echo of Michael Collins' squad which dispensed with the Cairo Gang reflected in some of those Daileanna seats stratagems; the armoury was absent but the efficiency and ruthlessness -- when needed! -- was unmistakable and unforgettable. Sometimes, unforgiven too!
The early betting money has to be, regardless of what is said privately by the party in these early days, Fine Gael Senator Michael Comiskey may need to be 'repositioned,' however subtly, to improve what is a strong hand he has been dealt in the reconfigured territory.
The question is where? Do they elevate the Comiskey profile in Cavan or do they raise his profile in Sligo, ie pursue Tony McLoughlin's quadrant of the new four seater configuration on the expectation that Tony will retire next time out?
Mind you, few politicians ever, ever, go gentle into that good night..........
That segues nicely into the third issue for Fine Gael backroom team: the age spread of its selected team for a general election in , maybe, mid 2015 or maybe early 2016.
It is one thing to offer the electorate tried/trusted names with decades of experience. 'Selling' to a (totally) new audience a name unknown is another matter.
The fourth issue -- and people like Cllr Enda McGloin in Drumshanbo will have a big, big role here - is the making of, and management of, a Fine Gael constituency organisation in the new territory. This will be no easy task. It has never been Fine Gael's strongest hand.Road Models
The 2014 European elections have suddenly got a whole lot more interesting in this area. The bones of a new constituency organisation is there in that make-up.... but only the bones.
The Euro contest could also allow a lot of 'road models' and showroom one-offs to be road-tested....and (quietly) written off, when necessary, by the backroom masterminds.
The 'branding' of (party) preferred candidates, ie preferred by the backroom masterminds, could begin to subtly happen early this autumn as the longlists shorten for the Euro elections in June 2014. By 'branding' let us clearly understand to mean the 'blessing' and 'imprimatur,' 'preferred.'
There will be runners in that Connacht/Ulster Euro field with no real hope of a seat in Brussels but doing themselves no harm for a chance of (party, preferred) Pole Position in the next race to Kildare Street.
Overall, Fine Gael will say that with two TDs after a series of historically difficult budgets they might have expected to lose a seat in Sligo/Leitrim next time. Not so any longer.
That could change. A contest, not a coronation, lies ahead. No result is assured. Otherwise we would not have horse races and boxing contests.
Fine Gael in Sligo and (reunited) Leitrim is back in big-time win-win bonanza territory here in Puckoon-land.
They would really have to screw up not to have a really good chance to retain two seats. The only issue would seem to be which names could be winners.
Oh, and at the time of Puckoon, Spike Milligan gave all and sundry a slice of sage wisdom and Sligo humour: "Never put your piss pot under the bed, the steam will rust the springs."
He can rest assured on that one. The wannabes, never-were and the has-beens wont have time to sleep in their beds or even to rest on their past laurels from here to Easter 2016. Alll is changed utterly.
There's plenty of puck yet to be played in the new Puckoon.Photo :: A scene from 'Puckoon''. Set in 1924 the Boundary Commission from Britain and Ireland is deciding on the new boundary line between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. With all the participants holding down the pencil and much pushing and shoving, the border finds itís way down the middle of Puckoon, dividing house from outhouse, man from wife, pub chairs from bars, church from cemetery.