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Eamonn Farrell

Surrealing in the Years Election cycle has been much messier than Simon Harris' melting 99

Also this week: the battle for the Big Mac.

FORGIVE US FOR disrupting your routine. If you are among the readers who typically enjoy, hate-read or accidentally click on this column every Saturday morning, you may be wondering why you’re here on a Thursday.

On the off-chance that you have not looked at a lamppost in the last little while, there is an election happening on Friday, and writing a column in between votes being cast and votes being counted would be a bit like trying to like to write a match report after hearing the national anthems. Come the weekend, it will be all over bar the shouting, though based on recent events, it seems reasonable to prepare for quite a lot of that. 

Taoiseach Simon Harris was briskly extracted from a mostly one-sided shouting match with protestors in Mayo at the weekend, with some family members of jailed teacher Enoch Burke on the other side of the fracas.

A video of the incident, recorded and shared by Irish Mirror journalist Louise Burne, is more than a tad chaotic. It appears to show a uniformed Garda receiving a blow to the head from someone or something off-camera, and it certainly shows Simon Harris coming close to a fall before finding his balance and moving on at a jogging pace with his security and his canvassing partner Maria Walsh.

Notably, the video also shows Simon Harris holding on to his 99 ice cream cone for dear life, a move that will certainly please the ice-cream man demographic that is so central to electoral success in Ireland. Mercifully, the Taoiseach had already either eaten or disposed of his Flake before the incident began to unfold. Harris himself seems to have seized upon the moment as an opportunity for positive PR, telling the public that “it takes an awful lot to disrupt [my] energy”. 

The scene was not a palatable one, but there are those within Harris’ own party who have taken a rather sanguine view of the incident, including the previous Taoiseach. 

Speaking to The Journal this week during a canvass of his own, Leo Varadkar said: “There’s a distinction between somebody hassling a politician and giving them a hard time, which I don’t think is right, and somebody actually doing physical harm to a person or property, and in fairness, what I saw in Mayo was unpleasant, but I don’t think there was any suggestion that it resulted in any form of violence or damage to property.”

Varadkar’s remarks, however, seemed to be at odds with a statement that came out of the Harris camp, which immediately called for the Gardaí to undertake a full investigation into the incident. An Garda Síochána has since confirmed that such an investigation is now underway. 

What will concern much of the public, however, is how the Westport showdown has heaped additional tension onto a local and European election campaign that has been marked throughout by harassment and in some cases violence directed towards candidates. Unlike Simon Harris, who has the benefit of the Garda escort, many of those who have faced hardship while canvassing are local councillors or council hopefuls with little-to-no national profile, protection or resources. This is not to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns about the safety of high-profile politicians – the recent assassination attempt against Slovakina Prime Minister Robert Fico have shown that there very much are – but they are far from the only ones at risk.

Speaking to The Journal this week, Teresa Buczkowska, Political Participation Coordinator with the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI), said that migrant candidates (of which there are over 100) have experienced “higher levels of harassment than we’ve observed ever before”. Former TD Ruth Coppinger had one of her posters cut into the shape of a swastika, while local councillor Tania Doyle was physically attacked in Blanchardstown by a man demanding to know her stance on immigration. In short, the whole thing has been messier than a 99 melting down your hand on a warm day in Westport.

On the subject of food, Wednesday marked a major victory for Irish fast food chain and perennial Galway GAA sponsor Supermac’s against McDonald’s over its trademarking of the term ‘Big Mac’ in the European Union, a decision that will surely be appreciated by anybody who is over six feet tall, has a last name that begins with Mac, and is in search of a nickname that doesn’t run them the risk of being sued by the world’s most famous clown. 

In 2019,  Supermac’s owner McDonagh called his legal challenge against McDonald’s as “a David versus Goliath scenario”. Globally, there is plenty of truth to this, but in the Irish context Supermac’s is, of course, anything but the little guy. McDonagh owns multiple hotels and residential properties, and Supermac’s have at times been criticised for certain employment practices (such as deducting €1.60 a day from worker pay for lunch costs, whether or not employees use it). With over 100 outlets nationwide, the Battle of Big Mac is less of a win for the little guy and more so a win for a very large company that has ambitions to expand further into the EU market.

Wednesday’s ruling by the EU General Court clears the way for Supermac’s to go continental, unrestrained by any trademark challenges that may have presented themselves over the company’s Mighty Mac burger, for instance. It’s unquestionably a win for Irish soft power — as soon as the Dutch and the Belgians get a taste of our chicken tenders they are bound to respect us as a major player on the world stage (the Italians, a more culinarily discerning bunch, perhaps less so). All Supermac’s needs now is a freakish mascot to rival Ronald, the abominable Burger King, and of course the odious Colonel Sanders. An implacably hungry seagull would be appropriate.

Somehow, during a week that’s all about who we’re sending to Europe to represent our interests, it seems that we already have our first confirmed envoy: garlic chips.

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