Archive for October 6, 2011

Media fares worst in presidential opinion poll

Mitchell contemplates another media kidney punch on McGuinness

The first credible poll related to the presidential election in a long time, and there are plenty of losers.

The biggest of these is neither Norris nor Mitchell but the media, who got it wrong again. Spectacularly.

The concerted campaigns against Norris and McGuinness are a perfect example of how the line between news and comment in Ireland is now blurred beyond recognition, almost to the point of irrelevance.

In the case of Norris, the relentless attacks pitched as news stories have worked, but not because they have any merit.

The reason for Norris sliding down the ratings faster than a stripper down a greased pole is because his answers- legal advice notwithstanding- have been utterly lacking in credibility.

But in the case of McGuinness the attacks haven’t worked at all. INM (owners of the Independent newspapers) amongst others are still fighting the Long War against the IRA, seemingly oblivious to the fact that McGuinness, the IRA and almost everyone else on the island has moved on.

In the absence of a Fianna Fáil candidate, it is easy to forget that many people in Ireland are still nationalists, and are still ambivalent at best about the IRA.

Attacking McGuinness over something they either agree with or are not bothered by was never going to gain any votes.

Both he and Norris have been subjected to attacks on their characters, thinly disguised as news and comment, in a way that the other five have not.

That the attacks have had such different outcomes says a lot about the way Ireland perceives such strategies, and in one particular case it was the attacker who has come of worst.

Demonstrating that the flip side of “all publicity is good publicity” maxim is “give ‘em enough rope”, Gay Mitchell has done a fantastic job of burying his own campaign.

When he hasn’t been casting himself in the lead role in “Strumpet City”, he’s been attacking McGuinness at every turn and coming across more like a drunken county councillor than a president.

He is thankfully joined at the bottom of the pile by Dana, a political irrelevance soon to be consigned to history for good.

That leaves Michael D and Gallagher out in front – the race is still there for Higgins, but Gallagher has shown plenty of the nous that has made him his fortune as a businessman.

Despite being told he has no chance, he has chipped away, impressing people with his ability to think outside the box by abandoning posters and generally promising to wear the green shirt abroad.

So it’s Higgins by a neck at the moment from Gallagher, but the dark horse that is McGuinness is sneaking up on the inside. My money’s still on Higgins, but I’m not nearly as certain any more.

And if the bookies had any sense they’d pick whoever the media is backing, and bet the farm on the other guy.

A man who one day may be president of Ireland, and Gay Mitchell.

Bosses don’t often give compliments, but I remember one in particular being lyrical the night before an event.

We were sitting by my desk late one night, ties loosened, going through the last details before the event started at 0800 the next morning.

“You’ve done a great job- the concept, the execution, the whole lot has been brilliant. I really appreciate that.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but we’re not there yet. One more major thing will go wrong before the curtain goes up.”

Ten minutes later, the phone rang. The keynote speaker’s mother had just died.

Michael D is probably basking in the glow of praise from his political masters at the moment, safe in the knowledge that the Aras is his for the taking.

Any hopes David Norris had of winning are receding by the day- he gambled on secrecy with the clemency letters and as always when you do that in politics, he lost.

Gay Mitchell is another man whose gamble has backfired.

The decision to administer at political punishment beating to Martin McGuinness echoes Fianna Fáil’s efforts to stop the march if Sinn Féin in the last general election.

On that occasion the Party of Dev were soundly defeated, their leader Michael Martin left looking like a petulant, argumentative and selfish child.

So too with Mitchell. The man is a skilled operator, and his bullying demolition of McGuinness’s character on the Dunphy Show would have been complete, were it not for the bravery of the host and the fact that McGuinness was sitting in the studio with him.

I’m not 100% certain that Mitchell agreed with the party tactic of going after McGuinness, and by Tuesday he was rowing back from his vitriolic position, but by then the harm had been done.

What we now know about Mitchell the candidate is that he is the youngest of nine children and he hates McGuinness with a passion. His attempts to drum up support with his “Party of the Treaty” rallying cry will come up short.

Much has been made of the fact that the Irish people are as a rule politically conservative, and that is who Mitchell is trying to appeal to, but this tends to fade somewhat in relation to the Aras.

Our last two presidents have been women, one of whom was a Labour party candidate. Mitchell would do well to note that in modern Ireland we may still be conservative, but our conservatism doesn’t stretch as far up the Liffey as the Park.

The Irish people are looking for a figurehead, not a statesman, and over the past week Mitchell hasn’t looked like either.

Davis, Gallagher and Dana are falling away, each seemingly limited and pigeonholed, all the while applying for a job that requires breadth of vision.

The reason the other four candidates have the upper hand is not because they are better; it is becasue that they have long been in the public eye as politicians, and their visions are better known to voters.

All the while, Michael D is still fighting the right election but like the death of the keynote speaker’s mother, there is still a chance for him to stumble, not least given the way the Irish media has chosen to cover the campaign.

Every day, we are faced with new “controversies” and “scandals”, and it’s worth taking a look at a few of those non-stories.

Davis earned around €400,000 over ten years on various boards- big deal, it’s about €40k a year over the period. Not exactly Celtic Tiger wages.

Norris appealed for someone to be granted citizenship – politician uses office to represent people shock! Lazy journalism, complete with the “gay lover” smear angle. It died on the news stands on Monday morning.

Mitchell is against the death penalty and wrote a letter on behalf of a pro-lifer like himself convicted of murder- now, remind me again of why we are supposed to be surprised?

McGuinness was involved in murder and intimidation- would we expect any less from a man who has admitted being in the IRA?

For years we’ve been told that Sinn Féin and the IRA are one and the same, yet some would lead us to believe that the fault is with McGuinness, not Republicanism with a big “R”. You can’t have it both ways.

No doubt there are people going through Michael D’s rubbish looking for something to spring on him, but I doubt there are any serious skeletons left to be dragged out of his closet.

Even if it doesn’t come from Michael D’s corner, there will be at least one more major twist in this election yet.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was around McGuinness, as too many powerful people cannot abide the thought of him representing them.

But as long as Michael D keeps on the straight and narrow, the prize will be his.

 

The not-so-great Late Late debate

The not-so-magnificent seven on the Late Late Show.

First things first.

What occurred on the Late Late on Friday wasn’t a presidential debate – at least not in the accepted sense.

Despite showing a nice line in creative questioning (“why did you leave the IRA in 1974?”), host Ryan Turbidy acted like a conduit for the seven spirits in front of him, channelling their answers through his autocue Ouija board instead of letting them interact properly.

Ultimately, as it often is with the Late Late these days, it was ambitious but unsatisfying.

There were several reasons for that, three of which are Mike Murphy and Jedward.

There was absolutely no point in having them on the show but the Late Late is something of a curate’s egg, and sometimes things which don’t make sense to the lineup slip – or are forced – through the gap.

In the usual Late-Late-As-Pravda mode, the live Mike has a new show starting and so he MUST appear on the Late Late this week, despite his obvious reluctance.

As for Jedward, I like them but for once their appearance wasn’t the main event.

The producers would have been wise to save them for when they were faced with a weaker lineup of guests- judging by the first few weeks of the season, it’s not like the show lacks such opportunities.

Time to cast a cold eye over the candidates.

It seemed pretty clear that Michael D, the Gandalf of the Labour party, was the only one who actually had any idea what the role of president of Ireland entails. He shrewdly quoted relevant legislation and practice, and dealt well with questions about his age.

David Norris is starting to irritate people. His attempts to whip up frenzied support in the studio came across as pompous foghorning, and the senator would do well to remember that many people would like to see him in the Aras despite themselves. Another couple of performances like that could well lead them straight to the door of Michael D.

Gay Mitchell displayed a look similar to many of those he claims to have supported – those on death row. Fine Gael’s nomination of him seems to have been a death sentence for his political career, and a streak of self-pity is becoming apparent in this previously tenacious electioneer.

Dana is a religious version of Jim Corr, and if she’s elected president we should bring the shutters down on our  Republican experiment and run headlong back into the none-too-welcoming arms of the British. The woman is an embarrassment.

One who mightn’t be happy with that idea is fellow northerner Martin McGuinness, who, like Norris, couldn’t resist the urge to grandstand and fell flat on his face as a result. Employing six young people off the dole with his wages sounds all well and good, but not one bit presidential.

Mary Davis doesn’t like questions about where her money came from, or her political connections. Her bristling at these questions would suggest that this “Independent” candidate is not so independent after all.

Of all the candidates, the most vibrant and energetic was probably Seán Gallagher, but Gallagher’s problem is one shared by many of the other candidates; he is fighting the wrong election.

His rhetoric about Ireland and creating jobs and pride is spot on, but it is for a general, rather than a presidential, election. The same goes for Dana’s anti-European Jesus-freakery.

The more I hear about issues like fairness, respect, tolerance, jobs, mental health and suicide, the more I think that these people should be on the doorsteps of the working-class estates of this country in a general election, not robbing Mike Murphy’s shot at the big time on a Friday night.

Gallagher would make a great Minister for Enterprise, Mary Davis for Equality, Gay Mitchell for Law Reform. Martin McGuinness would make an interesting president, but his work is not yet done in the north, and there are still too many who remember the less-than-savoury antics of the IRA under his command for him to be truly electable in the south, not least among the media.

Dana would make a great Minister for State, as long as her office is a padded room in a secure building with the sharp objects and her shoelaces removed.

That leaves Norris and Higgins – this race is theirs to lose, and it is highly likely that Norris will lose it.

People really want to vote for  him, but his hollow insistence that he cannot release the letters is about as convincing as McGuinness’s resignation from the IRA in 1974.

It’s very possible that time has already run out for Norris, but he must address the issue once and for all with a very public mea culpa.

To release the letters in full would of course be tantamount to electoral suicide; instead, he must throw himself at the mercy of the electorate in all his flawed humanity.

Tell people that he doesn’t want to release them, even if he were legally allowed to do so.

Tell people that the letters make him look callous toward’s his lover’s victim (and regardless of the consent issue, he is a victim- that’s why the crime of statutory rape exists).

Tell people that the letters make him look petty and small and pompous and overblown, and that they really do portray him in a very un-presidential light.

Because as the Late Late non-debate showed, having seven candidates is unwieldy for the media, and they will be more than happy to make them into single issue candidates.

Mitchell the ultimate compromise candidate, Davis the quango queen, McGuinness the Ra man, Gallagher the Entrepreneur, Dana the Jesus-loving crackpot, Norris the paedo defender and Higgins…

… the most presidential so far.