Tag Archive for #Aras11

Rabbitte caught as Gallagher wags the dog

The last we've heard of Seanie? Don't bet on it.

So Pat Rabbitte said no.

There will be no public enquiry into “tweetgate”, and I doubt Gallagher is too disappointed.

He’s in a golden situation, whatever happens. He has been wronged, and he’s making as much hay as he can out of it.

Because this has little to do with RTE, or social media, or democracy, and everything to do with Sean Gallagher’s public political rehabilitation.

It is ironic that Denis O’Brien-owned organs like Newstalk and Independent Newspapers can be so lamenting of journalistic standards at RTE, all the while failing to apply them  themselves- before and after the fact.

In the first instance, there’s a good case to be made for the fact that Gallagher never should have gotten as far as he did.

Despite the prevailing anti-FF political climate, Dev’s border bagman was allowed to reinvent himself with ease as a community and social worker who had but a passing affiliation with the Galway tent.

Not only do we now know this to be true, we knew it at the time – but somehow, the silent acquiescence of the media allowed him to get away with it, almost all the way to the park.

Contrast this with the invasive analysis of the other candidates, in particular Martin McGuinness. Dana Rosemary Scallon had transatlantic family matters dragged up and Mary Davis was battered from pillar to post, as McGuinness had skeletons thrown at him from every conceivable closet.

But in the end Gallagher was placed in a farmyard with a cheque in his fist, very much a member of the inner circle of Fianna Fáil. The voters extracted their revenge, swiftly and mercilessly.

Since then, very little has been heard of him, but now Gallagher is back, having timed his return carefully.

With the wind of the BAI judgement in his sails, he is once again untouchable.

Once again, the lie is played out that the tweet sank him. It didn’t. The word ‘envelope’ and his proximity to the party that destroyed the country did.

Which leads us to the most worrying aspect – the hollow accusations of bias being bandied about, not least at RTE.

O’Brein’s minions would do well to remember that those in glass houses are ill advised to start getting careless with the rocks.

One only need to look at the first three pages of yesterday’s Sunday Independent to get a comprehensive view of the hysterical, anti-nationalist, anti-liberal agenda of the paper.

Turn on Newstalk for five minutes and you’ll hear a watered-down version of the same thing.

To accuse RTE of anything near that level of bias is beyond hypocritical.

RTE should not be biased. In as much as possible (and there are theoretical discussions that suggest that no-one is capable of full impartiality), RTE should strive to be as fair and as balanced as they possibly can, leaving the viewers, listeners and voters to make up their own mind.

The same cannot be demanded of privately-owned media – but what can be demanded is a clear distinction between what is news, and what is ideologically-driven comment.

For instance: the interview with Pat McGuirk – the man was delighted to ask a question on Frontline until the Sindo told him otherwise – by Jody Corcoran was not news. It was an ideologically-motivated attack on RTE, from beginning to end, and this should have been made clear. Any attempt to portray it as anything else is disingenuous and misleading.

(Add to this the fact that everyone in the PR/media business knows that you don’t just show up and ask whatever you like on TV shows. Producers and researchers are very careful about what it is they let through for all sorts of reasons- ironically, appearing to be impartial is one of the primary ones. Gallagher’s claims to be surprised at this fact lack credibility).

The same with Newstalk. At least I know George Hook is a blueshirt, and that he brings on the dimwitted squawking buffoon that is Michael Graham every week to himself appear moderate. I can take that into account, and god knows George says it often enough.

What I cannot take is Jonathan Healy saying “surely RTE must now face a public enquiry” when there is nothing surely about it.

It’s opinion masquerading as news, and the distinction should be an awful lot clearer.

As for Gallagher? Ironically, given that it was his association with them that destroyed his campaign, his FF handlers are now welcoming him back inside the tent.

Why? He is probably the only man who could save the party.  He may have been denied the Aras, but – with a little help from Denis’s uncritical minions – Kildare Street might still be he his.

‘Cheque mate’ proves silence is golden

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.

- ourmaninstockholm, October 4

So it came to pass.

Sean Gallagher- what now?

Seán Gallagher almost pulled off the impossible, blazing out of the pack only to fall at the final hurdle in what has been one of the most remarkable presidential races in history.

I heard his close friend and PR aide Jack Murray on the radio today saying that Gallagher’s biggest strength – the fact that he wasn’t a politician – turned out to be his biggest weakness too.

There is an immense amount of truth in what Jack says, but maybe not in the way he meant it.

Murray means that a more seasoned operator – a Gay Mitchell for instance- would have met McGuinness’s attack head on. As soon as McGuinness mentioned the cheque, Gallagher should have countered with a quip about fundraising or NorthernBank or whatever else would shift the spotlight.

I have been a student of Jack’s when it comes to media and PR and he is the best in the business. Gallagher’s polished media performances were a testament to his great skill and attention to detail in preparing his client.

But I am of the opinion that both he and Gallagher took their eye off the ball a little and left the door open for McGuinness.

Gallagher’s weaknesses were twofold – his FF past and his business dealings.

He seems to have made forensic efforts to ensure that his business dealings were all either above board or corrected and in truth there was little in them.

His distancing himself from Fianna Fáil wasn’t nearly as effective. Time may heal all wounds, but the public still remembers what Dev’s party did to them. Gallagher shrewdly left the party and cooled off before declaring himself as a candidate, but it wasn’t enough.

As ever in politics, there is no black and white, and Gallagher obviously didn’t feel comfortable condemning the party for its astounding stupidity in destroying the country. Instead, he tried to give the impression that he was a lot further removed from it than he actually was.

Bad move. When McGuinness placed him at the scene of the cheque on the Frontline debate, all of a sudden Gallagher was stuck, and the reasonably innocent business transactions started to look like the underhand actions of a Fianna Fáil bagman. Once that happened, it was all over.

Michael D- you'd be smiling too.

And there, waiting in the wings, was Michael D.

Ireland’s ninth president ran a campaign of almost total silence- no hype, no grand visions, his closet forensically cleansed of skeletons.

Instead, he let others do the dirty work for  him.

McGuinness delivered the hammer blow on Gallagher, Norris twisted the knife (‘I think the mention of envelopes was unfortunate’) and Davis called for him to explain himself.

By midnight Monday, the dragon was slain.

All the while, Michael D stood there looking presidential, his poet’s trap firmly shut- throughout Gallagher’s spectacular rise and fall, he said nothing.

As quickly as Gallagher rose, he fell again. Michael D was back at the top of the pile. Order was restored.

Gallagher is by no means finished in public life, but even his renowned confidence and positivity will have taken a battering.

He may not have won this race, but with the lessons learned here, don’t rule him out winning the next one.

Et tu Mary? Then fall, Seanie

One of these men has some serious skeletons in his closet. The other is Martin McGuinness.

I’d like to think that one of the reasons that people like reading this blog is the fact that I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong.

And boy, was I wrong about the Frontline presidential debate on RTE.

Perhaps I was suffering election fatigue when I sat down to watch it, but I think I can be forgiven for saying that I was expecting the same non-answers to the same irrelevant questions.

What followed, of course, was two hours of the most gripping television in the history of Irish broadcasting as Gallagher stumbled badly on the home straight, and, sensing weakness, Michael D moved to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

In the bitterst of ironies, it was Martin McGuinness- no stranger to a bit of cavalier fund-raising himself – who held the smoking gun.

He had spoken to someone who had handed over a cheque for Fianna Fáil to the value of five thousand euro to Seán Gallagher, in return for his dinner and a picture with Brian Cowen.

Never has something that sounds so unappealing cost so much.

It cost the donor five grand.

It may have cost Gallagher the presidency.

The rest of the candidates, who until that point had failed to find a foothold on the Mount Rushmore-like face of Gallagher’s entrepreneurial stoicism, gleefully queued up to twist the knife.

Even Mary Davis – the candidate most likely to be accused of kicking a man whilst he’s down – got her digs in and has called on Gallagher to come clean or suffer the wrath of the people.

She has done little in this campaign, but this late intervention may just turn the tide.

In another bitter irony, Gallagher’s problem is very similar to that of his prime adversary McGuinness.

Both have shady political pasts that they would wish to forget, or at least cast in a totally different light to what anyone else remembers.

Neither can afford the luxury of condemning their supporters in the shadows (McGuinness in the IRA, Gallagher’s in FF).

Gallagher’s problem, like McGuinness, is that when he denies his past, he loses all credibility. Instead of prostating himself before the electorate and begging their forgiveness, he left himself open to being caught out.

Gallagher could have been the first of the new FF breed, accepting both his own past and the wrongs of the Galway tent but promising to usher in a new era of politics.

Instead, he chose to minimise his part in FF, thus creating a hostage to fortune that, in the media climate of this campaign, wasn’t likely to stay chained to a radiator for long.

Like the banks of the Dodder, the floodgates have finally opened, and a much more damaging allegation is that he took payments form GAA clubs to secure funding.

As most people know, the GAA is an amateur organisation kept running by the efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteers, none of whom will be too enamoured at this prospect.

Add to this his seemingly odd (but seemingly legitimate) business transactions and we are witnessing a death by a thousand cuts.

I have written several times over the last few weeks that there was one major twist left in this race, but I don’t think that anyone in their wildest dreams could have imagined it would be a game-changer like this one. Not even Michael D.

At 1400 Irish time tomorrow the utterly ludicrous broadcast ban kicks in and the public pronouncements of the candidates will be effectively finished.

That means Gallagher has about 16 hours to save his campaign track or risk becoming the second candidate to throw this election away despite seemingly having it in the bag.

I have no doubt about the brilliance of his backroom team (some of them trained me in public relations) – the question is whether they can save him in time.

Watch this space.

Why a Gallagher victory means the end for Fianna Fáil

Gallagher giving it the full gun

The cliché goes that it ain’t over till the fat lady sings, even if in Dana’s case it was over as soon as she opened her mouth, but it’s not far off now.

Seán Gallagher will be Ireland’s next president, and his election will mark the end of Fianna Fáil.

Think about it.

Crushed in the general election, the party that destroyed the country decided not to openly run a candidate, leaving the way open for one of their own to run.

In their hysterical chasing of Norris and McGuinness, the media missed it completely, despite how obvious it was.

In short, if it talks like Fianna Fáil, walks like Fianna Fáil and looks like Fianna Fáil, it is Fianna Fáil. Gallagher is Fianna Fáil, through and through.

But by the time the electorate realised what had happened, Gallagher had streaked ahead in the polls, and it was too late for his unmasking to make any difference.

Freed from having the Fianna Fáil brand on his non-existent posters, Gallagher could take the ideology but not the burden of recent history. It was a stunning coup, with far-reaching consequences for Fianna Fáil.

Despite the role having no direct influence on either, Gallagher spoke about jobs and entrepreneurship; that he will be able to deliver neither is beside the point.

The voters- especially the younger ones- liked what they heard. And while we were watching Norris, the spectacularly inept Gay Maitchell and Dana implode, and Michael D was desperately trying to keep his trap shut, Gallagher snuck up behind him and hared off into the lead.

What this affirms is that the majority of Irish people still have Dev in the their DNA. In a blind political taste test, they cannot choose the left, the liberals or those more nationalist than themselves.

Like kids with their faces pressed to the Christmas windows in Clery’s, they are naturally drawn to the small-business, small-minded, Galway tent set- the possibility that, whatever happens, they will be looked after. And screw everyone else.

And that is also why Fianna Fáil in their current form are finished.

Gallagher has shown that the people have not fallen out of love with their politics, but  with their party.

The brand of Fianna Fáil is now so toxic that, if they have any political common sense at all, it will never again be put before the people.

Enda Kenny’s crown as hide-and-seek champion of Ireland is under serious threat from everyone in Fianna Fáil- none of them have been seen or heard from since the campaign began, lest they infect their last man standing- Gallagher.

In 1989 another overblown Irish institution was in a similar situation.

A couple of years of hubris and spectacular arrogance were coming to close, and on New Year’s Eve the acolytes gathered in the Point Depot, as the O2 was then known.

The leader of the gang closed the show with a promise to go and “dream it all up again”.

U2 transformed themselves and came back bigger than ever.

Fianna Fáil in their current form will never achieve that, but that is what is needed.

U2 kept the name and changed what they stood for. Fianna Fáil will do the opposite, keeping the same tired, discredited policies and practices, but ditching their name and with it, their recent past.

And why wouldn’t they?

It worked for Seán Gallagher.

Only one poll matters now

Who are you calling a Red C...?

There are two polls left in this presidential campaign. One (already leaked) doesn’t matter.

The other matters a lot.

Already the good folk at politics.ie are mulling the numbers from the last Red C poll and what they mean; by rights, they should mean nothing. But they do.

Apart from the die-hard hard right (Mitchell) and the utterly bonkers (Dana), there aren’t too many who will want to back a loser at this stage, and many voters will spend tomorrow choosing which of the winners to back.

Add the transfers of Mitchell and Dana, plus those of Mary Davis, to Gallagher’s considerable lead and he is likely to win.

Much as Norris loved not wisely but too well, the left has suffered from having three strong candidates in the field.

How Michael D must now regret playing his cards so close to his chest and not building on his lead before Gallagher got to work.

The showing of McGuinness (several points ahead of what his party managed in the general election) is a sign of how out of step the media are when it comes to the mood of the people.

Unsurprisingly, Independent Newspapers went after him from the off, as did Newstalk to a certain extent. Miriam O’Callaghan’s attempt to put a new slant on old questions backfired badly, damaging her reputation more than his.

If the media was out of touch with the mood of the people, so too was Norris. His handling of the clemency letters issue is surely the greatest Irish political misjudgment since Parnell said “it’s grand lads, as soon as she gets the divorce we’re cushty.”

But whatever the numbers posted in the Red C poll tomorrow, it should make no difference to how you vote. Nor should the platitudes, waffle and misleading questions of the debates.

Instead, voters should consider the careers of the candidates to date to find out what they really stand for. In doing so, all the spin and PR stunts, the bon mots and road-to-Damascus conversions fall away, hopefully leaving each honest voter with the person whom they feel best represents our country.

In doing so, spare a thought for those of us that are denied a vote. Successive Irish governments believe it OK to turn to the non-resident Irish in times of crisis, demanding that we play our part in a recovery but denying us any chance of representation in the process. For more information visit www.ballotbox.ie

You talking to me?

Travis: "You talkin' to me?". Martin: "No Travis, I'm talking to the other madman with the gun..."

The hardest part of not living in Ireland is not having access to the Sunday papers in all their chaotic, supplement-filled glory.

I miss having a big bunt of them thrown down on the breakfast table like a gauntlet every week, challenging you to digest them alongside your black pudding.

The worst of it is that I miss articles like this one by Jen O’Connell about why she won’t be voting for Martin McGuinness – not because I agree with her entirely (I don’t), but because of some of the important points it raises.

There is one in particular that never seems to see the light of day, and it gets back to the key question of all the coverage of the election- what are we being asked to believe about the candidates?

Much is made of McGuinness, what he says and when- what exactly does he think of the state he wishes to represent?  When did he leave the IRA? Who does he think he will be representing? When did he condemn the murders of Gardaí?

All these questions miss the most pertinent of all, and that is when Martin McGuinness speaks, who is he speaking to?

It’s not news to anyone that, every time Martin McGuinness opened his mouth during his political career, he was taking his life in his hands.

What most people don’t seem to realise is that he has been as much at risk from a violent split within his own ranks as he has been a target for the British or the loyalist paramilitaries.

Judged on his part in the peace process, McGuinness’s refusal to publicly condemn the IRA and its attendant atrocities is not a tacit acceptance; it is more a strategy for the preservation of both himself, the IRA and the party.

It is always taken for granted that “the Armalite and the ballot box” was a philosophy, rather than the day-to-day political reality of running Sinn Féin and the IRA for many years.

When they were speaking publicly, McGuinness and Adams weren’t speaking to us- they were speaking to them, their colleagues in the Republican movement who didn’t believe or trust the British or Irish governments, or anyone else for that matter.

There are a few no-go areas if you wish to survive in the minefield of Republican rhetoric.

You do not tarnish the memory of certain heroes or their deeds.

You do not question the validity or legality of the armed struggle.

You do not (until recently) condemn any acts carried out in the name of either of them.

McGuinness is no Ché Guevara, nor is he a Nelson Mandela, but he has done his bit for peace.

It was Adams and McGuinness, among others, who realised that the Long War was not going to be won by either side.

It was Adams and McGuinness who delivered the IRA to the negotiating table.

It was Adams and McGuinness who created a situation where the guns of their comrades- and maybe their own- could fall silent for good.

None of this could have been delivered by John Hume, John Major or Ian Paisely.

And none of this could have been delivered had Adams and McGuinness gone around publicly condemning the very people they were trying to coax out of the shadows.

And as she mentions in her article, Jen herself has witnessed what happens when violent Republican groups split away and carry on the fight by themselves.

What happens is atrocities like Omagh- carried out by the dissident Republicans of the Real IRA, who never boarded the peace train with the rest.

For some reason, what we are still being asked to believe about McGuinness is that he is a violent and dangerous man because of his IRA past, when all the evidence points to the fact that he has put it all behind him.

As I have previously written, McGuinness is probably still unelectable for precisely the reasons Jen mentions. But even if we are never going to vote for him, we should acknowledge that the political reality in which he operated was entirely different from what most democracies would be used to.

And for their part, if Sinn Féin are ever to be properly understood in the south, and if they are ever to become electable, they need to do a better job of of explaining not just why they did what they did, but who they were talking to when they weren’t talking to the rest of us.

Swing and a miss on sex abuse story

Presidential candidate Dana Rosemary Scallon. Not pictured- toys flying out of pram.

I hate having to agree with Dana, but sometimes something is right, no matter who is saying it.

The decision by certain media outlets to publish allegations of sexual abuse in her family has nothing to do with the presidential election, and probably should never have seen the light of day.

Crimes of a sexual nature are among the few in Ireland which warrant those involved remaining anonymous, and for good reason- there is little to be gained from dragging them across the front pages.

No doubt the editors will point to the best excuse in the world to justify themselves- “it’s in the public interest”.

It’s not. Now that the public knows the nature of the allegations, it seems to have little or no interest in finding out more.

Neither does it have any bearing on the presidential election. All the polls show that those planning to support Dana on polling day are statistically insignificant.

Every editor has choices to make regarding where to spend his resources; in dedicating them to such a story, it takes away from leads that are far more newsworthy – Mitchell’s deep impopularity, Gallagher’s Fianna Fáil past, the Labour Party’s lurch away from socialism and many more.

Instead, the papers have chosen to concentrate on an irrelevant story about an irrelevant candidate, and are in danger of becoming irrelevant themselves.

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.