Tag Archive for Irish presidential election

‘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

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.

Belief the key in Norris Late Late Show

Another Friday night, another distinctly underwhelming set-piece interview on Ireland’s Late Late Show.

The world’s longest-running chat show is in danger of consigning itself to history; in trying to be all things to all men, it will soon mean nothing to anyone.

No doubt the producers wanted David Norris to announce that he was back in the race for Ireland’s presidency, but the Joycean scholar didn’t take that dramatic opportunity.

And given the chance to deeper examine his political credentials, the Late Late let another chance go begging.

Instead, old ground about letters written by Norris and his views on the age of consent was covered, without a single new question being asked or angle being offered.

It’s as if the summer never happened at all.

The line of questioning – which is by no means confined to the Late Late and will no doubt be revisited time and again in the coming weeks – says a lot about the opposition to the Norris candidacy.

But forget the questions about clemency and consent for the moment.

The truly important question we should be asking ourselves is this – what are we being asked to believe about Norris?

There is a red thread running through all the allegations being made against Norris – sex with children.

In short, the Irish electorate is being asked to believe that David Norris agrees with paedophilia.

That Norris should write a letter pleading for clemency for a “former lover” (to use the favoured media phrase) convicted of statutory rape is to be interpreted as Norris condoning his crime.

That Norris should have expressed negative views on the age of consent is to be interpreted selfishly- he doesn’t want an age of consent because he and his cronies want to be free to have sex with children.

The truth – stated and restated by Norris – is that he abhorred the crime of his “former lover”, and indeed all abuse of children.

The truth, in the case of the age of consent, is that he believes that children shouldn’t be criminalised for sexual relations with other children, as is the case at the moment – not that children should be sexually exploited by adults, as is implied by his critics.

Lest we forget, Norris grew up in an era when the practice of his own sexuality was a criminal offence.

That he should have considered these matters and hold opinions that differ from the accepted norm should come as no surprise to anyone.

In the meantime, any discussion of his other political views and achievements is strictly off the agenda, and it is fast becoming too late to bring them up.

As yet, what we think is immaterial. In our democratic and political immaturity, Norris will not be put before us as a candidate until he receives the support of twenty of our supposed democratic betters.

But if he should receive that, we will be essentially asked whether or not we believe that David Norris is a paedophile.

And if we collectively do not believe this to be the case – and it appears that an awful lot of people don’t – he will be elected president of Ireland.