#Aras11 Round up: The “And Then There Were Two” Edition

This is the first presidential election in some fourteen years…  And its been a bit of a roller coaster… Not least for Martin McGuinness who’s odds have burned from 3/1 in September out to 25/1 now (or 16/1 on Betfair in a market of £125k)… So here’s our third round up on #Aras11:

– Martina Devlin ignored a rather large and inconvenient chunk of Northern Irish constitutional history to suggest that little social social had been undertaken before the 1989 Fair Employment Act (ie, at about the same time the Hume/Adams talks began), but as she notes:

The desire to assign blame for the conflict remains strong in the Republic, and McGuinness is on the receiving end of that. In the North, however, people have reached an agreement to treat each other with courtesy and justice — even if one section self-defines as Irish and the other as British. The fairytales have been put away.

– Her colleague at the Irish Independent Kevin Myers, as you might expect, demurs somewhat:

Martin McGuinness has not had a blameless or boring past. My colleague Martina Devlin is simply barking up the wrong tree when she says that the IRA was not alone responsible for the Northern Troubles. Merely being an armed participant in what was a voluntary war disqualifies any such person from becoming the head of state of this Republic.

– The issue of the past however has had an uncustomary ride out. Here’s Sean Farren, the SDLP’s former Minister of Finance and Personnel, giving Danny Morrison’s analysis of the previous week, some pretty short shrift:

That campaign won no freedoms and advanced no civil rights. Instead it was marked by vengeful, deeply sectarian incidents: the murders of retired members of the security forces, the killing of a congregation at prayer in Darkley, of workers going home at Whitecross and Teebane, of a gathering in commemoration at Enniskillen, and the singling out of predominantly Protestant or unionist towns like Ballymena, Bangor, Coleraine, and Portrush for massive bomb attacks.

Blaming the British army, the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries for firing the first shots, as Morrison does, hardly absolves those who responded with such viciousness.

The former have to answer for their actions. But those who directed the IRA’s campaign did so calmly and coldly, recruiting to their cause young men and women in the foolish belief that violence would produce a British withdrawal and, consequently, a united Ireland. It was from the outset a futile, tragic and unattainable objective by those means, and none of its leaders has fully answered for the mayhem caused.

I suspect that the McGuinness campaign might have had some legitimate grounds for complaint over the way Miriam O’Callaghan handled the RTE Prime Time debate, but letting the candidate go and remonstrate directly with her immediately aferwards may have been an avoidable mistake.

– As Fionnan Sheahan notes, that private ‘chat’ went public very quickly:

“There were quite a few people in that corridor who saw Ms O’Callaghan leave that meeting. They would confirm that she did look shell-shocked by what happened. It would take an awful lot to leave Miriam shaken in that way,” said a source.

– Whatever the cause McGuinness seems to be dropping out of the race. Two polls at the weekend had him at 13% (less than one percentage point above the dreaded deposit loss rate of 12.5%. As Richard Colwell of Red C notes, it is now a two horse race:

Gallagher is clearly in pole position, but the big shifts in support seen in the polls so far show how uncertain the electorate are in their views, and with two weeks to go, the question is whether he can hang onto this support and even extend it to win a majority.

Gallagher’s gains in support are across all age groups, but particularly among those aged 35 to 44. They are also focused outside Dublin and among past Fianna Fáil voters, who appear to have woken up to the fact that he could be a Fianna Fáil candidate in disguise. What these gains mean, however, is that Gallagher’s support is now widespread across age, gender and region.

He does still have some particular strengths in support, and these are among women, those aged 35 to 44, and those out-side Dublin. While he has made gains among Fianna Fáil voters, his support is not exclusive to these voters, with strong levels of support also seen among past Fine Gael and independent voters.

Terry Prone in the Examiner:

No research in advance of presidential election 2011 came up with a Seán Gallagher-shaped need. He just decided he was what they should want and went out and told stories about himself.

Of course, he was greatly helped by other candidates setting fire to themselves. What was that? You have too much experience and judgement to set fire to yourself? That’s what Dana Rosemary Scallon thought, back in 2011. She had the TV skills to interrupt a live debate in order to release her personally-directed pyromania and in a subsequent TV3 interview scattered Zip fire-lighters around to sustain the blaze.

Ditto Martin McGuinness, who set fire to himself by failing to answer a predictably pejorative question with reproachful dignity and then getting argumentative with the questioner.

– Miriam Lord, as ever, caught the flavour of the damaging campaign:

They soldiered valiantly on yesterday, spreading their caring messages of inclusion and hope while studiously ignoring the black pall of smoke lingering after the latest bloody skirmish. But there is more than a touch of the walking wounded about the Áras Seven now.

Apart from Michael D, who is the only candidate still relatively unscathed. For now. Oh, for a return to the blessed serenity of ordinary decent blackguarding in the Dáil. But there are two more weeks to go and heaven only knows what might happen next.

So, after a particularly bruising Prime Time debate on Wednesday night, the candidates licked their wounds, climbed back on board their bandwagons and pressed on.

– That was just before the weekend polls, of course. Mitchell looks like a lost cause, so Enda’s Blue army may yet have to put boosters under Michael D’s rather pedestrian campaign:

The establishment parties can argue away a president can do precious little to address the economic problems facing the country. But clearly he has tapped a mood, which is a vital component of the make-up of any president.

Throughout this campaign, there has been a substantial coterie of support who don’t want the main parties to have the presidency. David Norris, Mary Davis and Martin McGuinness have all benefited, but Gallagher has got the badge of flagbearer for the independent-minded at the crucial point.

Nonetheless, this volatility in the polls means the vote is ‘soft’ and can’t be guaranteed to stay with him until the election or even come out and vote on the day.

The smart money still remains on Higgins, although he doesn’t come off well from a direct comparison with Gallagher on age grounds.

The more tetchy he becomes about his age being raised as an issue, the more he will draw attention to it.

Indeed.

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