Thursday 3rd March, between 10 and 12, was nomination day at Trinity. After a couple of hours transcribing Roger Casement’s enormous Berlin diary in the National Library’s Manuscript Room in Kildare Street, I wandered down at 11 a.m. through the college’s Nassau Street entrance to hand in my papers.
Actually they had been posted earlier in the week for checking, and just needed my nod to be entered in the race. Or pulled.
There had been something of a drama two days earlier with one of my assentors developing the notion of running himself and wanting to remove his name from the form. I had however taken the precaution of having a twelfth man, actually a lady, should any prove problematic.
I was conscious of such problems as I had previously signed up two assentors who were certain they were registered graduates only to discover they were graduates who had never registered.
Perhaps at an earlier time they did not see themselves as Irish citizens, a requirement for registration. Of course in the north we are citizens whether we like it or not.
Senator Ivana Bacik had been and gone, as apparently had Senator David Norris. Half a dozen new hopefuls were there inspecting each other’s forms with the lists of nominators and assentors.
There are three seats for Dublin University (DU) with its 55,000 graduate electors and three for the National University of Ireland (UCD, UCC & UCG) despite them having twice the number of voters. The election is by PR. One DU seat is without an incumbent.
Trinity has changed out of all but physical recognition since I studied there. Then there was a ban on Catholic students, leaving undergraduates one third southern Protestant, one third northern and one third English. The ban applied to Catholics from the Dublin archdiocese but was effectively island-wide. UCD was their Dublin destination.
The Troubles cut down the northerners and Archbishop McQuaid died. The result is that Trinity is now the University of North Dublin with UCD that for the South.
The candidates assemble
I didn’t recognise any of the runners present except Rosaleen McDonagh who was escorted by Ben Archibald from Bangor. A feisty Traveller with a significant disability, she was fifth last time, garnering 684 first preferences and by elimination time, 1,168 votes, the quota being 4,230. I don’t think she was too pleased by the near-doubling of the number of candidates.
One, Bart Connolly, describes himself as ‘Housewife and Science Writer.’ My moniker is ‘Author, Human Rights campaigner and former Civil Servant’ which may annoy some in the industry. An environmentalist declined to describe herself.
Many appear to be clones of Shane Ross, fishing in the same voter gene pool. He became Ireland’s most popular TD by getting, as an independent, over 17,000 votes in south Dublin. However in a proposal for coalition without Labour, he was spurned by Enda Kenny.
As the noon deadline approached, David Norris returned, and last-minute candidates started breathlessly to appear. Several had assentors with unrecognisable addresses but older hands calmed them by offering, in a Trinity tradition, I was told, to sign their forms should the need arose. David who is as safe as houses duly obliged with one. The number of candidates then mounted from 2007’s eleven to twenty.
I could not help thinking back to David Miliband graciously doing the same to enable a black woman (Diane Abbott) to be a candidate, a gesture which probably cost him the Labour leadership. He lost to his brother Ed by a tiny margin which Diane’s absence could have obliterated.
Norris for the Park
David Norris told me his campaign for the Presidency is progressing. Although he could probably now, with so many independent TDS just elected, obtain nomination by the required endorsement of 20 members of the Oireachtas, he is intent on going down the county council route to bring his campaign to the whole country.
Five councils from the 28-counties can effect a presidential nomination. This was the method Dana used, with difficulty, to get on the ballot paper 14 years ago.
The poll is in the autumn and David is currently favourite although the main party candidates are yet to be chosen.
I wondered who Sinn Fein will pick now they have 14 TDs and enough other chums from the far-left to self-nominate?
Sunday Times coverage
Publicity for my candidature swelled during the week while I was putting my election communication together. It followed the initial campaign launch in a lengthy News Letter article by Rebecca Black with a photograph of me in an academic setting (QUB actually).
That prompted a welcome page 2 piece in the following Sunday Times by Justine McCarthy, entitled ‘Belfast Unionist seeks Election to the Seanad’. It mentioned my only previous visit to the Seanad which was when Shane Ross showed me the (other) portrait of Roger Casement by Sarah Purser. It is in the Cathaoirleach’s office.
The article and I got a couple of mentions on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence, one from Cllr Andrew Muir (North Down), the only out gay, public representative in Northern Ireland. No GLBT person is even a candidate to the Assembly in May, yet the Republic now has two gay TDs, selected as such.
It is selection that matters more. The electorate is more liberal than the selectorate, although elected gay MLAs and MPs (still) self-censor.
Election communication and supporters
We all get free postage for a leaflet to go to the 54,000 registered graduates. An Post’s deadline for artwork and design was accelerated to Monday the 7th, necessitating a rush of drafting and choosing of photographs over the first weekend.
I had also to get together a batch of prominent supporters to put on my election communication. I was pleased with the eventual 16-strong list* which a BBC person told me was impressive. More may be collected to go on the website (under construction), in the weeks ahead.
Voting timetable and ballot papers
Ballot papers are posted all over the world, this year on 21 March, for return by 27 April. The count starts at 11am that day and may go on for a second.
I was informed by TCD that 8,000 ballot papers were returned as undeliverable last time. The electors were either dead, out (it goes by registered mail), or had moved. According to the Alumni office on Wednesday, seven electors over 105 years-old were formally struck off on age grounds.
After emergency training from Gerry Lynch, my Facebook page which had been dormant for over a year came suddenly to life. I have clocked up nearly 300 friends in a couple of days. Some complained they had sought friendship status months previously. I’m still not sure what privileges a friend gets.
I noticed too during the week that Dr Maurice Gueret, a very affable medical candidate, who was the runner-up last time, has got himself a Facebook ad which is a very modish thing to do.
On Wednesday, Paddy Power unexpectedly published the odds on the 20 DU candidates putting me =6th at 10/1with PD Senator Fiona O’Malley. Only Dr Gueret, Sean Barrett (a TCD lecturer), and another former PD candidate Tony Williams, have shorter odds for the third seat.
On Thursday, Shane Ross sent a message round his TCD mailing list telling of his anointing of Tony Williams. David McWilliams and Shane had nominated him so this was no surprise.
The new TD wrote, “Tony was a strong supporter of mine in Trinity elections. He has promised me that if he is elected he will continue to make Leinster House ‘open house’, specifically to invite graduates in for tours and hospitality. I intend to rejoin you on many such occasions if he is elected. He has also pledged to keep graduates in touch with events in both TCD and the Senate with regular newsletters.”
Some say dynasties in Irish politics are over, even non-hereditary ones, but I am not so sure. There may be Haugheys again.
Tony Williams was very pleasant and respectful of my Strasbourg victory in 1981 (a European first) when we talked at nomination time. He recalled learning of my case as a law student.
Chris McGimpsey did a five minute interview on Wednesday for the Open Unionism blog, by means of a piece of kit that looked like, and was no bigger than a giant tarantula. And I got my first political donation.
On Thursday I was delighted to read an article by Martina Devlin in the Irish Independent on why the new Seanad should be a platform for other types of candidates. I figured prominently with a photograph of me graduating in Trinity, alongside my proud parents.
The piece had apparently been truncated due to so much space being needed for the new Taoiseach’s election and his cabinet appointments. None the less it got over my point of the need for a unionist voice in the Oireachtas and of a counter balance to Gerry Adams, especially when it comes to addressing the decade of centenaries with which we are now faced, not least that of the Easter Rising.
The Indo journalist, Martina Devlin, told me she had co-incidentally spoken at a TCD Political Science Department seminar before the Dail election suggesting the Seanad needed northern representation, and particularly unionist. And then what she wished for appeared, so she had to take note.
EU, Hume and Paisley
I explained how with the EU dedicated to crossing if not reducing frontiers and my own multi-layered, ethnic and national outlook (part Ulster, part British, part Irish), I was making quite proper use of our changing European community. John Hume would surely approve of me.
I am offering myself as a liberal unionist but some might think I am now in competition with Dr Ian Paisley since he started to grace Áras an Uachtaráin and that the breed is no longer sought after in Dublin. I might however be a little less compliant albeit more engaged with the south than the Doc.
Political bloggers in the south appeared surprisingly charming, if bemused by my Seanad bid. Not so I suspect in the north.
Book launch at QUB
Thursday brought me to a Bookshop at Queen’s launch of Stephen Walker’s book on Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a priest in Rome who hid allied soldiers and Italian Jews. There I met Andrew Mackinlay, a Labour friend of Northern Ireland who retired from his London seat at the May election.
Unusually, he and his wife have migrated to Co. Down, spending half their time here. We talked of my Seanad candidacy which enthused him and of my book on Roger Casement which he had read. Andrew did the work of some 30 standard Labour back benchers while in parliament and his achievements were many, if largely unrewarded.
Friday brought a front page story in the Irish Times on Casement bringing this diary back to where it started. The story concerned his consular hat and ceremonial sword which Scotland Yard had just turned over to the National Museum of Ireland. They, with the diaries, had been left behind in storage in London in 1914 prior to his going to America and thence Germany.
I am not too sure Casement would have approved of becoming part of this orchestration around the Queen’s imminent visit. Despite his knighthood, he was an Irish separatist, one who described England as “the bitch and harlot of the North Sea.” He was a rare and consistent opponent of the 1st World War, if a little susceptible to Germany, as my current researching reminds me.
Underlying campaign theme
But as I say in my election communication in a real sense we are going back to a time before partition and the 1st World War, “when the differences between the two parts and peoples of Ireland were not as extreme as they became.”
Website and email
* Supporters of my candidacy include
Dennis Kennedy (former deputy editor Irish Times)
Senator Eoghan Harris
Michael McGimpsey (Minister of Health)
Ruth Dudley Edwards
Professor Roy Foster
Professor Henry Patterson
Professor Bill (W.J.) McCormack
Professor Liam Kennedy
Dr Austen Morgan
Dr Brian Lacey
Professor Arthur Aughey
Michael McDowell (Washington)
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty