Presidential runners and riders (so far)…

One of the most remarkable things about the race for the Irish Presidency is it’s lack of spark. This should not be too much of a surprise, when you consider that there wasn’t one seven years ago. When Mary McAleese announced she would run again, everyone else counted up the cost and the likelihood of winning, and said, “nah, not really…”

The piece of colour was Senator David Norris who crashed out early when hit by a second media storm over his plea to Israeli authorities over his ex partner Ezra Nawi’s conviction for statutory rape (Ie, having sex with a minor). He’s thought to be using an appearance on the Late Late Show tomorrow night to test the waters for a come back before nominations close in a week or two.

Okay, and there has been a welter of speculation (most of it no doubt will prove to have been unfounded) on whether or not Sinn Fein will have a dog in the race [with or without a collar? – Ed]. Last two days it’s been Martin McGuinness. Now it’s not. What’s dogging Sinn Fein is how to take advantage of  Fianna Fail’s decision not to run an official candidate.

At least the guesses are getting a little more realistic, with Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin getting a few mentions in dispatches. Frankly, it’s not a job for a Nordie, and almost everyone of any profile in the south is required to man the parliamentary pumps. So the mystery remains.

Chipping votes from the FF quarter is crucial, not least when the FG dog, Gay Mitchell has a reputation for being an old unrepentent Blueshirt who’s appeal so far seems to be registering in inverse value to that of his parliamentary party. Perhaps Pat Cox should have been a contender?.

Michael D Higgins of Labour has been front running since Norris crashed, but this is not even lap two of the unofficial campaign, and he’s not so far ahead he could not be easily caught.

Sean Gallagher is, as they say, gene pool Fianna Fail. But it seems more keen to burnish his Dragon’s Den reputation for creativity and entrepreneurial ‘can do’… Despite having sat on that party’s National Executive, he has his own campaign team and regards even the slightest  allusion to his party membership as an attempt to kill off his campaign.

Mary Davis who is thought to be almost home and hosed with regard to nominations, will also trade off her non political credentials having been Managing Director of Special Olympics in Europe/Eurasia. In fact Davis and Gallagher, as independents may enjoy a strong advantage in the latter stages of the election drawing in transfers from all over the country and the political piece.

Will FF get behind an independent corporately? Have SF got a ringer lined up? Will David Norris re-enter the race? And if so, could the maverick to end all mavericks sneak it at the very last?

  • Drumlins Rock

    What about our Michelle? don’t tell me your writing her off already!

    Actually I think she is the only SF name mentioned that would have a chance of winning, although she could also bomb, any of the rest will get the core vote but that will be it.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, honestly, I don’t know. She’s free enough and secure enough. But name recognition is poor. She’s bright too. Could be good for the party’s rural bridgeheads. But it’s a risk sending a Nordie down.

  • John Ó Néill

    DR – I got the sense from her reaction to media queries at the weekend that she hadn’t considered this as a realistic option (despite the speculation). Obviously if she resigned her seat to run it ain’t exactly safe and doubles the risk. Candidancy is almost a statement of political redundancy (in some respects). Personally, if SF do actually back an internal candidate (caveat emptor: see below), I’d expect a more likely option would be Bairbre de Brún – she is replaced by a list system as an MEP. Also changing her profile might then position her to go for a Dublin seat in the next Dáil election (if she is persuaded to go down that route).

    I keep intending to write up something on this but largely nothing has happened yet (despite the speculation), although when a decision is actually announced it will provide some clues as to the short/medium term strategy SF are adopting. As it is, Gerry Adams didn’t directly claim that SF would run a candidate at the weekend, just that it would support the nomination of one and that it didn’t believe that the Presidency was solely an establishment party trophy. After the Ard Chomairle meeting the other day they appeared to be briefing people that any candidate wouldn’t actually be run on a party ticket. Alongside the trophy reference that might simply indicate that the intention is to back an independent. Gallagher, Davies and Norris could all, potentially, be seeking, or receive SF backing for the campaign element, or to ensure nomination. Endorsing Gallagher might be seen as a way to heap pain on FF (as he was a member of their National Executive for a number of years). Maybe, along with the left independents and others, they will back Norris or A.N. Other. I can’t think of another candidate who might enter the race at this stage (unless it is a GAA head).

  • Mick Fealty

    Nothing is right John… We should have something by Sunday is what most journos are thinking… But I thought it worth a recap to get the race itself into a broader perspective…

    Gallagher would need to play along for SF extract real value out of it; and I’m not sure he would… Given the whacking FF got in Cavan Monaghan, I’m not surprised he’s keeping his distance. Not sure SF have an economic agenda he can yet buy into either.

  • Into the west

    Are there really only politics and ex-politicos standing?
    excuse the pun but “qui bono”?

  • John Ó Néill

    Mick, I think there is supposed to be another Ard Chomairle meeting this weekend – but with Dublin v Kerry looming on the horizon and the rugby on Saturday, I’d imagine (unless it is someone with a GAA background) that would fairly dilute any media coverage as it will be sport 24/7 on Saturday and Sunday. In that regard, I’d have thought today would have been more likely for any announcement. Otherwise, it could be pushed out until the middle of next week.

  • I dont think the electorate in the South will want a second northerner and that might even rule out Pearse Doherty and O’Caolain.
    It means a candidate who can be guaranteed the Sinn Féin vote and eat into the FF and “alternative” lefty vote or pick up their transfers.
    I think David Norris is a toxic name right now. But it is probably somebody who has a nonpolitical profile. Sport (GAA preferably) or the Arts. And despite all protestations I think that it is still a possibility.
    Its hard to see Higgins, Mitchell or indeed anyone else being in the North as often as President McAleese….but there is the northern dimension…….of probably two names on the new Council of State …….which is probably more interesting than the the pre-campaign.

  • Mick Fealty

    John,

    Thoughts on Norris?

  • keano10

    It may be the case that The Shinners would ‘assist’ and support the nomination of a non party member with sympathies to the party. Mickey Harte has been mentioned and even Jarlath Burns. However, I still think they will run on a party ticket and I do believe that a Northern nominee is much more possible than has been suggested above.

  • Mick Fealty

    Mickey says no, according to Eamonn!

  • keano10

    Fair do’s – Eamons not usually far wrong…!

  • John Ó Néill

    Mick, I am sympathetic to Norris. He is intelligent and engaging and colourful which isn’t to be undervalued. I even think the issue of the letter and the context in which it was sent seems to have been very heavily spun against him as much as anything else (members of the Oireachtas make appeals for clemency on a regular basis even though they don’t often have as much emotional capital tied up as Norris did in this case). At the same time, I think he did himself a lot of damage by not standing up and challenging the spin. If he did so he would probably be in poll position now. But, against a backdrop of the church scandals, Ryan, Cloyne (and Raphoe coming out soon), his inability to dial into an easy public register to explain himself may hint at a potential President who will, on occasion, get it wrong (and given the associations being attached to that letter, the tone just flies in the face of public sentiment). In a role that is more about mood and lighting than actual substance, thats probably a fatal flaw.
    At the same time, it will be interesting to see over the next couple of days whether he has achieved sufficient emotional distance to explain himself in terms that people will empathise with (and he also has to rid himself of that dreadfully stilted academic delivery and find a tone that communicates better).

  • Munsterview

    Mick : “…. Frankly, it’s not a job for a Nordie, and almost everyone of any profile in the south is required to man the parliamentary pumps….”

    Jazus Mick but you are playing this one very cagey….. Kerry people are not the only ones, it seems. that can talk all day and say nothing ! You were not down South West Munster way for your holidays by any chance were you ?

    Right, lets take a look at the situation so far in terms of voting blocks instead of candidates.

    Broad Left and .smoke salmon socialists, Michael D grudging second Lab choice but most of the Lab votes and by default for want of alternatives, a fair bit of the Non Labor Left. Whether he is a shoe in or not very much depends on that loose left, non Labor vote.

    Fine Gael : the split of earlier this year very evident, Mitchell was not first choice of Kenny and the Back-room and they tried to stop his rise and failed. From what I hear Mitchell and his section of Fine Gael have public support from the Kenny wing of the party, but those who turn out to vote may very well shaft him by going for Michael D.

    ‘Awkward questions’ to Mitchell about his possible near blood relations with a very prominent Dublin underworld ex-criminal, is part of the internal FG ‘dirty pool’ to queer the pitch for Jim. That association will not go down too well straight laced Dublin 4 where they prefer a better class of criminal such as rouge bankers, stockbrokers, auctioneers and valuers etc.

    My guess is that while Jim supports ecology issues, he will not be using any penguins in his election literature regarding ice melt and global warming!

    The pro Fianna failed vote and the anti-Fianna Failed vote. The Pro have a proxy candidate in ” I-was-in-the-Fianna-Fail-National-Exectuive-but-do-not-call-me-Fianna-Fail’ Sean Gallaher. He is about as welcome in anti-Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail as Seanie Fitzpatrick of Anglo would be at the top table of a public banker’s dinner.

    In fact there is pressure on Labhras O’Morochu to run as a spoiler to both Gallaher and the Blue Shirts, as he would mop up a good share share of the pro-Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail with enough Comhtals and GAA votes to make a respectable showing. Fianna Failed back-room boys and gals cannot do too much about Lab and FG but their own political survival and that of their Fianna Failes dictate that they spike the rise of the Shinners and that they do it now!

    Sinn Fein : so far they have played a blinder in this, credit where credit is due on that to the PR and Spin people. They have kept Sinn Fein in the Headlines, even stole headlines from the Fianna Failed Parliamentary party. Poor Michael was ‘old’ when he was young and now that he is old in age also, boy do he look old and yesterday’s man.

    Michael may be attempting to project the ‘Elder Statesman’ image. However at the press conference he looked and sounded like a small town funeral parlor director explaining to the waiting crowd outside a church as to why the hearse had a break down and what alternative arrangements were being made so the remains could be delivered and the interrupted funeral continue !

    Sinn Fein have a long game strategy in place and a united party behind them. Unlike the other three named parties, Sinn Fein can deliver it’s own vote to the extent that to the party it is no big deal as to who inside Sinn Fein stands. This is how I would imagine they have analyzed the potential votes available.

    1) Sinn Fein Party and supporter vote, sound and there and increased. No worries here.

    2) Anti- Fianna Fail, Fianna Fail, SF to loose so no full frontal assault of FF this time round

    3) Non Labor Left ‘provisionally’ Sinn Fein’s but it must be collated properly.

    4) Joe Higgins & Co.there but like mating hedgehogs, much care is needed

    5) Old Age pensioners, quite a big and pissed off constituency that could deliver in block

    6) Third level students ditto. Thursday as vote day was to shaft a good % of them

    7) Anti Dub 4 Country Nationalist tinged FG? If the candidate is right the votes are there

    8) Unemployed youth and young people including the low waged ? Mad as hell.

    9) The fifth column upper-class Dublin liberal vote ? Big surprise there but that hare can sit for now !

    10 ) ( and by no means last ) a fine feminine vote that will flow to the right candidate.

    So possible candidate strategy ?

    The first and most obvious thing here is that the Sinn Fein block vote should be used as the launch pad only. Most of the Sinn Fein ‘Big Beasts’ still have a limited appeal and while no one is indispensable, most Sinn Fein people playing National Roles are not there by chance but because they were the best people for the job that they are in.

    The object of the exercise is not to get a Sinn Fein party person in the Park, it is for Sinn Fein to get a candidate that they support but who also has a far wider appeal than any Senior Sinn Fein person would and who of course is ‘baggage free’. The other parties in the field will try to undermine the candidate as a Sinn Fein proxy and by the time the person concerned makes it to the park she ( or perhaps a he) will be so identified with Sinn Fein as to make no difference.

    So the second objective then is to support an external candidate rather than run an internal party person.

    Elections are either about getting elected or getting the publicity. I have given ‘the few words’ for Sinn Fein on more than a few occasions where for a few moments SF had the same status as other parties there when it came to making the party speech. It was all about having a presence and establishing the right to be in the room and part of the process with the opportunity to publicly kick a special branch ass or two the icing on the cake!

    This one is not about the optics, this is about real politics and staging a coup that will be as dramatic as Gerry going into Louth and forcing the Minister for Justice to show a clean pair of heels rather than face a humiliating defeat.

    We have had enough wasters and ‘want to be’s’ in Southern Politics, the ideal candidate must be seen to have done the State some service, a lot of service in fact that is above reproach and appreciated.

    The ideal candidate will appeal to their own sector of the voters in addition to Sinn Fein and so will hit the ground running with too good blocks of votes that will quickly level the playing field.

    That leaves eight blocks of votes as segmented and set out in the foregoing. The appeal must be to as many or all of these sectors as possible. Add in even three or four of the eight and the right candidate will have unstoppable momentum.

    So…o, this far without mentioning the Six Counties and the All Ireland dimension, as Turgon and Co are no doubt eager to point out at this stage ?

    No Need ! If the right candidate is available and supported……. especially if they are from the North, then the Northern dimension will be evident from the word go with the person concerned having cross border cross community appeal.

    This election will be fought by Sinn Fein as a ‘de facto’ All Ireland election, but no strident, triumphalist displays that will frighten the horses. This bloody election ticks off so many of the boxes for Sinn Fein that if the party could have set the parameters, they could not have done much better in the opportunities presented.

    Two simple tasks: consolidate the ‘over thirties vote of as many as possible of the nine voter segments outlined’ and as much of the under thirties as possible to get the ….. a…Sinn Fein….supported candidate in the Park and

    Appeal to the under thirty vote and the twenties down to second level teens. These are the worst hit by the present recession and cut backs and Sinn Fein are their natural champions and they are Sinn Fein’s future constituency for the next election.The work for that starts with this one

    That is it. Our first Presidential election put a Church Of Ireland President in the Park not for optics but because he was genuinly the best regarded candicate that ticked off all the then boxes cross party and cross cultural.

    Could it be that our first Presidential election of the 21th, century could put a Presbyterian in the Park ?

  • PaulT

    I actually quite fancy Ben Dunne as the SF selection.

  • Kevsterino

    David Latimer?

  • keano10

    Mick,

    Stop press – Eamon may wish to reconsider Mickey Harte after all. The Herald is reporting tonight that Sinn Fein have approached Mickey Harte to become THEIR candidate in the Presidential Election. Make no mistake, bearing in mind the huge affection and goodwill felt for Mickey throughout Ireland, he could win this if he stands.

  • Keano, the Herald goes to press at midday, Mallie’s tweet came early afternoon.

  • Munsterview

    John O : “….In that regard, I’d have thought today would have been more likely for any announcement. Otherwise, it could be pushed out until the middle of next week…..”

    John, this one is being played very tight, I would be surprised if no more than four or five people at most were tasked with selection, having empowered by the Ard Comhairle to do the Business ! If this is to have full dramatic impact the announcement of the selected candidate may be made without a further prior AC meeting.

    Publicity wise the provisional candidate ( no pun intended ) addressing a full AC meeting and ‘requesting endorsement’ etc and pictured with the AC etc is how any PR person worth their salt would spin the selection process. The surprise candidate….. or should I say the surprise of the candidate selected should be good for three days, two days dealing with the endorsement or if the headlines and if the media focus stays it could even be carried over into the following week. All of this has been well choreographed, considered and prepared !

    Yes, Sunday is going to be a big day in Dublin with the match dominating the media and all those considerations. However that is thinking inside the box : suppose the Presidential candidate was first announced in Belfast on Sunday, not much media competition on Sunday up that neck of the woods on that day and that would certainly make an ‘All Ireland dimension’ statement.

    Run the media circus North of the Border for two days and then hit Dublin and repeat the exercise for another two days there. If the ‘intended’ candidate has a legitimate reason to be North of The Border first, then they could pull it off, there are many ways this could be played.
    Unlikely : well as unlikely perhaps as the Sinn Fein Leader long central to Northern politics suddenly resigning and decamping South ?

    Who foresee that yet how long was that contemplated by Sinn Fein strategist before it was done ? This is not your run off the mill announcement or candidate; this must be a ‘biggie’ enough even to dominate the field and be the perceived leader from the word go.

    A few surprises for everyone here yet I would think!

  • Henry94

    The odds on Martin McGuinness have come in from 25/1 to 9/1 on Paddy Power over the last few days so there is a belief somewhere that he will be the one.

    Norris has no path to the nomination which will damage the race in the eyes of many. There need to be a change to the system so that a candidate can be nominated directly by the public. The bar should be high, 100,000 signatures perhaps, but there should be a way.

  • Henry94

    McGuinness for President Michelle Gildernew for DFM. That’s the plan by all accounts.

  • pippakin

    McGuinness makes sense it will bring the two leaders of SF into the south and give the appearance at least of moving toward a united Ireland.

    One thing it shows is if they go south there’s not much choice left in the north, where are the bright, ambitious forty somethings with a bit of real experience (not paramilitary) behind them?

    Gildernew seems the best, most obvious choice, but is she still that highly regarded after her stint as minister?

    I would only vote for a sinner if it were a straight fight between them and anyone who has, in any way, been shown to support pederasty.

  • keano10

    Just checked Paddy Power and McGuinness is now down to 7/1 so the money keeps piling on…

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    There is no way in hell that McGuinness could win it, therefore surely a waste as from Sinn Féin’s point of view he is doing a good job were he is.

    Run Bairbre de Brún for Uachtarán I say, run Niall Ó Donnghaile as MEP.

  • Comrade Stalin

    McGuinness is still 9/1 on Ladbrokes.

  • Greenflag

    I can’t see a McGuinness nomination not this time anyway but anything is possible . What is becoming clear is that the other parties will ‘fear ‘ whoever the nomination is and that in itself is an indication of how far the electorate have moved .

    7 years ago an SF candidate would have been ‘laughed ‘ at . Neither FF nor FG nor Labour are laughing any more .

    I hope it’s Gildernew as I believe McGuinness has still work to do In NI for the rest of this Assembly . Dev was President in his 90’s after all so McGuinness is still a gneration younger .

    The conjecture will keep the anoraks on edge for the rest of the week end .

  • Progressive Unionist

    Sky News are now reporting McGuinness will be the candidate.

    A very odd choice imho – he already has a job, and the presidency has a lot less power than the NI DFM.

    Of course, I doubt he’ll be expecting to win, but it sends a weak message to the electorate in NI all the same if their Deputy First Minister (who’s performed his role professionally and effectively and who works well with the FM) signals he’d prefer to give up his position for the leafy lawns of the Aras.

    I suppose their strategy is to run their best guy and hope to get their vote up closer to the 15-20% mark, with the idea of having a new chunk of Irish voters get used to the notion of voting Sinn Fein.

  • PaulT

    amazingly obvious and unexpected choice. I wonder if this is the old school SF and he’s basically going to be used as a barometer for a UI vote in the South, or given the expense of running a campaign is it the opening curtain for a UI push.

  • PaulT

    can’t wait for the reaction of unionist politicans, keep refreshing the the TUV blog page, and must find Gregory Campbells twitter feed

  • Progressive Unionist

    Mallie has tweeted that this was a decision of the SF officer board and it now goes before the Ard Comhairle for ratification. Not sure when.

    PaulT – don’t think this is a good time (nor the right way) to use this as a barometer for a UI vote. Many pro-UI voters in the RoI have other candidates in the field.

    I still think it’s a risky move for SF – Martin McG will also be competing in a field where there’s already strong left candidates (in Michael D (and possibly Norris if he gets his 20 nominations after tonight’s Late Late)) – and if their main guy gets, say, under 15% that would be embarrassing.

    On the up side for McG, there’s nobody in the race yet from the rural/traditionalist/Catholic end of things (though Dana is trying) and there may be votes there for SF. Still though, this is an old school and dwindling segment of the electorate which SF in the RoI have been seeking to expand their appeal beyond.

    I thought Michelle Gildernew would have been a much better choice for them. Sure, she’d need to be ‘introduced’ to the southern electorate, but that in itself has lots of media potential and she has a back-story (young mother etc) which soft-left voters would find appealing. She’s also widely respected across the board in Northern Ireland for her work as Agriculture Minister.

    Also, if Gildernew did end up doing poorly it would be much easier to explain away, whereas by running Martin they run the risk of tarnishing their prime asset.

    Should be an interesting election anyways, esp if Norris rejoins…

  • Mark

    A lot of ex FF voters have been looking for a chance to give the two fingers to FG / Labor .

    The blue rinse brigades in all the golf clubs down South who have never give SF a vote in the past will do so now .