Apologies that I have been unable to post for a couple of days. The Presidential Election took place today against a background of animosity and uncertainty.
Other websites and news outlets will report the strange events of the past couple of days in greater detail and I dont have time to go into detail.
Seán Gallaghers lead in the opinion polls and chances of being elected are certainly dented by allegations made about him by Martin McGuinness in the last RTE TV Debate (Monday night).
Gallagher has spent weeks distancing himself from Fianna Fáil and playing down his rle as a “sporadic” member of that Party. He was in fact on the National Executive. Yet McGuinness charged him with having solicited donations of E5,000 for the Party from a businessman to attend a FF Fundraiser and have his photograph taken with then) Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Gallaghers response was all over the place and on Tuesday the businessman stepped forward and identified himself as convicted fuel smuggler, Hugh Morgan, now a legitimate businessman and the landlord of Gerry Adams constituency office in Dundalk.
Hmmm….phrases like “stitch up” and “ambush” come to mind. And while there are some holes in the McGuinness-Morgan case there are at least as many holes in the Gallagher defence. He seems to be quibbling over detail rather than the substance.
At best Gallaghers credibility as a genuine Independent is shot to pieces. At worst the image of Gallagher as fundraiser for Fianna Fáil raises the toxic recent past where FF is a gombeen party with a culture of brown envelopes stuffed with cash……or in the Morgan case, an envelope of unspecified colour stuffed with a cheque.
The role of the national broadcaster (RTE) who hosted the debate is also being questioned. Hardly a friend to Sinn Féin, they……and the media generally are perceived as being well disposed to the Labour Party…….whose candidate Michael D Higgins (see my recent post on opinion polls) is the most likely person to gain.
An odd and discouraging set of circumstances. The Media has played a signigicant role……an unhealthy one…… in this Election. Stung by the public criticism of its hostility to Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin it seems to have responded by being over-zealous to compensate by being overly aggressive to most other candidates. Michael D Higgins seems to have escaped the hostility. But two points should be made. It can be charged legitimately that the Media is well disposed to Higgins. But equally it should be said that Higgins has few if any skeletons in his cupboard…………..he has not for example sworn allegiance to another nation (Dana Rosemary Scallon), been a leading member of a terrorist/guerrilla organisation (McGuinness), been an entrepeneur with an odd grasp on accountancy practice (Gallagher), a Blueshirt junior Minister who got lucky with a lucrative seat in the European Parliament (Mitchell), a Joycean elitist showman and buffoon who talks about Man-Boy love in ancient Greece (Norris) or a regular on the lucrative Quango circuit (Davis).
We have hardly been blessed with a ballot paper of good candidates and maybe Higgins is the least bad option. He does however carry some baggage as a member of the Labour Party, which in coalition government with Fine Gael is imposing austerity on the Irish people…and Labour voters are suffering disproportionately.
Sinn Féin have in fact dictated the agenda. The surprise…(“audacious” was the word most commentators used ) selection of Martin McGuinness and the shock intervention/confrontation with Gallagher on Monday night.
Timing is everything. Most of today and yesterday as part of the convention surrounding elections, there has been a Moratorium……..no reporting of the campaign. Yet Gallagher has basically lost a day in dealing with the allegations against him. He has also of course wasted a day (Tuesday) avoiding the media and issuing conflicting statements and clarifications in his defence.
So Michael D Higgins (Labour) benefits. So will Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin). With no reliable “exit polls”, it can only be speculated that Higgins has gained votes and Gallagher lost votes and that they are (lets assume) running at the same levels of support. This puts the Republican (McGuinness) in the possible role of “kingmaker” (if he will pardon the impression). McGuinness transfers would include nationalists who would transfer to Gallagher and (more?) left of centre votes which would transfer to Higgins.
Sinn Féins strategy has not been to win the Presidency (it would certainly be a bonus for them if they did) but the main aim has been to strenthen its position from the 10% it secured in the General Election (February 2011). If they could damage Fianna Fáil (and clearly they see Gallagher as a proxy FF candidate) and emerge as the Party with the second highest support (behind Labour) it would be a major coup.
Yet the Media are left more damaged than Fianna Fáil (too toxic to field an official candidate), Fine Gael (the major Party in Government will struggle on maybe less than 10% of the vote and David Norris (National Treasure reduced to ridicule).
Come Saturday morning, many in the Irish Media will possibly choke on their muesli as it may be the case that their favoured candidate has won the Presidency…….thanks to the intervention of the ma they hate so much….Martin McGuinness.