As we enter into the final ten days of the Presidential election, it is safe to assume that Seán Gallagher is now a serious contender. In the most recent Red C poll, Gallagher has come out on top closely followed by Michael D Higgins. Undoubtedly he seems one of the more stable candidates with no emerging scandals or heated encounters with the public to date. If the polls are to be taken as an accurate reflection of public opinion then Gallagher can remain optimistic about his chances.
As the youngest and most politically inexperienced candidate, opinions were divided on Gallagher’s suitability for the job. However, he has decidedly exploited and used to his advantage, what could have been his downfall. He reiterates that he is not a politician and has the people of Ireland at heart. This seems to have catapulted him into the public’s favour. When his ties with Fianna Fail were questioned he insisted that his membership was in a voluntary capacity and that he was one of the grassroots members who never sat at Cabinet table and never had any involvement in decision making. His refusal to use roadside election posters earned him further kudos with the public as he described them as a “waste of taxpayer’s money”. Whilst canvassing on Baggot Street earlier this week, Gallagher chatted to people warmly and engagingly. He is clearly comfortable with questions from the public and is rarely caught out for an answer. He has successfully managed to present himself as an ordinary and extraordinary man simultaneously. When confronted with sceptical voters he points out his background in farming youth work and enterprise, making his case of understanding what the public wants and needs. If nothing else he is far removed from the old style politics of McGuinness, Mitchell and Higgins.
The Gallagher camp proudly proclaims its policy of “positive campaigning”. While scandals and criticisms have swirled around the media from the other candidates, Gallagher refused to join in the fracas insisting that “negative” is not a word in his dictionary. With the poll results, came suggestions for a head to head debate between Higgins and Gallagher, suggestions which he rejected on the grounds that it would be unfair to the other candidates. “Why would we exclude five other candidates?” he said, “We’ve been through twelve or thirteen presidential debates so far and a few more to go. I feel that would be unfair on the other five candidates.”
On the Áras 2011 debate, Gallagher suggested changing the national anthem, a suggestion strongly criticised by Martin McGuinness. Gallagher elaborated proposing an anthem that reveals our “strengths” rather than the militaristic anthem of present. Indeed it is clear that this candidate has his sights set on improving our reputation abroad, whether changing the national anthem will achieve this remains to be seen.
Undoubtedly, Gallagher is a candidate promoting change, a popular idea in these uncertain times. His focus on jobs and enterprise could sway the undecided voters to secure his election. With less than two weeks to go and the impending Frontline debate on Monday, there is still time for everything to change but for now Gallagher is surely on the right track.
By Keelin Hughes