As the broadcast moratorium looms, can Seán Gallagher say or do enough to save his presidential bid before 2pm today? The Independent candidate is running out of time as he attempts to salvage a campaign that seemed impermeable just a few days ago.
Gallagher has been doing serious damage control since Monday night’s ‘Frontline’ debate on RTÉ, when Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness accused him of receiving a cheque for €5,000 for Fianna Fáíl three years ago. Gallagher’s unconvincing and inconsistent style of answering was criticised by many and and may well lead to a dip in his popularity.
Mr Gallagher claims he didn’t solicit donations for the party but last week did admit to asking acquaintances to attend a Fianna Fáil fundraiser. Subsequently he conceded that he did indeed contact convicted fuel smuggler Hugh Morgan, a man he did not know, and invited him to the €5,000-a-head dinner. The political party has refused to reveal which business people and property developers paid this fee at the fundraiser Gallagher helped to organise.
The Independent candidate has played down his past connections with Fianna Fáil throughout his campaign. His insistence that he would run a clean race and not engage in negative campaigning was made null and void when he made a counter-attack on Sinn Féin yesterday, labelling McGuinness’ accusations as an “ambush” and a “political assassination attempt” – an unfortunate, and some say deliberate, turn of phrase given McGuinness’ IRA past.
He also expressed reservations regarding the female audience member, Glenna Lynch, who questioned him about a number of his business transactions during the ‘Frontline’ debate, suggesting she may have been planted there deliberately by Sinn Féin. Ms Lynch has dismissed such a claim and labelled Gallagher a hypocrite.
Although the final official poll was carried out prior to the ‘Frontline’ broadcast, it gave Gallagher a 40% support rating – a commanding 15% above his nearest rival, Labour candidate Michael D Higgins. The Ray D’Arcy Show on Today FM this morning carried out a poll of their listeners which showed that while his rating a dropped by a few percent, Gallagher is still the frontrunner, with Higgins placed second, McGuinness third and Independent David Norris in fourth place. Whether or not the election results will follow this pattern remains to be seen.