The Most Controversial Presidential Campaign Ireland Has Ever Witnessed

Bags of bitching, back-stabbing and bankruptcy – moral and otherwise – may sound more like aspects of a movie plotline than those of a presidential election but, as the old saying goes, all’s fair in love and politics. The 2011 Irish presidential election will go do down in history as the country’s most controversial and commented-on campaign to date.

As Mary McAleese’s successful two-term residence in Phoenix Park neared its end, the public began to look to the future and who may become Ireland’s 9th Head of State. Senator David Norris was the first to declare his intention to run for the highest office in the land following a social media campaign earlier this year that highlighted huge levels of support for him, particularly amongst the youth vote. Early opinion polls confirmed his popularity and labelled him the frontrunner. Much speculation ensued as to who would join Norris on October’s ballot paper – from the incumbent’s husband to a disgraced former Taoiseach to half of RTÉ’s payroll.

In the end, a motley crew of seven characters – some predicted, some not – received nominations to bid to become the first citizen of Ireland. The largest ever number of potential presidents included a politician turned poet, a Eurovision winner, a reality TV star and the former head of the IRA – an eclectic group to say the least. Initial reactions to many of the candidates were lukewarm to say the least, with certain commentators dubbing them ‘the not so magnificent seven’. The seven became six at one point in the campaign as first in became the first out when Norris withdrew from the campaign in early August following controversy regarding clemency letters he wrote in 1997 on behalf of his former partner Ezra Nawi, who had been convicted of statutory rape in Israel. However, following an outcry of public support, Norris dramatically re-entered the race in September.

Michael D Higgins was announced as the Labour candidate, Gay Mitchell was the surprise Fine Gael nominee, Sinn Féin shocked many by choosing to nominate Northern Ireland’s First Minister Martin McGuinness and, following their disastrous showing in February’s General Election, Fianna Fáil chose to not endorse any candidate. Mary Davis, Seán Gallagher and, latterly, Dana Rosemary Scallon joined Norris in the Independent ranks. Many of the candidates criticised the nomination process, with Higgins lanelling it “archaic” and McGuinness stating that people, rather than just Oireachtas members and councillors, should be able to nominate candidates. After weeks of uncertainty, all independent candidates eventually received the required level of official support. Now the race could officially begin.

Pavement pounding the length and breadth of the country was punctuated by a series of radio and television debates, with all seven candidates discussing the issues on the RTÉ News at One, The Late Late Show, Tonight With Vincent Browne, Newstalk, and, perhaps most significantly, Prime Time and The Frontline. A largely English-spoken debate was held on the country’s native language broadcaster TG4. The Prime Time debate was initially focused on Miriam O’Callaghan’s intense questioning of Martin McGuinness regarding his IRA past. During the campaign, he was criticised by victims’ families and confronted by David Kelly, son of the murdered Paddy Kelly. However, this was not the most remembered element of the broadcast. With just a few minutes remaining, Dana Rosemary Scallon unexpectedly began to read a pre-written statement regarding unreleased allegations “of a most untrue, malicious and vile nature” that she claimed were being made against a family member and would soon become public knowledge. When urged to elaborate on these allegations, Scallon refused. In the succeeding days, accusations of a paeodophilic nature were made against her brother and former campaign manager, John Brown. This was the latest in a series of setbacks for Scallon, who had just days beforehand been accused of lying to the public regarding her American citizenship.

All candidates were dogged by controversy of some sort during the race. Gay Mitchell had to repeatedly defend himself against claims that he was not the chosen candidate of his own party as it was insinuated that members of Fine Gael were refusing to get behind the former Lord Mayor of Dublin and instead favoured his Labour rival, Michael D Higgins. Mitchell’s campaign was further undermined when his tactic of negative campaigning and repeated attacks on Martin McGuinness backfired. Given the intense amounts of mud-slinging, Higgins’ biggest admission during the campaign raised little attention – the fact he had previously smoked marijuana paling in comparison to the skeletons in his competitors’ closets.  He also dismissed claims that he was too old to serve as president but did admit that, if elected, would only serve one term. Mary Davis was pressed to elaborate on whether or not her independence was tainted by her involvement with a number of state boards. On top of this, she had to deny alleged nepotism regarding her husband Julian’s PR firm. Norris once again came under fire, this time due to disability payments he received while unable to lecture at Trinity College Dublin. During this time, he remained an active and paid member of Seanad Éireann. Such setbacks paved the way for the dark horse of the competition, Dragon’s Den star Seán Gallagher.

Save for a few attempts made to link him to Fianna Fáil, Gallagher’s campaign was relatively smooth sailing. His refusal to engage in negative campaigning combined with his promise of economic encouragement and job creation endeared him to the public. His popularity was confirmed in the final number of opinion polls – which had up until then shown huge fluctuations throughout the campaign. He convincingly topped the last Ipsos MRBI poll with a 40% support rating. In the same poll, Higgins received 25%, McGuinness 15%, Norris 8%, Mitchell 6% and Davis and Scallon 3% each. Gallagher seemed unstoppable. This was all, however, to change thanks to a single utterance on The Frontline, the final TV debate of the campaign. As soon as the word ‘envelop’ left his lips, Gallagher’s fate was sealed, stamped and delivered. During the debate, he was questioned repeatedly regarding his business dealings and long-standing  association with the Fianna Fáil party – nothing particularly new there.

However, when McGuinness turned up the heat on the frontrunner sparks flew. The Sinn Féin candidate claimed to have proof that Gallagher personally received a cheque of €5,000 from a businessman in aid of FF. The latter initially denied this. Debate host Pat Kenny subsequently read out a statement from an unofficial SF Twitter account saying that the party planned to hold a press conference the following day with the supposed donor, former convict Hugh Morgan, in attendance. Much backtracking ensued with Gallagher stumbling to the point that he had to rely on the old chestnut of having “no recollection” of the alleged incident, while in the same breath referring to the envelop in which he may or may not have received the cash. The audience hissed their disapproval and McGuinness grinned like a Cheshire cat. The damage was done. Social media sites lit up in response but, as no more official polls were due to be carried out prior to polling, it remained to be seen whether or not the online outrage would transfer to a significant enough drop in his support levels to fully scupper his campaign. Michael D Higgins was now, once again, the unofficial favourite.

It’s now the day after polling and the official count began at 9am this morning. The official percentage of voters is well down on the 70% that voted in this year’s General Election but thought to be in line with previous presidential ballots, coming in at just under 50%. At polling stations yesterday, RTÉ and Red C Research asked 1,000 people how they had voted. More than a quarter of those questioned admitted to changing their minds in the final week of the campaign with 28% of voters switching first preference in the same period; 58% of voters switched from Gallagher with 71% of these people voting for Higgins instead. Half of voters who were polled said the recent controversy surrounding Gallagher affected their voting pattern.

Early tallies suggest that Higgins has indeed topped the poll or received the highest number of transfers in many areas and, save a major shift later in the day, is on course to become Ireland’s 9th President. The Labour party has already declared October 29 as ‘Michael D Day’. David Norris was the first candidate to concede defeat. He wished Higgins well and called today “A good day for Ireland”, adding that he was confident Higgins would make a great president. As Ireland looks on, the electorate hopes that such faith will be ratified.

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Has Gallagher Done Enough to Salvage Campaign?

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.

Norris in Financial Trouble Following Contentious Campaign

Independent presidential candidate David Norris has admitted to being “in the red” as a result of his campaign.

The Seanad Éireann member said, “I’m out of money and I’m in the red but I’ve always been putting my money where my mouth is, I’ve consistently done this. If I think something needs to be done I will back it up with what ever meagre resources I have.”

However, he added that he did not wish to complain about his circumstances. He stated, “If I lose all my savings, I’ll be in exactly in same position as more than half country. I’m not gong to bellyache about it. People are losing their houses. I’m not going to lose my house. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve found myself in a prudent position.”

Despite the costly financial impact the campaign has left, Senator Norris insists he doesn’t regret re-entering the race for the Áras in September.

Norris pulled out of the campaign the previous month as a result of controversy surrounding clemency letters he wrote for his former partner Ezra Nawi in 1997.

Once the frontrunner, the latest Ipsos MRBI opinion poll indicated the Senator currently holds a support rating of just 8%. However, in tonight’s Frontline debate he noted that polls don’t always get it right. He also claimed that bookmakers once offered 10,000/1 on him getting a nomination in the first place.

Last-ditch Attempt to Sway Floating Voters

The seven presidential candidates will take place in a make or break debate tonight with Pat Kenny set to grill them on RTÉ’s flagship current affairs show ‘The Frontline’.

Kenny himself admitted that he is one of the thousands of floating voters still undecided as to who they will support on Thursday but said “Getting up close and personal in the TV debate will put me in an ideal position to have my mind made up by the candidates.”

Kenny feels that tonight’s debate will be the final chance for any of the other candidates to seize the presidency from Seán Gallagher or Labour’s Michael D Higgins. He added, “I don’t want brawling on the floor but I do want them to engage with each other. If candidates who are down the field don’t engage in that manner, well, they simply don’t deserve to be president.”

Frontrunner Gallagher’s links with the Fianna Fáil party appear to have not affected his swelling popularity three days before the national vote. Despite being an Independent candidate, he has deep with link the party – some of which were highlighted in a letter he sent to the heads of Fianna Fail branches in Louth in January 2009 when he was seeking their support to get back on to the party’s national executive. In the letter he documented his 30 year commitment to the party and emphasised the two years he worked with former party leader Charlie Haughey from 1985-1987 when he was the leader of Ógra Fianna Fáil.

In a late attempt to curb the seemingly unstoppable surge in support for Gallagher, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar publicly announced he would be giving his second preference vote to Higgins, behind Fine Gael’s nominee Gay Mitchell. He called for members of his party to follow suit.

For the many undecided voters, the 90-minute Frontline debate will air on RTE1 at 9.40pm tonight.

Gallagher: This Is Not About Me.This Is About All Of Us.

The next President of Ireland will play a huge part in setting the tone and defining the key issues that will help to transform Ireland.

The last two Presidents played a huge role in defining the issues that were close to their hearts and were relevant and current to the people.

Four months ago, I embarked on a tour of the country. Since then I have visited people in community centres, Chambers of Commerce, shopping centres and marts. What I have seen is a real hunger for a positive voice and a President who is above and beyond party politics.  

My campaign has reflected the views of those who I have met along the way. It has been cost effective, positive and forward looking. I have not engaged in negative campaigning and I have been proud that the thousands who have come out to support me and canvass for me have been incredible ambassadors for my positive message.  

If elected I will to use the Office of the President to focus on the single biggest challenge facing our country. I want to put enterprise at the heart of the next Presidency and help to tackle the scourge of unemployment and the negative impact on our communities.  

I believe the next Presidency should be about getting Ireland back to work, restoring our confidence at home and our reputation abroad. I want to set the tone, change attitudes and have a lasting positive impact.  

To that end, I would like to visit every secondary school in Ireland to inspire our next generation and extend the Gaisce Awards Programme to primary school children. I want to work to make Ireland more relevant to our millions of diaspora around the world. I would champion the cause healthy living, both mental and physical to our young people and bring the causes of the most marginal groups in our society centre stage. As President I would also work with the Government to have a celebration of the talents of Ireland in 2016 and showcase what is best about our country.

We need change our thinking and our language from the negative to the positive. I want to move away from what’s not working and to recognise and acknowledge what is. The focus must be not just on our problems but on solutions, options and possibilities.

This is not about me. This is about all of us. Because if I know anything I know from a life-time of working in communities and enterprise it is that there can be no new beginning unless we all put our strengths to work.

Sèan Gallagher

Norris Sees Secularisation as a Way of Ensuring Equal Respect

Independent presidential candidate David Norris has reiterated his belief that the church and state should be two completely separate bodies. Senator Norris, a long-time member of the Church of Ireland, feels secularisation is the best way forward in order to ensure the rights of both non-believers and believers are respected equally.

He admitted that secularisation is now used as a somewhat divisive term but insisted that he wished to be a bastion for the rights of all people “regardless of race, religion, education, social background or orientation”.

He said, “I am religious but I don’t wear it on my sleeve. It gives me great comfort but I also understand religion has a place in society. Problems only arise when a religious pressure group claims to be more important than anyone else. The meek shall inherit the earth, not the people who decide they are better than everyone else.”

Senator Norris elucidated his views when speaking to TellUsWhy.ie. During the interview, he also claimed to be the only individual in the race for the Áras who has “used the Constitution to help protect a marginalised minority”.  He listed his involvement in the establishment of counselling services to help those in need and in setting up businesses to create employment as proof of this.

If elected, Mr Norris insisted he would “put the welfare of the people at the heart of the Presidency” – something he claimed those connected to established political parties simply could not achieve.

In a separate interview with The Irish Times, Mr Norris said he believed it would be a mistake if the Coalition took possession of the presidency as it would lead to an unhealthy “all-encompassing control of the seats of power in Ireland”.

Mr Norris praised how our previous two presidents “reinvented the role” while in office. He said changing circumstances may mean the role needs to be reinvented once more in order “to make sure that Ireland can hold its collective head high and that in our representation of the island around the world, people will continue to smile when they think of Ireland”.

Earlier today, Mr Norris dismissed the possibility of a transfer vote pact between himself and Labour’s presidential nominee Michael D Higgins, saying that it was up to the Irish people to vote in any manner they saw fit.

My Priorities-Martin McGuinness

Throughout my involvement in political life, all I have ever wanted to do was make a contribution – to make a difference – to empower people and unite them.  I have never sought financial gain or privilege from my involvement in politics and I never will.

We are facing one of the toughest periods of our history – this economic crisis is affecting people throughout Ireland.  Ordinary people have been ignored by politicians who put themselves before the people and before Ireland. Citizens have been silenced and robbed by greedy bankers and speculators who used the people and the country’s resources.  The ordinary people have been asked to pick up the tab for this by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party and their candidates in this contest – Sean Gallagher, Gay Mitchell and Michael D. Higgins.

These politicians tell us that there is no money for hospitals but any amount of money for banks and bondholders, no money for special needs teachers but plenty for huge pensions for disgraced bankers, politicians and civil servants. To them the idea of equality, citizenship and patriotism mean nothing.

As political leaders we have to offer something better.  We have to offer hope. We have to offer a better future for the people of Ireland.

My priorities as President:

·         I will stand for a real Republic where the rights of citizens come first – the right to healthcare, housing, employment and social services. In the Ireland of 2011 we still do not have such a Republic.  The people can change that.
·         I have a proven record in attracting jobs and investment and will use my influence and reputation internationally to open doors for job creation.
·         I will be a people’s President – In tandem with Gaisce, the President’s Award, I will introduce a Citizen’s Award to recognise the work of ordinary people in community and voluntary activism, innovators and entrepreneurs and significant cultural achievements. 
·         I will uphold the Constitution, stand up for Ireland and stand up for Irish unity.
·         I will lead by example and immediately undertake a full review of the budget spend of Áras an Uachtaráin and the Office of the President.  I will only take home the average wage.
·         I will build on the achievements of the peace process and use the next ten years as a Decade of Reconciliation to celebrate the diverse nature of our society.
·         I will champion a charter for inclusion for people with learning, sensory and physicial disabilities across Ireland.
·         I will be a President for all of Ireland and for the global Irish community.

Déanfaidh mé Áras an Uachtaráin fáilteach do gach roinn do shochaí na hÉireann, go háirithe iad siúd a bhí imeallaithe go dtí seo.

Martin McGuinness

Norris Blasts ‘Betrayal’ of Irish Mortgage Holders

Independent presidential candidate David Norris has this morning spoken out against what he calls the “betrayal” of Irish people through the recent Keane Report on mortgage arrears.

Senator Norris noted how the panel who compiled the report consisted of representatives of the banks and not people from organisations such as New Beginnings, a homeowner’s advocacy group. He described this as a “horrifying example of the government putting the protection of the system… above the protection of the people.”

While making his statement outside Leinster House, Norris held a copy of the Keane Report emblazoned with the word ‘Betrayal’.

During his speech, Norris stated “A vote for me is a vote for democracy” and claimed to be the only genuine independent candidate in the election race as he has “never been part of a political party [or] been appointed to a state board”. He denied making such comments was a slur on other independent candidates such as Seán Gallagher, whose links with Fianna Fáil were a recent source of contention, and Mary Davis, who has sat on a number of state boards.

Despite fluctuations in his support, a recent Metro Poll gave him 39% of the vote while the latest Red C poll indicated he garnered just 7%, the senator is optimistic he will poll strongly on 27th October, insisting  “I intend to fight on behalf of all people of Ireland.”

McAleese Concludes Final State Visit

President Mary McAleese has concluded her final foreign tour as the Irish head of State.

The President who was accompanied by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter met with Irish citizens living in Beirut at a reception hosted by the Irish ambassador to Lebanon.

It was the final engagement at the end of hectic three-day trip to the country, during which she met Irish troops serving with the UN.

Mrs McAleese’s very first official overseas trip was to Lebanon in 1997 and 14 years later this tour marked the end of her presidential duties abroad.

Mrs McAleese admitted this weekend that she would miss her time in office, and when asked if she had any advice for her successor, she recommended  they get a comfortable desk chair.

The presidential reins will be handed over to her successor following the October 27 election.

 

Dana`s Statement In Full

Dana Rosemary Scallon shocked candidates on Wednesday`s Prime Time debate when she revealed a statement condemning recent slurs against her family.

Here is the video in full courtesy of RTE.