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.


The Truth About Rumours Involving Dana Emerge

In a statement released last evening Dana confirmed that the “vile and false” accusations she referred to on Wednesday’s Prime Time surfaced during a court case five years ago, are of sexual nature and are now “conveniently” surfacing again for her presidential campaign.

During a 2008 court battle in Iowa over copyright issues, claims were made that Dana’s brother John Brown had sexually abused his other sister’s daughter Susan Gorrell.

Dr Stein, Susan’s father, who was present at the court hearing, told the courts that in 2005 John had phoned him to confess to the sexual abuse of his daughter Susan.

The sexual abuse claims were later denied by John Brown, a member of Dana’s election campaign team, and he was never found guilty for any of the claims made against him.

Dana said that a free-lance journalist had contacted her claiming that he was going to run a story dealing with the allegations and trying to implicate her.

The independent candidate further believes that the campaign of hatred is peddled from a specific source but she said that to walk away from the presidential campaign would be to give support to the orchestrated campaign.

Dana is expected to the canvassing in the Galway area today as she continues her race for presidency.

Dana Stands Defiant Amidst Vile Allegations

Independent Presidential candidate Dana Rosemary Scallon has rejected vile allegations made against a member of her family.

In a TV3 interview this evening, the former Eurovision winner also confirmed that she intends to stay in the Presidential campaign, despite rumours to the contrary.

Ms Scallon said the only two times such allegations have been made were during a US court case several years ago and now during the Presidential campaign. She referred to allegations, which were of an “untrue, malicious and vile nature”, during a debate RTE’s Prime Time on Wednesday night.

Dana, who was visibly affected during the interview also referred to a “threatening” e-mail she has received, which is understood to have originated in the US.

A spokesperson has said her legal team in the US is dealing with the matter. An extract from the email shown to TV3 reads   : “HAHAHAHAHAH – The ***** finally gets what she deserves.”

The Derry native revelead that a freelance reporter had contacted her and said the allegation would be extensively covered.

Ms Scallon said it was an attempt to make her stand down, but she will not stand down.

There had been speculation today that she may withdraw as she has not been campaigning for the past two days and was thought to be seeking advice on her future plans.

However It it is now legally to late to have her name removed from the ballot paper, so even if she announced she was withdrawing her name would remain on the 27 October ballot.

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.

‘Don’t pigeon-hole me’ – Norris

Echoing comments he made on last night’s ‘Prime Time’ debate, Senator David Norris urged the public not to “pigeon-hole” him as he is much more than a one dimensional candidate.

While being interviewed on this morning’s Ray D’Arcy show on Today FM Mr Norris conceded that many people view him as nothing more than a tripartite character – gay rights activist, Georgian architecture enthusiast and Joycean literature scholar. Valid aspects of his personality though they may be, he reminded listeners of his human rights advocacy and senatorial track record.

During the interview, he vehemently denied being “soft” regarding the age of consent and insisted that the safeguarding of children was of the utmost importance to him.

Despite the many setbacks encountered during his campaign, Senator Norris is adamant that he can once again turn the tide and regain lost ground. He was positive when Mr D’Arcy asked if he could bounce back from his recent dip in the polls – many of which now rate him as the fourth most popular candidate. He mentioned the fact he topped a recent Metro poll with 39% of the vote but admitted that such a high showing was aided by his popularity in urban areas.

If elected, Norris pledged to dedicate the first 26 months of his Presidency to individual counties in order to highlight and celebrate their various achievements.

Martin McGuinness disappointed with Prime Time presenter

Last night all seven candidates for the Aras election 2011 joined Miriam O’Callaghan for RTE’s Prime Time debate but one candidate felt the proceedings were unfair.

Martin McGuiness, Sinn Fein’s hopeful in the presidential election, described the way he was treated as a “trial by television”.

Derry-born McGuinness, a former senior figure in the Provisional IRA, was questioned on his past by the TV presenter.

O’Callaghan asked McGuinness how he felt about being involved in the murder of so many people during the Northern Ireland troubles. McGuinness said that this was a disgraceful comment to make and tried to justify his past.

At one point the presenter argued that it would be humiliating for the Irish people to have a leader who had been involved in IRA killings.

O’Callaghan continued to challenge McGuinness by going round all the other candidates asking if they “had a problem” with Martin McGuinness being the head of State. She however neglected to ask McGuinness if he felt if the other candidates were suitable for president.

During this afternoon’s visit to the Cavan Institute, McGuinness confirmed that he had requested a one-to-one meeting with O’Callaghan after the show, where he expressed his disappointment in the way the debate was handled.

Prime Time Presidential Debate – More Questions than Answers?

For the most part, the second ‘Prime Time’ presidential debate covered well-trodden ground and didn’t tell us anything new. However, there were sporadic bursts of life throughout the 90 minute exchange, including Martin McGuinness labelling Miriam O’Callaghan’s line of questioning as “stupid” and independent candidate Seán Gallagher being branded a member of the Fianna Fáil “gene pool”.

Perhaps, however, the most pivotal moment of the debate came towards its end as Dana Rosemary Scallon unexpectedly read out a statement claiming that allegations “of a most untrue, malicious and vile nature” were being made against a family member and would soon become public knowledge. When urged to elaborate on these allegations, Ms Scallon refused. Although she insisted her family had sought legal advice and would “leave no stone unturned to expose the malicious intent at the heart of these untrue allegations”. As of yet, no more details have emerged regarding her comments and what they may refer to. In a further twist, Ms Scallon will not be out on the campaign trail today.

Senator David Norris empathised with Dana during the debate as he said he understood what it was like to be the victim of a media “firestorm”.

Dana’s full statement can be viewed here:

In the earlier stages of the debate, Mr McGuinness was extensively questioned on his past association with the IRA. He took particular exception when Miriam O’Callaghan asked him how he squared his Catholic beliefs with being involved with an organisation that played a part in the murder of so many people. He said he believed that when people are being treated as second class citizens, they have the right to resist. He also labelled the suggestion that he knows specific details about the killings of individuals as “stupid”. He went on to state that he “unreservedly condemned” the killings of defence forces and Gardaí during the Troubles, adding that “A very large percentage of the Irish army are going to vote for me in this election.”

The candidates remained relatively silent when Ms O’Callaghan asked whether they had reservations with Mr McGuinness’s name being present on the ballot paper. Mr Norris stated he was “extremely glad that Martin McGuinness has abandoned violence and turned toward party political methods” while Mary Davis, when asked directly, said that McGuinness has a democratic right to stand in the election and it’s up to the people to decide his placing in the polls. When Ms Davis went on to say she didn’t see the role of the President as a political one, Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell accused her of not fully understanding the position.

Seán Gallagher denied being a closet Fianna Fáiler despite his past association with the party, whom he refused to criticise for the role they played in the country’s economic downturn. He admitted that he considered running for Fianna Fáil in last general election, but George Lee’s short-lived stint as a member of Fine Gael led him to believe he would achieve little in party politics.

When questioned, Labour’s Michael D Higgins was adamant that, if elected, he would have no issue with travelling to Israel despite his vocal support for Palestine. He said he has spent his political life promoting human rights at home and abroad.

According to the candidates, the most important roles of the President are as follows:

McGuinness: The chief responsibility of the president is to protect the constitution.

Davis: The most important power the president has is in Article 26; the ability to refer bills to the supreme court.

Gallagher: The most important powers of the president are to set a “theme” and to represent the country abroad.

Higgins: The powers in Article 13.2 are where you stamp yourself on the presidency. It is important that the president isn’t assuming the will of the parliament.

Dana: Maintaining the constitution on behalf of the people is the most important role of the president.

Norris: Being the voice of the people is the most important power of the president.

Mitchell: The single most important power the president has is the mandate from the people.