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.

Higgins Looks Set To Succeed On The Back Of McGuinness’ Allegations

Revelations which were made by Martin McGuinness on Monday night’s Frontline presidential debate, concerning supposedly independent candidate Sean Gallagher’s Fianna Fail fundraising activities at events as recent as 2 years ago, are set to blow previously made election predictions out of the water.

Less than 48 hours after the allegations were made by Sinn Fein candidate Martin McGuinness, all major bookmakers reshuffled their odds, ultimately reinstating Michael D. Higgins as the favourite to win tomorrow’s Presidential election. Bookies such as Paddy Power, BoyleSports, Ladbrokes and William Hill felt the need to shorten Higgins’ odds after they saw an influx of bets being placed on the Labour candidate.

Paddy Power, the main point of reference when considering bookmakers’ odds in any situation, have now priced Michael D. Higgins at 1/5. Sean Gallagher comes in at a not-so-close second place with odds of 3/1, while McGuinness trails behind with a price of 20/1. In spite of these odds, bookmakers still believe  Gallagher is most likely to top the poll, however they believe Higgins will overtake him once transfer votes come into play.

Conspirators may well believe that Martin McGuinness was already in possession of this knowledge, well before Monday night’s debate but held off until the very last moment to deliver this devastating knock-back to the frontrunner in the campaign trail, and they would probably be right. This titbit of information has already proved extremely successful for McGuiness’ campaign, who has already seen his odds slashed by Paddy Power, although he still has little chance of winning.

Contrastingly, Labour’s Michael D. Higgins has faired extremely well following the allegations against the ‘independent’ candidate, Sean Gallagher. Whether it was news of Gallagher’s somewhat shady past, or Higgins’ cunning and sly approach to the situation ( at first telling people to leave Gallagher alone so that he could maintain his ‘nice Grandad’ image, and later telling them to interogate him-once it became clear what Higgins was set to gain from the revelations), Higgins’ is nevertheless set to succeed at tomorrow’s election.

McGuinness Criticised By Families of IRA Victims

A daughter of murdered Jean McConville has criticised the participation of Sinn Fèin’s Martin McGuinness in the Presidential election.

McConville was the mother of ten who was abducted by the IRA in Belfast in 1972 and shot dead. Her body was found 31 years later in 2003 by a passer-by on a Co Louth beach.

Speaking at her home in Co Down, Helen McKendry said: “I don’t think Martin McGuinness should be standing. He should be telling the truth to victims’ families, the whole truth.”

Her husband, Seamus McKendry, also criticised the Derry native: “I think the office of President has too much prestige for any Sinn Féiner to be contesting it.”

The McKendrys demonstrated against Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams when he ran as a Dáil candidate in Co Louth during the last general election.

Elsewhere, the family of Tom Oliver who was kidnapped and killed by the IRA in July 1991 has attacked McGuinness over his failure to say that Mr Oliver was murdered.

 McGuinness said he would not disagree with the families of Oliver or McConville when they described the deaths as murder, despite failing to admit that were actually murdered.

Oliver was a farmer who was kidnapped and killed by the IRA, who believed he was a Garda informer, a claim staunchly denied by his family.

Yesterday evening the son of Mr Oliver, Eugene Oliver, issued a statement via Independent candidate Sean Gallagher`s campaign team on behalf of the family.

In it Eugene Oliver said he was really upset when he heard Mr McGuinness warn another candidate (Gallagher) on The Frontline to tell the truth.

“What shallow hypocrisy from a man who has dined out on weasel words for most of his career,” the statement said.

Mr Oliver said he wanted Mr McGuinness to “stop hiding behind weasel words” and admit that his father and Mrs McConville were murdered by the IRA, which McGuinness was a leading member of.

The statement went on to say that everyone saw the “empty words” of Mr McGuinness on The Frontline programme when he refused to describe their deaths as murder.

“Even at this late stage, with just days to go to polling, he could not find it in his heart to admit my father, along with other innocent people, were murdered,” Mr Oliver said.

“He was gunned down in cold blood and even twenty years after, at this remove my family are entitled to finally and unequivocally hear the words ‘murder’ uttered from his lips,” the statement adds.

 

Gallagher Controversy May Prove A Blessing For Higgins

Controversy surrounding Seán Gallagher following Monday night’s presidential debate, which was aired on RTÉ and chaired by Pat Kenny, may work out extraordinarily well for Michael D. Higgins.

Higgins who, despite being Gallagher’s only real rival in the presidential campaign, has been lagging well behind him in recent days. However following revelations which were brought to light by Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness concerning all of: “independent” candidate Seán Gallagher, a cheque for €5,000, a brown envelope and a Fianna Fáil event, Higgins could soon regain his position as forerunner in the 2011 presidential election.

Following McGuinness’s remarks, Gallagher conceded that the allegation could possibly hold some weight, before unconvincingly claiming that he could not remember with certainty one way or the other, and then finally confirming that there may be some truth in the statement made by the Sinn Féin candidate. Michael D. Higgins, who managed to escape the Frontline interrogation unscathed, was reported by a poll carried out on The Journal.ie, to have emerged from the presidential debate in the best condition with 39% of the public admitting that he came across better than the other participants.

Whether Higgins takes pleasure in doing a character assassination on Gallagher, or if he sees it as his moral obligation to the nation (etc., etc., etc.), he has nevertheless brandished his opponent as being a candidate who “lacks substance”, and implied that Gallagher is somewhat dodgy (in relation to business ownership and tax returns at least), over the last week. Higgins’ proved the depth of his underhandedness when he refused to get involved in the supposed Gallagher scandal on Monday night, and then yesterday urged the public to seek answers in relation to the allegations when he said on ‘Midlands 103’ Radio yesterday that: “these remarks are very serious questions to which the public’s entitled to an answer and the answer should come quickly and it should be regarded as a matter of urgency”.

Whatever else, nobody can fault Michael D. Higgins on his ability to optimize on controversial rumours about his main competitor. It remains to be seen however whether or not Monday night’s presidential debate will infringe upon Gallagher’s ability to maintain his electoral following throughout Ireland and proceed to be the next President of Ireland. Whatever happens, it is clear that Higgins is far more cunning than anyone would have thought.

Gallagher Launches Stinging Attack on Sinn Fèin Smear Campaign

Independent Presidential candidate Seán Gallagher has accused Sinn Féin of organising and orchestrating a smear campaign designed to take him out of the Presidential campaign.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Dragons Den star  Gallagher said Sinn Féin had put together a “dirty tricks” campaign to reduce his standing amongst the electorate.

He told radio host Pat Kenny, who also chaired last night`s debate,  that the dirty tricks campaign from Sinn Féin followed his call last week for people who have information on the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe to make it known to authorities.

He said when he topped the polls last week he was made aware that Sinn Féin, in particular in border areas, would put him under what he called “amazing attacks”.

Gallagher said last night’s Frontline debate had been an “ambush” and a “hatchet job” organised by Sinn Féin, adding it was “an approach they are well used to”.

Commenting on the accusation that he received a cheque on behalf of Fianna Fáil from a donor in Co Louth, Mr Gallagher said he had told the absolute truth about the issue and did not remember what happened.

The Cavan native said he stood over everything he had done in business as being impeccable and with complete honesty.

He said he would remain focused on his ambition to restore a bright economic future for the country and would not be falling fowl of any further political assassination attempts being orchestarted by Sinn Féin.

Martin McGuinness has since revealed that he will not be exposing the identity of the man who called him to make the revelations about Gallagher’s dealings.

Meanwhile, in a further blow to his campaign,  a number of GAA clubs n Louth have come forward to state that they paid Gallagher €5000 to act as a consultant in order to get them grants.

 

McGuinness Has No Knowledge of Callers Identity

 

Martin McGuinness said he does not know anything about the man who telephoned him before the debate claiming that he gave Mr Gallagher a cheque for €5,000 at a Fianna Fáil event in a Dundalk hotel in 2008 or 2009.

The Sinn Fèin candidate said he does not know whether ”the envelope was white or brown, but it is the brown envelope culture that destroyed the Irish people’s economy”.

He said what we saw on the programme from Mr Gallagher was ”a very clear admission” that what he had said was true. The Cavan native originally denied the claims but was forced to come clean after it was revealed via McGuinness` Twitter that Sinn Fèin would identify the man involved.

Mr McGuinness said the man who made the phone call has not indicated to him whether or not he would make a public statement on the matter. Gallagher had stated that the man involved was a fuel smuggler who has in very strong links to Sinn Fèin leader Gerry Adams.

Asked whether the revelations during the debate had damaged him, Mr Gallagher said that since he became a frontrunner in this campaign, he well expected, like everyone else, that there would be ”lots of these types of attacks”. He did not take any further questions.

Gallagher`s credibility has become tarnished after these revelations and the race to become president has been blown wide open once again.

Candidates Target Gallagher At Newstalk Debate

The focus of today’s Newstalk/Google debate took on a similar theme with numerous candidates opting to have a dig at independent candidate Sèan Gallagher’s Fianna Fàil links.

Martin McGuinness argued his belief that Gallagher is still involved with the party who he said had brought the country to its knees.

“I do think that there is no doubt whatsoever that Seán has been up to his neck in Fianna Fáil,” said the Sinn Fèin candidate.

“It is not a crime for Seán to be involved with Fianna Fáil. But Fianna Fáil is the party that ran the economy into the ground. Fianna Fáil was the party that was involved in the brown envelope culture the Galway tent and involved in betraying the people of Ireland.”

Mr McGuinness also said voters must decide whether they want a representative of an establishment party elected to the Áras. 

“People can decide to continue with the same old, same old, or they can vote for someone who represents a break from the past and someone who looks to new beginnings and who wants to stand by the ordinary people of Ireland at this very difficult time.”

Labour candidate Michael D Higgins also attacked Mr Gallagher’s connection with Fianna Fáil today, saying it was up to the public to look at different backgrounds and manifestos and warned that he believed about a fifth of voters remain undecided.

“I’ve no doubt at all in my mind that all the candidates are people who love Ireland in their own way. The issue is about who has a track record of turning vision into practical reality,” the Labour candidate said.

“Every single thing I did, from being a councillor right to a TD to a minister, was turned into a reality. That’s why I have such a solid core of voters.” Mr Higgins said transfers from every source will be hugely important and he will secure them from all quarters.

Higgins latest outburst on Gallagher`s past links have become a reoccurring theme since polls put the independent candidate ahead of the chasing pack.

 

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.

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

McGuinness and O’Callaghan make peace

Its been almost a week since their icy exchange on RTE’s Primetime television program, but today it seemed tensions had thawed between the Sinn Fein presidential candidate Martin McGuinness and Primetime host Miriam O’Callaghan as they shook hands outside the mansion house. The meeting between the pair came as they prepared to attend a presidential forum on disability organised by inclusion Ireland.

According to O’Callaghan they had a friendly conversation and she went on to say that she continued to ‘ like and respect all the seven candidates’ . However, she refused to be drawn on what was said during their one to one meeting following McGuinness’ objection to her line of questioning, explaining that it ‘was a private meeting between two people so my lips are sealed’.

McGuinness will hope his display of no ill feelings towards the RTE presenter will draw a line under the matter. The incident had somewhat undermined his campaign with many suggesting his reaction and subsequent demand for a one to one meeting following the show were ‘bully’ boy tactics and conveyed a man full of anger . With his campaign centered around his peace making skills it seems that this meeting with the popular presenter will have done him no harm, as he looks to distance himself from his IRA past.

The Sinn Fein candidate had taken offence to what he believed was unfair treatment on the RTE show and later had a private meeting with Miriam O’Callaghan, to which sources said left O’Callaghan visibly ‘shaken’. The host had earlier inquired about McGuinness’ IRA past and asked ‘how do you square, Martin McGuinness, with your God, the fact that you were involved in the murder of so many people?’

The latest poll conducted by the Sunday Business Post had Martin McGuinness third favorite to win the race for the Aras, behind Sean Gallagher and Michael D. Higgins.