by Frank Schnittger
Mon Jan 10th, 2011 at 12:57:27 PM EST
Senator David Norris, independent politician, Joycean Scholar, Wildean wit, Shavian sage and possible next President of Ireland.
| Poll places Norris in lead for Áras - The Irish Times|
An opinion poll suggests Senator David Norris is the favourite among potential candidates to be the next President.
The gay rights campaigner and Joycean scholar is favoured by 27 per cent of voters, while Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness comes second, on 13 per cent, according to a Red C survey commissioned by Paddy Power.
It shows former taoiseach Bertie Ahern is third on 12 per cent.
The survey was based on a telephone poll of a 1,000 adults, aged over 18 conducted between January 4th and 6th.
Potential Labour candidates Michael D Higgins and Fergus Finlay split the vote between them, with the poll suggesting one of the candidates could take close to 20 per cent support.
Nothing illustrates the changing nature of Irish society more dramatically than the finding of a recent opinion poll that an openly gay, intellectual, protestant, liberal/left leaning independent with almost no political base and a posh British accent is the most popular choice for the next Irish president.
See my Diary on David Norris here. As an independent he still faces a difficult hurdle in gaining a nomination to run in the Presidential election due this October. In order to run in the election, a candidate must be nominated by at least twenty serving members of the Oireachtas (parliament), or at least four county or city councils.
As Labour is likely to nominate either Fergus Finlay or Michael D Higgins, a nomination from that quarter is unlikely. (Mary Robinson was an independent when nominated by the Labour party - even though she was a former member). This raises the possibility that David Norris could be nominated by Sinn Fein and a slew of independents elected to the Dail after the General election expected in March. It would be a huge propaganda coup for Sinn Fein if they were to nominate the successful candidate - as it was for the Labour Party when Mary Robinson won.
As David Norris is a protestant as well as a an openly gay gay rights campaigner, it would also burnish Sinn Fein's non-sectarian and equal opportunities credentials. I have seen no speculation that Sinn Fein might make such a move, but a promise to support Norris's nomination seems to me to be a golden opportunity for Sinn Fein to outflank Labour and gain much broader acceptability on the left/liberal spectrum of Irish society - and even amongst conservative Irish protestants and secularists more generally.
The comparisons with Mary Robinson's transformative term as Irish President are apt. David and Mary were both elected Senators for the Trinity College Dublin constituency, and collaborated closely on the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform. Women's equality has made significant strides in Irish society since her election, and the cause of non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation would similarly receive a huge fillip should Norris be elected.
The poll also confirms former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern's fall from grace. Once an extremely popular Taoiseach, he has taken much of the blame for the economic collapse and his support - at 12% - mirrors Fianna Fail's current standing in opinion polls.
Michael D Higgins is a veteran Labour politician and cabinet minister. sociologist and poet; whilst Fergus Finlay is a popular former chef de cabinet of the Irish Labour Party, media commentator and Chief Executive of the Barnardo's children's charity in Ireland. Their combined support of c. 20% in the poll mirrors Labour's current standing in opinion polls.
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness is a former journalist and somewhat undistinguished member of the European Parliament. It should be noted that no candidate has yet been formally nominated and many potential candidates have not yet declared their interest. Public attention will not shift to the Presidential election until some time after the general election expected in March.
In the past, nominations to run in a Presidential election have been effectively monopolised by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour, as only these parties had any prospect of holding 20 Parliamentary seats or controlling four County or City Councils. However if current opinion polls prove to be accurate, then Sinn Fein and various left leaning independents could achieve the 20 seat threshold and gain the power to nominate a candidate for the first time.