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A record 7 candidates for Irish Presidency

by Frank Schnittger Thu Sep 29th, 2011 at 05:25:01 PM EST

The Irish Presidential campaign finally enters its formal campaign phase with the deadline for valid nominations closing at 12.00 noon yesterday. Polling day is the 27th. October. A record 7 candidates have managed to reach the minimum threshold for nomination - the support of 20 members of either house of parliament or four county councils. The office of President itself is largely a ceremonial one so the campaign focus is on personalities and on social/moral/value issues which tells us much about how Irish voters see themselves and want to see themselves represented in Ireland and beyond.

The three most significant events in the lead up to the campaign were the failure of Fianna Fail - the major party of Government since the founding of the state - to nominate any candidate; the nomination by Sinn Fein of Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland; and the resurrection of the campaign by David Norris who had earlier withdrawn his candidacy in the face of a controversy surrounding letters he had written to the Israeli High Court in support of a clemency plea for his former partner on a charge of statutory rape of a Palestinian minor.

The campaign seems destined to be dominated by controversies surrounding McGuinness' former role as an IRA commander, and Norris' judgement in supporting a former partner on statutory rape charges. However the range of candidates on offer is likely to confer a significance to the campaign out of all proportion to the importance of the Office of President itself. The seven declared candidates (in order of their level of first preference support in a recent opinion poll in brackets) are as follows:


David Norris, Independent, (21%)

Instrumental in the elimination of discrimination against gays in Ireland and a long time champion of civil and human rights generally. I have mixed feelings about his candidacy and feel he will do well on first preferences but lose out to a blander candidate on transfers of lower preference votes.  However, the very fact that he retains substantial support in the wake of the scandal surrounding his views on pederasty and support for a former partner convicted of statutory rape in Israel is a sign of how far Irish public morality has moved in the past two decades.  He deserves a significant amount of the credit for that change, and if nothing else, will enliven what could have been a very dull campaign.

Michael D. Higgins, Labour, (18%)

A long-standing Labour member of parliament and cabinet minister, Michael D., as he is popularly known, has a distinguished record on human rights issues and has also written books as a sociologist and poet. Now 70 years of age, his candidacy has uncomfortable echoes of the time when Áras an Uachtaráin - the Presidential Mansion - was seen as a retirement home for senior politicians. However it would be unfair to typecast him as a typical establishment figure and he is likely to do well on transfers of lower preference votes.

Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein,(16%)

Together with Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness has been the key leader of Sinn Fein and leading architect of the Peace Process.  He has never hidden his early membership of the IRA but there is controversy as to how prominent he was in its military activities - with many security briefings describing him as its Chief of Staff. Although many of the founding members of the Irish state and prominent members of early governments had backgrounds in the fight for independence and 1922 civil war, many regard his candidacy as inappropriate as the President is titular head of the Irish Army which was only so recently at war with the IRA. He may not do well on transfers of lower preference votes, but his candidacy is a brilliant coup by Sinn Fein exploiting the failure of Fianna Fail to nominate a candidate and could well allow Sinn Fein to supplant Fianna Fail as the third largest party in the state at the next general election.

Mary Davis, Independent, (13%)

A prominent disability campaigner and CEO of the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games, Mary Davis' main handicap is that many feel that three Presidents in a row named Mary might be a bit much! (She would be following in the footsteps of Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese). However she is politically savvy, genuinely independent, and very transfer friendly, so she may well be the dark horse of the campaign.

Gay Mitchell, Fine Gael, (13%)

Gay Mitchell is a socially conservative working class politician in a middle class dominated Fine Gael party who upset the party leadership by challenging their preferred nominee for the election - Pat Cox, former President of the European Parliament. Never a Cabinet Minister, he has nevertheless been a reasonably active member of the European Parliament and is a proven vote getter in his Dublin bailiwick. With Fine Gael's popular support still at c. 40% in the polls, he has failed to inspire even his own party's core vote but the presence of Norris and McGuinness on the ballot paper is sure to mobilise more conservative Fine Gael voters and I would expect him to poll considerably better than current opinion polls indicate.

Sean Gallagher, Independent, (11%)

At 49, the youngest candidate in the race, Sean Gallagher is running as a former farmer, youth worker, community activist, entrepreneur, and current reality TV personality whilst downplaying the fact that he was, until last year, a member of the Fianna Fail national executive and their Director of Elections in his local constituency.  The Fianna Fail brand has become so toxic in the wake of the banking scandals that Fianna Fail have failed to nominate a candidate of their own to avoid humiliation and Sean Gallagher will probably get much of their residual vote whilst claiming to be running as an Independent.

Dana Rosemary Scallon, Independent, (6%)

Dana is a former Eurovision Song Contest winner, MEP, and conservative Christian broadcaster in the USA who received 14% of the vote in the last contested Irish Presidential election in 1997. Although there is undoubtedly still a strong social conservative vote in Ireland which will be energised by the presence of Norris and McGuinness on the ballot paper, she has been languishing in the polls probably because she is seen as something of a relic from a bygone age when conservative Catholicism was the unquestioned prevailing ruling ideology of the land. Her transfers will probably go mainly to McGuinness (a fellow northerner) and Gay Mitchell, another relatively socially conservative candidate.

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The 7 candidates provide quite a wide spectrum of political views ranging from the nationalist left of Martin McGuinness and the traditional left of Michael D. Higgins to the socially progressive David Norris and the more conservative Dana and Gay Mitchell. Because this is a single transferable vote  election where voters vote 1,2,3 in order of their preference, the final outcome is likely to be determined by 4, 5, 6 and 7th. preference votes which tends to favour the blander and more centrist candidates who do not actively repel centrist or moderate voters. Opinion polls in the early stages of a presidential campaign are notoriously inaccurate guides of final voting behaviour, and any of the top five candidates above probably still have a realistic chance of being elected.

In many ways this election is but a distraction from the very real economic and political problems facing the nation, and yet the campaign will undoubtedly contribute to a sense that the Irish polity is still capable of generating the democratic legitimacy which has played a significant role in preventing riots in the street as in Greece. If Norris is elected, he may be the only openly gay head of state in the World. If McGuinness is elected it will confer legitimacy to a recent urban guerilla campaign and set Sinn Fein up to replace Fianna Fail as a major force in Irish politics. Mary Davis would continue a recent tradition of strong, independently minded women in the highest office in the land and Michael D. Higgins would help to cement the rise of Labour as the second largest party in the state. A success for Gay Mitchell would provide a further popular endorsement for the relatively conservative policies of the Fine Gael led government.

The Office of President may not, of itself, be particularly powerful, but the campaign and result of this election will give an interesting insight into how the Irish polity is developing in response to the current economic and political crisis in Ireland and Europe.

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For what its worth, at this early stage of the campaign, my money is on Michael D. or Mary Davis, simply because they are in a better position to pick up transfers from other candidates. The quota for a I seat election is 50%+1 vote which is a tall order for a controversial candidate like Norris, McGuinness or Dana to achieve.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Sep 29th, 2011 at 07:14:02 PM EST
The failure of Fianna Fail to nominate a candidate almost deserves a diary of its own, where it not for the fact that very few people now give a damn about Fianna Fail.  Brian Crowley MEP had been campaigning actively for a nomination. His chief distinction is that he is an MEP with a disability - he is in a wheelchair following an accident.  

The party leadership, no doubt seeing this election as another opportunity for the electorate to humiliate Fianna Fail, were less than enthusiastic.  Then Brian Crowley got into a huff and announced he was no longer interested. In desperation the party leadership sought an independent candidate of unimpeachable popularity whom they could nominate - Gay Byrne - doyen of Irish TV broadcasters.  After toying with the idea and his ego for a while Gay Byrne, now 77, eventually turned them down, leaving the party leadership with even more egg on its face.

Some Fianna Failers - chiefly Deputy Leader Eamon O'Cuiv - party traditionalist and grandson of party founder and former President Eamon De Valera - felt that Fianna Fail might become totally irrelevant to the national conversation if they didn't field a candidate and challenged the leadership position.  An obscure Senator, Labhrás O'Murchu, a social conservative and traditional music promoter sought a Fianna Fail nomination to run as an independent.

No doubt noting his standing at 1% in the polls, the party leadership refused to back down - but not before Eamon O'Cuiv threatened his resignation and suggest there might be a need to look beyond Fianna Fail for national renewal. Seeing Fianna Fail in absolute turmoil and finally deciding not to field a candidate, Sinn Fein suddenly decided to put their best candidate in the field, despite the fact that Martin McGuinness is currently serving as Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland. (They had previously speculatied about putting up a much lower profile candidate Michelle Gildernew which may have lulled Fianna Fail into a false sense of security).

This means that Sinn Fein will be central to this campaign with fianna Fail nowhere to be seen - and still falling in the opinion polls.  Sinn Fein, Labour, and Fianna Fail are all now at about 15% in the polls. With Labour becoming increasingly unpopular because of their role in implementing austerity measures and Fianna Fail sidelined, the path is now clear for Sinn Fein to supplant both and become the second largest party in the country - even if they only put up a respectable showing in this election.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Sep 30th, 2011 at 11:53:37 AM EST
I think it's great that we have quite a wide range of candidates for an office which doesn't have a whole lot of power. It allows people to think long term about the Ireland they want rather than the immediate bread and butter issues which are the business of the Government rather than the President.

Dana seems to want Ireland to return to a pre-EU era where conservative Catholicism ruled the roost.

Whatever McGuinness' achievements in Northern Ireland, do we really want to put the NI troubles back to centre stage in Ireland? It seems to me his real objective is to help Sinn Fein supplant Fianna Fail as the second or third largest party in Ireland.

Gallagher seems to be running for CEO of Board Failte or Enterprise Ireland.

If Fine Gael never thought it proper to promote Gay Mitchell to cabinet rank, why should we consider him suitable to be our first citizen? At least Pat Cox has held a very senior position before and done so with some distinction. John Bruton is a former Taoiseach who didn't begger the country but he had better things to do with his time. So we are left with a candidate whom even Fine Gael never rated very highly.

Worthy though Mary Davis' achievements may be, she had nothing to say beyond what a wonderful person she is for working for the disabled.

David Norris seems to think that the louder he shouts the sooner people will stop asking about his letters in support of his former partner. His "legal" argument simply doesn't wash.  Has the Victim of the crime requested that the letters should not be published? If he has legal advice he should publish it so that it can be subjected to public scrutiny.

That sort of leaves Michael D. as the least worst option.  He too has never been a major player in Government (holding one of the most junior cabinet ministries for a time) and who has read his poetry or sociology?  He does have a decent record on human rights and that is probably his saving grace. I just wish he didn't adopt that sanctimonious tone.

Unfortunately, with the Office having so little power we are left with vacuous platitudes and personalities to debate rather than serious policy issues. Bread and circuses without the bread...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Oct 1st, 2011 at 04:33:03 PM EST
McGuinness loses ground in Irish president race - poll | Reuters

(Reuters) - Former Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander Martin McGuinness has slipped to fifth from third in the race to become Ireland's president, a poll showed on Sunday, as his Sinn Fein party struggles to match its success in Northern Ireland.

After a wave of criticism of his violent past and accusations he is misrepresenting the extent of his role in the IRA, support for McGuinness has fallen over the last two weeks to 11 percent from 17 percent, ahead of the October 27 election.

Voters instead look set to choose either poet and former culture minister Michael D. Higgins or openly gay senator David Norris, a scholar in the works of novelist James Joyce, for the largely ceremonial role.

Higgins has the support of 27 percent and Norris 20 percent of voters, the Quantum Research/Sunday Independent poll found.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2011 at 03:07:18 PM EST
Amazingly I can find no reference to this story in the on line version of today's Sunday Independent.  Their polls have to be treated with extreme caution because they are often based on small samples, leading questions, and very tendentious "analysis"...

To compare a candidate's current support level with that of two weeks ago is nonsensical because 2 weeks ago no one knew how many candidates were going to succeed in getting a nomination. Norris and Dana, in particular, only secured nominations at the last minute and McGuinness was also sprung on the campaign as a big and late surprise. The Independent is running a rapidly anti-McGuinness campaign which makes anything they say suspect.

I think it will still take some time for voters to make up their minds and for polls to settle into a consistent pattern.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Oct 2nd, 2011 at 07:54:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did think a drop from 17% to 11% in two weeks was strange.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2011 at 01:39:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The piece is by Reuters Dublin correspondent Conor Humphries.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2011 at 01:43:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Finally found it in the Sindo buried in a tendentious article parroting Fine Gael talking points:

Phil Hogan warns: No terrorist in the Aras - National News - Independent.ie

Excluding the Don't Knows, the poll shows: Michael D Higgins (27 per cent), David Norris (20 per cent), Sean Gallagher (13 per cent), Mary Davis (12 per cent), Martin McGuinness (11 per cent), Gay Mitchell (10 per cent) and Dana Rosemary Scallon (7 per cent).

For the first time the 500 people polled nationwide were also asked for their second preference: analysis shows that Mr Higgins is by far most the most transfer friendly candidate, which presents a conclusion that the election is his to lose.

For example, according to the poll, Mr Higgins will win the second preferences of supporters of Ms Davis (29 per cent), Mr Gallagher (27 per cent), Mr McGuinness (23 per cent), Mr Mitchell (28 per cent), Mr Norris (45 per cent) and Dana Rosemary Scallon (22 per cent).

At 20 per cent overall support, Mr Norris also performs reasonably well on second preference votes in the poll, but at this early stage he is short of the level of support required to mount a serious challenge to Mr Higgins.

A 500 respondent poll has a MOE of +/- 6% so one shouldn't read too much into the figures, however at least the Sindo - unlike Reuters - does not make the mistake of comparing this poll with a previous poll taken when the  field of candidates had not even been finalised. The story itself is a pretty desperate attempt by Fine Gael to revive the fortunes of its candidate, Gay Mitchell, by talking up the "terrorist in the park" factor and mobilising their own base.  Typically, in Irish politics, such a campaign ends up damaging their own candidate and helping a third party - in this case Michel D. Higgins - who has not engaged in such tactics.


Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Oct 3rd, 2011 at 05:40:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Norris support plummets as Higgins leads latest poll - The Irish Times - Wed, Oct 05, 2011
When people were asked who they would vote for if the presidential election was held tomorrow, the figures (when undecided voters were excluded) compared to the last Irish Times  poll on July 19th were: Michael D Higgins 23 per cent (up five points); Sean Gallagher 20 per cent (up seven points); Martin McGuinness 19 per cent (not in last poll); Mary Davis 12 per cent (no change); David Norris 11 per cent (down 14 points); Gay Mitchell 9 per cent (down 11 points); and Dana Rosemary Scallon 6 per cent (not in last poll).

The poll was on Monday and Tuesday of this week among a representative sample of 1,000 voters aged 18 and over, in face-to-face interviews at 100 sampling points in all 43 constituencies. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 per cent.

With three weeks to go before the presidential election the poll indicates that unless there is some dramatic development it will come down to a battle between Mr Higgins, Mr Gallagher and Mr McGuinness with the issue being decided on transfers.

Mr Higgins does best when it comes to attracting second preferences, followed by Mr Gallagher while Mr McGuinness does worst of the leading candidates.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Oct 5th, 2011 at 04:41:28 PM EST


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