(The President of Ireland is called Uachtarain na hEireann and the home of the president is called the Aras an Uachtarain.)
They’re referred to as the Magnificent 7, the 7 Dwarves, the 7 Samurai or the 7 Deadly Sinners. That’s right……..there are 7 people running for President of Ireland. Who are they and how did they get here?
Ireland has a parliamentary system of government; ie the leader of the majority party elected to the Dail (or lower house) is the Taoiseach (tee’ shawk) or Prime Minister. Because the ruling party often doesn’t receive the required quota of votes, they must form a coalition government with another party. At this point,we have Fine Gael and their junior partner, Labour. The former government, led by Fianna Fail and in power almost exclusively since the 1930s, was overwhelmingly rejected at the last general election in March. The excesses of Fianna Fail are universally blamed for Ireland’s current economic crisis. Fianna Fail, by edict of their party leader, decided not to run a candidate and forbade members to support any other candidates. Okay, so far, so good.
There is also an uachtarain, a president, who has extremely limited powers…..almost more of a meet and greet, state funerals and such type of job, for 7 years with only 2 terms allowed. For decades, this was considered a “nice old-gentleman retirement scheme” for career politicos. But the last 2 presidents have been women, both named Mary, Now, that’s 28 years of “Sainted Marys”……look good, mind your manners, do no harm.
Why would all these people want the job? Well, the salary is good, about $445,000 per year, a lifetime pension, get to live in the Aras (House) in the Phoenix Park, a gorgeous Georgian pile, travel the world on behalf of The World’s Friendliest People and greet visitors to Ireland, like Obama and the Queen of England. Oh right…………….hmmmmmmmmm, more about that later.
So, who ARE these 7 and how did they get here? Well, they got to this point in several ways. Candidates can be nominated by gaining the signatures of 20 TDs (representatives) and/or Senators (THAT unelected, appointed lot are a whole other story for another time!). Not a problem if you’re supported by your political party as are 3 of them. (Well, one has very lukewarm backing, as he wasn’t the choice of the leader of his party.) If one is an Independent, those signatures can be a bit harder to obtain so there is the alternative of going to the local county or city councils for their backing. A total of 4 council nominations is required.
The election date of October 27 was announced in May and nominations closed at noon on September 29. It was a scramble right to the end for 2 of the hopefuls. And now we are just over halfway through the 4 week official campaign period. Is all this as clear as mud? And you thought the American primary and electoral college systems were flawed? Here, it’s very intense, nasty, back-stabbing, dirty, etc BUT it’s over in 4 weeks!
Okay, so who ARE they, you’re asking. I’m going to do this alphabetically as it’s the most objective and least judgemental way I can think of. (You may be able to determine what I really think of each of these characters, however.)
MARY DAVIS She’s running as an Independent, having secured the backing of more than the required 4 councils late in the summer. She is CEO of Special Olympics Ireland. It seemed as though she could become the third “Sainted Mary of the Aras”, completing the Trinity, however it has come to light that she benefitted hugely (financially) from being appointed by the now-hated Fianna Fall regime, to many boards and directorships, especially in the “public sector”. For this, despite her protestation of never having been an insider or belonging to toxic Fianna Fall, she has acquired the moniker of “Queen of the Quangos”. (A quango is a task force, committee or council set up, by the government, to “study” a problem.) She’s fallen way down in the polls in spite of her lovely campaign posters which depict her in full stride wearing a form-fitting red dress…..much like an ad for Special K.
SEAN GALLAGHER He, too, came to be in the race through the backing of 4 local councils. (After he had his 4, he asked all other councils to NOT nominate him so they would be available to support other Independent candidates. Nice touch – Mary Davis didn’t do the same.) He was born with a congenital birth defect that left him virtually blind but after early operations did regain most of his sight. He was a farmer in a border county, built and lost several businesses and was a judge on the Dragon’s Den reality TV show (sort of like an X Factor for inventors and entrepreneurs). Gallagher joined Fianna Fall as a teenager and was a long-time member (most successful business people were) including serving on the National Executive. He said that he quit the party in 2009 but recently his official resignation letter surfaced, dated January 2011. His nose got a little longer. He’s run a very clean campaign, very Mr Nice Guy and refuses to discuss other candidates. He’s never run in an election before and although in his early 50s, is the youngest candidate. Last week he surged to the number 2 spot in the polls. Personally, I think his entrepreneurial abilities would better serve the country in a position where he could actually do something like create jobs, boost the economy, add value, offer opportunities to the many young, well-educated people who are finding no choice but to emigrate and bestow their vast talents on other nations. A tall, well-built man with a shaved head, one journalist has described him as looking suspiciously like her thumb.
MICHAEL D HIGGINS Michael D, as he’s always called, is a career politician, a Labour TD, so he had the 20 signatures from his party handily. He’s been around a long, long time. He’s a tiny, white-haired man from the West of Ireland known as a Gaelic poet and long-winded orator. In his youth he was a tireless campaigner, world-wide, for the rights of the downtrodden. (Interestingly, he never seemed to care too much about the plight of the downtrodden Catholics in the North of Ireland.) Recent rumors suggest that in his “rock and roll” days he may have indulged in illegal substances. He’s definitely an unrepentant socialist and anti-American (remember about having to meet and greet foreign visitors?). Unlike an ideal socialist, he collects 3 pensions while still serving full-time in the Dail. He’d get a 4th if elected President. Although he is currently the favorite, I think he looks like the type of leprechaun who could easily and quickly turn very evil and malicious. And, he looks REALLY old.
MARTIN MC GUINESS No connection with the famed Guiness stout, he is the surprise Sinn Fein party candidate. Sinn Fein is the only all-Ireland party, that is both in the Republic of Ireland (the 26 counties of the South) and Northern Ireland (the 6 counties of Ulster which are currently part of the United Kingdom) and is the party of the 1916 Easter Uprising, which led to the creation of the Irish Republic. Much is being made of the fact that Mc Guiness is a former Provisional IRA commander. He says he left the IRA in 1974 to concentrate on a peaceful solution to the Troubles (1969-2005). Very few people believe this timeline and he is subsequently personally blamed for every act of violence in Ireland for the past 40 years……and then some. Even his supporters accept his dates with a wink, wink, nod, nod. However, the undisputed truth is that since being elected to the Stormont (Northern) Assembly in 1982, he has been one of the primary architects of the Good Friday Agreement, peace in Ireland and success in bringing Catholic nationalists to a negotiating position in the North. In fact, he is Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland (essentially co-Prime Minister) and is very highly regarded, world-wide, as an incredible statesman. During the Queen of England’s recent visit, however, he was notably absent from the festivities. (Remember the meet and greet of foreign visitors??) Well, Martin has said that, as President, he would of course welcome all visitors to Ireland. (The joke is that he’d welcome the Queen with a 21 gun salute………………….) He was in the US on a trade mission when his candidacy was announced. Incidentally, he has said that, like all Sinn Fein officials, he will only accept an average industrial wage (about $469 per week) and donate the rest as he currently does.
GAY MITCHELL Mitchell is the official candidate of the party in power, Fine Gael. However, he was not the choice of the taoiseach and so has not seen much party backing. (In fact, both parties of the coalition - Fine Gael and Labour – seem to favor Michael D.) He is a right-wing, ultra-conservative Catholic, a former MEP (Member of the European Parliament) and seems to be a one-trick pony in that all he seems to offer are attacks on Mc Guiness. He recently suggested, in a national debate, that Ireland rejoin the British Commonwealth. Yeah, right, that went over like a lead balloon. A rather boring and dull fella, he is referred to as the “invisible man” and is in a tie for last in the polls.
(An aside – the taoiseach’s choice for a presidential candidate was another party hack named Pat Cox. He actually has a sense of humor. When he announced his candidacy he said his slogan would be “Pat for the (Phoenix) Park” rather than “Cox for the Aras”. Gotta love it!)
DAVID NORRIS Another Independent, Norris has had an extremely convoluted route to the candidacy. A distinguished looking former Trinity professor of James Joycean studies, a Senator and a proud gay man, he is an avowed and successful crusader for gay rights. Norris, right from the beginning, seemed to be “the people’s choice”. Then the attacks began. The media resurrected a number of interviews and articles from years ago in which he seemed to support pederasty but not pedophilia (YOU go look up the difference….I did). Then it was revealed that he’d written a letter requesting clemency for a former Israeli lover convicted of statutory rape of a 15 year old Palestinian boy. In an Ireland that only recently has started to overcome its homophobic, xenophobic and staunchly Catholic nature, this was a problem. Norris, heart-broken, quit the race in August. Over a few weeks he became convinced that he was still “the people’s choice” and re-announced his bid. However, most of his 20 signatories in the Dail and Senate had, by now, abandoned him so he needed to go the council route. He did, getting his 4th nomination at literally the 11th hour. Since the official beginning of the campaign, it’s come to light that he wrote numerous letters of support for his former partner, that he intervened and forced a passport application for another partner (Algerian this time) and had collected disability pay from Trinity College for 16 years (says he got hepatitus from drinking the water in Eastern Europe) all while working full-time and being paid as a Senator as well. He’s not doing too well in the polls and his exuberant personality has been severely dampened. I’m not sure I could have stood listening to his “awfully awfully” British accent for 7 years anyway.
DANA ROSEMARY SCALLON For weeks I’ve been asking what is it about her? What can she bring to the table? The answer I get is “She’s DANA, the (1970) Eurovision winner.” Okay, but so what? Scallon is an ultraCatholic gospel singer and entertainer. She moved to the US in the 90s to pursue her Christian music career but returned to Ireland to run for President in 1997. Unsuccessful, she was eventually elected to the European Parliament for one term. She is considered the voice of ultra -conservative Catholicism and makes no apologies for that. In the past week it has come to light, in of course a very messy way, that she sought and attained US citizenship before her first run for the Aras. Unfortunately, this was hidden and never mentioned until recently. Michael D (the anti-American socialist), especially, has questioned her judgement and appropriateness to lead the country as the US Oath of Citizenship requires one to swear no allegiance to another power, prince, potentate or state, etc. And, also in the last few days, “vile and malicious rumors have been spread against a family member in order to derail her campaign” (her words, not mine). It seems that her brother and campaign manager was accused many years ago of sexually assaulting and molesting their niece over a period of years when she was just a child. Funny timing, that this would be put out to the media right now, huh? Anyway, Dana comes across as a bit dim but, then I’ve never heard her sing. And I’m sure she would welcome visitors from all nations with a song in her heart.
Election Day is Thursday, October 27 (the day after we return to the States). Unlike in the US you don’t just vote for 1 candidate. Noooooooooooo, it’s preferential voting which means you rank all 7 candidates in order of your liking. It’s unlikely that any candidate will receive the required quota of first preferences, so then the transfers kick in. You know, who got how many number 2 votes, add those in. Oh, still not enough? Well, add in the number 3 votes, etc etc. Very complicated. Kind of makes you nostalgic for the infamous Palm Beach County Butterfly Ballot!
So, there you have it. As my friend ALan says “You can’t make this s**t up!”