And, the winner is………….Michael D Higgins. The tiny, frail, anti-America, anti-Israel, ardent socialist will occupy the largely ceremonial office of President of the Republic of Ireland for the next 7 years. Having been the leader in the polls until 2 weeks ago, when he was surpassed by Sean Gallagher, he ran a generally positive campaign based, as he often claimed, on “ideas”. His one exception was to bash Martin Mc Guiness, as each of the candidates eventually did. As a Labour TD for the past 25 years (he stepped down earlier this year) and a former Minister for Culture in the 1990s, Higgins showed he was the consummate politician, winning almost 40% of the 1st preference votes and ending up with a total of over 1 million votes when all the transfers were counted. This 4th attempt at the presidency seems to have been won just in time given his age and health.
How did the rest of the not-so-Magnificent Seven fare? This time, I’ll list them in order of preference….not mine but the voters of Ireland. (Less than 50% of those eligible to vote did so. The great anger, disgust and mistrust of “government” is pervasive.)
SEAN GALLAGHER, the Independent who surged to the forefront of the polls in recent weeks, was over-confident in the end. Although he offered youth and vigor (his wife was quoted as saying they were looking forward to having and raising their children in the Aras and seeing them run around in the Phoenix Park) he stepped off the pedestal to take his potshot at Mc Guiness and question his suitability for the presidency. This ultimately led to his downfall. On Sunday, 23 October, Gallagher had a 15 point lead in the polls (40%). During a live television debate on Monday, the 24th , Mc Guiness asked if he had personally solicited and collected funds on behalf of the now-toxic Fianna Fail party, specifically from a “convicted tax evader and former Provisional IRA member”. Gallagher’s shock and subsequent waffling over the answer, as well as his inevitable acknowledgement that he had and had in fact been a “bagman” for the despised FF sealed his fate as he was revealed as “just one more of the same”. He ended up far behind Higgins but has said he will continue to pursue a career in politics, although under what auspices is not clear.
MARTIN MC GUINESS is probably very thankful to be returning to his office of Deputy First Minister (co-Prime Minister) of Northern Ireland. His sabbatical from that office was the polar opposite of restful! Despite being assaulted constantly (by the media, other candidates and a handful of the public) and accused of involvement and complicity in 40 years worth of bombings, executions and murders, he retained his grace under pressure. With the exception of his above-mentioned questioning of Gallagher, he ran a campaign focused on the issues of inequality, unity and the need for change. The man who abandoned the bomb and the bullet decades ago and successfully achieved peace in the North of Ireland, through negotiation, has my utmost respect and admiration. And, with over a quarter of a million (265,196) votes cast for him, others apparently feel the same way.
GAY MITCHELL The man who was the candidate of the party in power, Fine Gael, failed to gain the confidence of the electorate. His 2 plank platform of ”Martin Mc Guiness is evil” and “I am an ultraconservative career politician and Martin Mc Guiness is evil” just didn’t work and the “invisible man” remained so. His dismal showing does not bode well for the fate of Fine Gael in the next general election. He came in a distant fourth.
DAVID NORRIS Norris’s late re-entry into the race provided a bit of drama. The Irish people, despite their slightly xenophobic, homophobic, racist, Catholic leanings, are ultimately very fair and just. The facts that Norris is half-British and speaks with a British accent, has had a number of foreign homosexual partners and is a Protestant really didn’t seem to matter. The public overwhelmingly felt that he deserved a chance to run for the presidency; they just didn’t choose to vote him into the office. This probably had less to do with his questionable judgement in the past but more with the 16 years of disability payments he collected while working as a full-time Senator. That and the fact that the value was triple the amount that he originally claimed. Seems like it always comes down to money……………..
DANA ROSEMARY SCALLON, the dual citizen whose family’s dirty laundry is being aired for all the world to see, failed in this, her second, attempt for the presidency. Garnering a feeble 51,000 votes, one hopes she returns to her successful singing career. But the family drama continues. The niece who was allegedly abused by Scallon’s brother has gone to the police in Britain and this weekend he is being questioned about the events of the 1970s. She is also bringing defamation suits against Aunt Dana and the television station which aired her comments denying the niece’s claims. Another brother has come out against Dana saying she’s can’t be a good Christian because she hasn’t visited him during his illness of many years. Also, unfortunately, Dana’s car suffered a blow-out while returning from a campaign event. Her husband immediately claimed that “they” were out to injure or murder them. Gardai say it was just a flat tire. The soap opera continues. Dana needs to keep singing that song “All Kinds of Wonderful”.
MARY DAVIS First thought to be a shoe-in to complete the trinity of “Sainted Marys of the Aras”, she has finished dead last. The title of “Queen of the Quangos” stuck and, despite her denials, she was seen as offering just more of the same as the corrupt Fianna Fail party. Her campaign posters showed a lithe, confident woman with a youthful face and beautiful teeth in a Special K red dress. Perhaps when voters encountered the baggy eyes, the badly stained and crooked teeth, the slightly dumpy physique they realized that you can’t always judge a book by the pretty cover. Just another case of what you see is not necessarily what you’ll get.
So, the race for Uachtaran na hEireann is over for, hopefully, another 7 years. Truthfully, after observing this one, I can’t see why anyone would subject themselves to such a brutal contest. But, by 2018, I will have dual citizenship and you can be sure that I’ll be casting my vote.