The presidential campaign is barely a week old and already we have candidates producing P60s showing how much they have earned over the years. This was in response to dark propaganda about earnings and directorships.
And they say that negative campaigns don’t work. If we are at this stage just one week into the race then it cannot be long until the demands come that this candidate or that one produces their birth, baptismal or parents’ marriage certs.
We should not really be that surprised. Academic/college politics is said to be so much more vicious than real politics because the stakes are so low. It could just as easily be said about Irish Presidential elections.
It is not that the office is unimportant; it is that the powers are limited and the office appears to fade into the background once the campaign is over.
The fact that Mary McAleese has been an excellent President somehow adds to the notion that it doesn’t matter an awful lot as to who succeeds her.
As none of the candidates have so far convinced us that they are cut from the same cloth as her, the debate is slowly turning to which of them will be the least worst.
The office of President is so tightly defined and closely managed that almost no occupant could manage to go truly rogue. So, while many people, myself included, have severe misgivings about the possibility of McGuinness occupying the office, the truth is that his being President would not change anything. Martin McGuinness being President will not make a significant difference to anyone’s daily life – apart from his own.
The reality of the past decade is that Sinn Féin has been moving steadily to the centre in the North. No sooner do they move into office but they very quickly adopt the policies and strategies of those who were there before them. Sinn Féin in Government in the North is not a thorn in anyone’s side, least of all the DUP’s. They may head up anti hospital closure committees in the 26 counties, but in the North they merrily implement the cuts imposed byLondon.
So, while his election may not herald the end of civilisation as we know it, it could send out a very embarrassing signal at this crucial time.
Almost any of the other candidates: Michael D Higgins, Mary Davis, Sean Gallagher or Gay Mitchell could each fulfil the role in their own individual ways without causing us any embarrassment or sparking an international crisis.
This least-worst approach appeared to be the underlying theme to last night’s TV3 debate. Unlike past encounters, there was some spark to it. The cross talk between the candidates did not yield much and at times became insufferably twee. The competition to be the most concerned by the trauma of suicide bordered on distasteful.
It was the questioning and serial grilling by the moderator that managed to reveal something more about each of the candidates. As someone said on Twitter last night, it was not that any one candidate emerged as the winner: it was more that some managed to emerge less damaged and scarred.
David Norris and Dana were not among them. Though a veteran of past campaigns, Dana seemed the least prepared and most unfocused. While Norris’s continuing obfuscation in the face of very specific questions from Browne on who it was inIsraelwho had advised him not to publish the remaining letters was telling.
David’s protestations that the public will decide this issue ring particularly hollow when he refuses to give them access to the full facts by releasing the outstanding letters. This issue is not going away and the longer it continues the worse he will get for him.
His media adviser is a big admirer of Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, He should remind his client of Campbell’s famous rule that if you allowed a bad news story to dominate the headlines for more than four days, you are in trouble.
David has had more than four days of such headlines and the only end in sight is his own. And, to think, we still have three weeks more of this to go.