Below is my critique of the Sean Gallagher’s unsuccessful campaign for the Áras. This appears in today’s EVENING HERALD (Friday Oct 28th) though my column is not online there, just yet.
Already they are calling it the Gallagher moment. What they mean is that instant on the Frontline debate when the momentum that had driven Gallagher’s campaign for the previous ten days evaporated under Sinn Féin fire.
The reality may be a little less dramatic. While Sean Gallagher’s campaign did come to a halt on Frontline, it took the next 48 hours for it to go into a full nose dive.
On the face of it the McGuinness assault was intended as a signal to Sinn Féin voters not to transfer to Gallagher. The polls were showing Sean with a convincing lead over Higgins in the region of 10%, but still needed McGuinness transfers to see him over the line.
The Shinner’s strategists were determined that they would not be the ones to give Sean the keys to the Áras and by extension hand a vicarious victory to Fianna Fáil, even by proxy.
Their intent was clear, make it as difficult as possible for Gallagher in the final days. It was why they stored up the the story for a few days. Conversely that is what made the situation even more damaging for Gallagher. He clearly knew the story was out there, although in different guises and varying versions, but when confronted with it he seemed dazed and confused.
The real damage came the following day when Gallagher still seemed unable to deal with the allegation. His campaign produced a punchy and clear press release, but the candidate seemed either unable or unwilling to deliver it.
Perhaps his problem was that after months of uttering bland and cosy messages about positivity and unity (not to mention entrepreneurship) he just could not find the steel in his soul needed to take on his challengers and tell them to go take a running jump at themselves.
Yes, Sinn Féin and McGuinness were changing their story. Events that were claimed to have happened after the dinner were now being said to have happened before it. Their story was all over the place. But it appeared that Gallagher’s was too, if you were just to go by what he himself said in the interviews he did on Pat Kenny and the Six One news.
So what if he had been involved in a fund raising dinner back in 2008. The event was not a clandestine one. The donations were declared. The money was going for legitimate political expenditure. He had been the campaign manager for a successful Dáil candidate in 2007. He had a onus to help defray the costs and expenses of that election. I was in a similar position elsewhere. There were bills to be paid, so money needed to be raised by volunteers and others. No banks were robbed, no one got shot.
So confused and oblique were his replies that the problem festered and grew all day Tuesday and Wednesday. Many including myself thought the damage might be limited to his capacity to attract transfers. It now looks like it went far wider than deeper, possibly due to it all been linked to question marks over his company accounts and large fees taken by himself.
The two weeks of labelling him a Fianna Fáiler did not, as evidenced in successive polls, do him any damage. The flaws and errors in his own handling of a relatively minor crisis did. The Presidency is about judgement, his was called seriously into question.
In the case of Gay Mitchell the judgement that must be called into question is that of the senior party figures who allowed him to go forward as a candidate. Gay is and remains a deeply committed public representative and Fine Gaeler, yet it has looked for the past month that the party on the ground had abandoned him. His campaign was unfocussed and patchy from the start, not helped by whispers that he was not really Enda’s first choice as a candidate. Well, if he wasn’t then why run him? Is Enda the leader or not?
Gay can take some comfort that his own poor showing was reflected in the Dublin West by-election where the party’s candidate also faired badly. The question how is how do we reconcile opinion polls that consistently show Fine Gael in the mid 30s with these results?
There will be some pretty interesting analysis to be done when the smoke and dust settles after this weekend,.