Aras11 Campaign Review Oct 17th

This was written for the Evening Herald of Mon Oct 17th. 

There are ten days to go until polling day in Aras11. That means that two thirds of the campaign is behind us and, if the polls are correct, so are two thirds of the candidates.

Michael D Higgins, who has been in the top two in the polls almost since the beginning of the campaign, is now joined at the top of the poll, by Sean Gallagher.

Indeed he is not merely joined at the top of the poll by Gallagher; he is surpassed by the independent who appears to have caught the big momentum just at the right point.

The curious thing about the last RedC poll is that Gallagher’s surge has not been at Higgin’s expense. Both candidates actually increased support. In a role that may not sit too comfortably with him or the Labour Party, Higgins is becoming the traditional mainstream established party candidate while Gallagher is taking the role of non establishment figure garnering the non-party and independent backing.

Around 50% of voters have backed an independent candidate since the start of the campaign. With ten days to go they now appear to be backing the independent candidate who seems the strongest and has the best chance of winning.

This trend had begun to emerge in the last RedC poll on October 6th. While 21% of voters said in that poll that they were likely to vote for Gallagher, only 5% said they thought he could actually win the race.

His emergence as a front runner among the independents in that poll has seen him take support from other independents, like Davis and Norris. They will now need to fight hard if they are to have any chance of putting in a decent showing.

Gallagher would also appear to be getting considerable backing from remaining Fianna Fáil supporters, something he had not been achieving before this.

The latest RedC poll does come with the health warning that it was conducted just before last Wednesday night’s Primetime debate with Miriam O’Callaghan. That was not Gallagher’s greatest moment, though RedC researchers believe that these debates are not having significant impact in the results in their polling.

There are two other interesting features in this poll. The decline in support for Martin McGuinness must run contrary to what the Sinn Féin big strategy.  He had appeared to be holding his support in the face of a fairly constant barrage about his past, mainly from Gay Mitchell and Fine Gael.

Then along came David Kelly. In one short but painfully honest encounter he encapsulated in a harrowing personal story what others had been trying to say abstractly. The fall in McGuinness’s support makes his Mansion House fiesta now look like Neil Kinnock’s ill judged Sheffield rally.

The other is the continuing decline in support for Gay Mitchell. I am personally at a loss to explain this, except to return to the analysis that this race for the park is turning into a competition between the strongest traditional party candidate: Higgins and the strongest independent candidate: Gallagher.

While Gallagher is cannibalising independent support on one side, Higgins is doing the same on the traditional party side – and at Mitchell’s expense.


I live in what would be regarded as a true blue Fine Gael area. In past local and general elections I have been inundated by Fine Gael canvassers and leaflet drops.


This time: nothing. Apart from the infamous “Litir Um Toghacan” I have not received once call, one leaflet or one attempted contact from the local Fine Gael organisation, and these are people who know Gay Mitchell well.


A campaign that cannot even convince its own activists and core supporters can only be described as an unmitigated disaster.


The one ray of hope from the polls for Mitchell is the enormous volatility there has been in recent weeks.


Yes, the voters would seem to be splitting into two camps, one pro party, the other anti-party, but within those camps they are still volatile. All could change in the last week with one big revelation or story on either side.









And they say that negative campaigns don’t work…..

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.

Quick quips will not get you out of this mess, Senator. You need to hear some things you don’t want to hear

Presidential candidate
Senator David Norris

Text of my article on the Norris campaign saga from Evening Herald – see it online here:

I like West Wing quotes. They are not just well written, they can neatly sum up a situation. The one which comes to mind as I watch the evolving Norris campaign saga is from an episode in series one.

In it, the fictional President Bartlett character advises a colleague on selecting a campaign manager/ chief of staff. “Do you have a best friend… Is he smarter than you… Would you trust him with your life?”

When the guy answers “Yes sir” to all three questions, Bartlett tells him: “That’s your chief of staff.”

That’s precisely what David Norris has needed from the start of this whole thing.

Though I have criticised some of them, he has had many loyal and personally devoted campaigners. He has a huge social media support network too. But sheer enthusiasm is not enough. The one thing he has lacked most was someone who could challenge him and tell him the unpleasant facts he has not wanted to hear.

Many months ago I said that David’s gift for the quick quip and caustic comment may prove to be his Achilles heel as it suggested a lack of gravitas.

This proved only in part to be true. The tone, content and nature of his lengthy 1997 letter to his former partner’s lawyers was ill considered, ill advised and exposed poor judgement.

With due respect to the Senator’s continuing supporters, this assessment is really not in question. One in Four founder Colm O’Gorman put it more forthrightly on Twitter saying: “my views on his writing the letter are clear and unequivocal. He was wrong. Very wrong.”

Some, like Senator John Crown, attempt to explain away the letter pointing to ones written by Kathleen Lynch, Bobby Molloy and Trevor Sargent. Besides the “two wrongs don’t make a right” argument, in those cases the authors accepted their ill judgement and in the cases of Molloy and Sergent they resigned.

Yes, there are nasty people and vile groups who want to see Norris’s candidacy scuppered. Yes, there are those who would have employing dirty tricks to frustrate him.

But this isn’t a mafia movie. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

The contemptibility of some of those who oppose David should not blind us to the legitimate questions this letter and saga raise about his candidacy. This is not a slanted leak from his detractors. The damage here comes from what the candidate has said himself and the material he has made available.

Running for the Presidency is not like a really big Trinity Senate campaign – and this campaign has not really started yet. We are still in the pre-campaign stage. The last two Presidential campaigns saw major negative campaigns. In 1990 the target was Brian Lenihan Sr, in 1997 it was Adi Roche and Mary McAleese. I fear we may have more to endure when this race hits its full stride in late September.

So where does that leave David’s campaign now?

David now says he wants to fight on, even though he recognises his chances slim. His courage and tenacity is admirable: but it is time to face realities. Alastair Campbell famously said that you have eleven days to kill a story or you’re toast. This is the second crisis for David, so he will have even less time.

I would suggest that one of two things may happen over the coming days to decide his future prospects.

The first is that some new Oireachtas members may rally to his cause. He already needed five more, the damage this crisis is inflicting on his campaign means he needs them today. If there are five more nominators out there: right now is the time to them to declare, not next September.

The second and more likely scenario is that some of those who have already declared for him will tell him, either privately or publicly, that they cannot now follow through on existing pledges of support. That will end his chances.

Whatever happens, this presidential race has changed completely. Past back markers may soon emerge as front runners… and there is still Dana to consider

Evening Herald August 1st August 2011