BAI Report Does Not Close the File on that Bogus Tweet

Áras12 Candidates McGuinness and Gallagher

Besides our Fianna Fáil backgrounds, Sean Gallagher and I have something else in common: an errant tweet has contributed to us both losing out on a job.

In my case it partly caused me to lose a job I already held. I was Willie O’Dea’s adviser and programme manager when Dan Boyle sent his infamous tweet.

Its claim that there would: “Probably be a few chapters in this story yet” proved baseless, nonetheless 24 hours later the Minister had resigned and yours truly was clearing out his desk. C’est la vie. The tweet only brought the inevitable forward by twelve months.

In Sean’s case the broadcast of a bogus tweet during the Frontline Presidential Debate played a major play in derailing his campaign and denying him the job he wanted.

Yesterday the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland gave its verdict on his complaint against RTE, The Frontline and The Pat Kenny Show.

It was a fairly damning judgement. The BAI found that Sean Gallagher had been treated “unfairly” on three counts.

One: by the broadcast of the initial bogus tweet from an account that purported to be from the official Martin McGuinness for President campaign.

Two: by the failure of the Frontline to tell the audience of the subsequent tweet from the official McGuinness campaign denying that it had issued the bogus one.

Three: by the continuing failure of the Today with Pat Kenny radio show the next morning to properly clarify the status and background of the two tweets.

Given that it found that a programme that was intended as a Presidential Debate was unfair to one particular candidate, it was amazing to see the BAI go on to say that no further investigation or inquiry is required as the complaint “was not of such a serious nature as to warrant an investigation or public hearings”.

It is not as if this might have affected the outcome of an election or anything….. oh, hang on a minute…. Yes, it might.

No one can definitively state whether the tweetgate affair altered the outcome, but we do know that Sean Gallagher was the poll leader before the debate and he wasn’t a few days later. We also know that tallies of the postal votes – ie those votes cast and returned to the presiding officers before the Frontline debate – showed Gallagher topping the poll.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that viewers watching the Frontline debate might have switched from Gallagher to Michael D Higgins even if the tweet had never been mentioned.

All this is in the realms of speculation. What is not speculation however it that someone sent that tweet to undermine the front runner and affect the race.

So, yes, this matter does require further investigation.

The BAI has determined that Mr Gallagher was treated unfairly in how the tweet was handled. RTE’s Director General made a sincere and genuine apology and the RTE Authority is to examine the BAI’s finding.

This is all right and proper. But RTE’s actions are only part of the case.

Like others watching the campaign on the internet I was not aware of the difference between the real and fake McGuinness for President twitter accounts until the controversy broke that night.

The confusion was easy as, according to some Social Media watchers, both twitter accounts were created on the same day. Indeed, as part of its own defence, RTE argued that many other journalists were similarly confused and had taken the first bogus tweet as genuine. (A defence rejected by the BAI)

The question remains: who was responsible for sending out the tweet? Are we going to tolerate a situation where an election outcome can potentially be so easily influenced by one person or group of people acting in the shadows?

We have seen thousands of people protest on the streets of Moscow regarding accusations that Putin rigged their Presidential election, are we not to try and look a bit deeper into this case?

Isn’t the integrity of our democratic process worth a bit more effort?

Gallagher has no one to blame but himself

Aras an UachtáranBelow 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,.

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.









Brace yourself for the black ops, Sean

My Evening Herald column on the current state of the race for the Park – see it online here: 


When the story of this presidential contest is eventually written, presuming it ever actually ends, it will focus on a number of unusual features.

One of the most unusual concerns you: the voter.

For a sizeable proportion of the electorate this contest is a first. Virtually no one under the age of 32 in this country has ever voted in a Presidential election before. That is roughly 20-25% of the approx 3.2million people entitled to vote.

While it is hard to say what precise impact this is having, it may play in part in explaining why this contest not going exactly to plan: well, not to the plans of certain parties.

This election should have been Fine Gael’s for the taking. With the exception of Mary Robinson’s 1990 victory, the presidency has been the almost exclusive preserve of Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael has dethroned its old adversary, yet its campaign strategy is sending its candidate’s poll figures into reverse.

Another two weeks like this and poor Gay will be in negative ratings. While that may be a mathematical impossibility his getting less than a quarter of a quota and Fine Gael failing to get any reimbursement of campaign expenses is not.

Call me old fashioned but I really cannot believe that loyal Fine Gael voters will continue to allow a man who has loyally defended his leader to languish in the polls just ahead of Dana.

The problem for Gay is twofold. First, there is no hint of the core support rallying to him. Fine Gael activists have grown accustomed to easy canvasses and getting good responses. They do not relish the thought of having to knock on doors and listen to the flak just yet.

Second, the pundits are over estimating the level of that core support. They point to poll findings that Mitchell is getting only 15% of Fine Gael support.

This is a slight misreading of the RedC poll in my view. What it has found is that only 15% of those people who voted Fine Gael at the last election are planning to support Gay. Not all of the 36% of the electorate who voted for them in February now perceive themselves as Fine Gael.

Many are ex Fianna Fáil voters. They felt betrayed by the party they had supported and now feel free to change allegiances depending on the policies and personalities presented to them.

Speaking of Fianna Fáil; the last two polls seem to give the lie to the assertions that Sean Gallagher’s Soldiers of Destiny background would be a millstone. His increased support suggests that many voters are not bothered by his political past. This does not appear to be the situation for remaining Fianna Fáil supporters however. He is only their second choice, behind Higgins.

Sean’s increased poll ratings come with a bigger target for his back.  Doing well in a poll can be a major risk. Ask Mary Davis. Her surge two weeks ago was followed by an intensive period of dark murmurings and attack. Indeed, Sean was not slow to join in on that. What comes around – goes around.

Were her rise and attacks entirely unrelated? Hardly, though maybe it is just the cynic in me. Either that or it is the fact that I am considerably over 31 and have seen my fair share of presidential campaign black ops.

Whatever the case, the Gallagher team will be girding their loins, shins and other sensitive regions for onslaught to come.

We are just at the half way mark. The field does seem to be dividing itself into two leagues. A premier league which this week stars Higgins, Gallagher and McGuinness and a first division featuring the just relegated Mary Davis alongside Gay Mitchell, Dana and one time premier favourite Norris.

But there are still two more weeks to go. There is still a lot to play for, hopefully that the play will be confined to the ball and not the man – or woman.


By Derek Mooney

Monday October 10 2011


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.

Aras11: and then there was five, or four…..

With each passing day the Aras11 race increasingly resembles a remake of the 1945 Agatha Christie movie: And Then There Were None.

For those of you who haven’t seen the Barry Fitzgerald classic, or its later remakes, the plot revolves around a group of people brought together on a remote and isolated location by Mr U. N. Owen (say it out loud and you will get it).

One by one the guests depart. Each in increasingly tragic circumstances, until there is just one is left. Or, is there? Have each of them really gone to meet their maker? Could there be a last minute twist in the tale?

Ok, I have done this metaphor to death, but you can see where I am going with it.

Labour’s early selection of Michael D Higgins heralded early exits by Fergus Finlay and Kathleen O’Meara. Niall O’Dowd’s withdrawal last week and Avril Doyle’s exit this week has brought the total number of viable candidates down by four. I say “viable” as there are two also-rans seeking Council nominations.

Today’s Fine Gael selection convention will reduce the field by a further two – though you will find it hard to get a firm consensus on which two.

So what does this all mean? Well, by the close of business tonight the original field will have been halved. Three of these will definitely be on the Aras11 ballot paper: the FG and Lab nominees, plus Sean Gallagher. Two more: Mary Davis and Senator David Norris will be hoping to make it before the final deadline.

So it now looks like there will be a field of five candidates when the election comes around in October. Or will there? Will there be one or two more – will there be one less?  October is still a long way away.

With 33 Oireachtas members, Fianna Fáil has more than the 20 signatures needed and could still choose to support a candidate not already in the race and not necessarily from the Fianna Fáil family.

With a total of 31, the Independent TDs and Senators, including United Left Alliance, could also nominate, if they can find one on whom twenty of them can agree Though Norris supporters suggest he has 8 or 9 of them already signed up.

While Sinn Féin, with 17 Oireachtas members, would need to get three Independents on side to give a nomination to a person of their choice.

Back on the Council trail: the longest declared candidate, Senator David Norris, must be feeling pretty miffed to be overtaken in the Council stakes by Sean Gallagher on 5 and Mary Davis on 2.

Gallagher’s relative ease in securing motions of intent would suggest that he and his team were working on this campaign long before he officially entered the race. I know some of his core campaign team. They are very skilled professionals who have run it like a classic Seanad campaign.

It is this skill and ability; however, that makes Mary Davis’s victory in Gallagher’s Louth and Monaghan backyards all the more impressive.  Her comfortable margins suggests that my mate, and keen political blogger, Jonny Fallon, was right when he tweeted a few weeks back that the other Independents would have to wait until Gallagher got his four councils.

It also suggests that a coalition of non Fine Gael councillors across the remaining councils is preparing to swing in behind the Special Olympics boss Davis, as their next favoured independent. She now looks certain be also be on the Aras11

Less certain is Norris. He has been waiting for almost two months to follow up on his one success in Fingal Council. It will be interesting to see if Fine Gael is still set on stymieing his campaign. This would be in contrast to the Fine Gael abstentions elsewhere which allowed Gallagher to get through.

Maybe Fine Gael fear Norris more than Gallagher, or maybe they just want someone in the race who they can label and attack as a Fianna Fáiler?

Who knows, only time will tell – and time, as Agatha Christie observed, is the best killer.


From Evening Herald July 9th 2011