IT was a strange crossing of paths -- the woman backed by Fianna Fail for her first run at the presidential elections, and the man who admits backing the dubious practice of corrupt payments to quite a few Fianna Fail politicians.
But if President Mary McAleese was in any way uncomfortable, or indeed aware of the presence of Frank Dunlop almost under her very nose as she received a distinguished fellowship yesterday at Griffith College, Dublin, she hid it very well.
Mr Dunlop, the former government lobbyist, clad in an academic robe and navy, green and yellow hood over his immaculate pinstripe suit, was himself there to be conferred with a first class honours degree in Irish Law for which he had studied by night over the past three years. "You found me," he said dryly to a photographer who was waiting for him as he arrived for the ceremony at the campus on South Circular Road.
Just out of hospital where he was undergoing tests and due back again that evening, Mr Dunlop seemed a little fatigued, though in excellent spirits, waving gaily to his wife Sheila and daughter Sinead when college president Diarmuid Hegarty invited the graduands to thank their family and friends for their support throughout their studies and who had put up with their "inevitable cranky moments".
Frank clapped his fingertips for the arrival of Mrs McAleese.
After her conferral, he gave a wry smile when she commented at her palpable relief at the graduation of her own children with the "promised land of the first pay cheque in sight" when she and her husband might be "liberated from being walking ATM machines".
We got the impression Frank understood that feeling all too well.
The president waxed lyrical for almost 15 minutes about how the students were graduating into a very different Ireland, far removed from the experience of those students in the 70s and 80s whose feet had "barely hit the ground after graduating" when they had to head to the port or airport to work elsewhere.
"Tomorrow's marketplace will be stamped by your genes," she told them, adding that it was a privilege to play a small part in their very special day.
As the president departed, Chris Slade, of Nottingham Trent University in the UK addressed the group of graduands and, again, Frank found it hard to conceal an ironic smirk when she said: "There's someone among you who will be a world leader and will be asked to give an address the very same way your president has."
And as he filed out with the rest of the students to receive his degree, Frank got a special "look" of recognition from Mr Hegarty as he received his parchment. It had been the influence of his niece rather than that of the tribunal which had prompted him to go into studying law, he said afterwards.
Prematurely retired and with "time on his hands", Frank is now studying for his Masters in Trinity College. "I'm sorry I didn't do it years ago," he said.