FG/Lab target Gallagher, as Mitchell cast out in the cold
Higgins silent on McGuinness IRA oath of allegiance while attacking Dana's oath to US
Published 09/10/2011 | 05:00
The Government partners, Fine Gael and Labour, have agreed a joint but risky strategy behind the scenes which they hope will see Michael D Higgins win the presidential election, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
The Coalition partners are to target the independent candidate, Sean Gallagher, rather than the former Provisional IRA leader, Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein candidate.
In what amounts to a shift in tactics by Fine Gael, and Labour collusion in dirty tricks, the Coalition parties now intend to switch the focus of attention on to Mr Gallagher's past association with Fianna Fail.
The strategy is bound to have serious repercussions within Fine Gael, in particular, whose candidate, Gay Mit-chell, has effectively been thrown to the wolves.
Yesterday there was a view within Fine Gael that because Mr Mitchell had failed to connect with the public it was to be expected that the Party would support the candidate of its coalition partners.
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However, others in Fine Gael say that the leadership never properly got behind Mr Mitchell, who was not their favoured candidate, and this had contributed in large part to his current poll difficulties. The Fine Gael leadership had promoted the former President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox.
"What the leadership has done to Gay Mitchell is outrageous," one TD said. "Mitchell was never wanted," another said.
As old hostilities threaten to break out again in Fine Gael, the possibility remains that the coalition strategy will backfire, particularly if voters perceive Mr Gallagher to be a victim of unfair attention by the Government parties.
The election campaign has shown there to be a large proportion of Fianna Fail supporters -- enough to influence the outcome -- who are primarily supporting either Mr Gallagher or the Sinn Fein candidate, Martin McGuinness.
But Mr Gallagher, a former member of the Fianna Fail national executive, is proving to be the stronger of the two candidates in terms of attracting support from beyond what could be termed "republican" supporters.
In fact, Mr Gallagher's campaign has proved so successful that he is now the main challenger to the frontrunner, Michael D Higgins of Labour, to win the Presidency.
Two opinion polls last week showed Mr Gallagher to be ahead of Mr McGuinness in terms of popular support and breathing down the neck of Mr Higgins.
The polls showed that he was also winning significant support from Fine Gael voters as well as from non-party supporters, particularly young people, almost 20,000 of whom have signed up to his Facebook site.
Mr Gallagher's low-key campaign has taken key strategists in both Fine Gael and Labour by surprise, to the point that they now feel they have no option other than to target the independent candidate.
The first salvo was fired yesterday in media reports that Mr Gallagher was a member of the Fianna Fail National Executive until January even though he had said last week that he had left two years ago.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Gallagher's campaign team said: "Sean Gallagher joined the National Executive of Fianna Fail in 2009 in a bid to advance his proposal for legislation to protect sub-contractors when developers went bust. He attended two meetings of the executive, in July 2009 and December 2009.
"In September 2010, Sean Gallagher verbally indicated to FF HQ that he would resign from the National Executive. As the membership of the National Executive changes with each Ard Fheis, Sean intended to resign at this point. When it became apparent that no Ard Fheis was imminent, Sean confirmed in writing, with a formal letter of resignation, what had already been agreed in September 2010."
In the first weeks of the campaign Fine Gael, in particular, chose to target Mr McGuinness. Labour, meanwhile, chose to present Mr Higgins as a candidate who did not wish to engage in so-called "dirty tricks".
On Friday, however, Mr Higgins made his first personal intervention in the campaign when he spoke on the issue of the citizenship of another independent candidate, Dana Rosemary Scallon.
An outspoken critic of US foreign policy, who still clings to traditional left antipathies, Mr Higgins was asked if he felt it inappropriate of her not to reveal her US citizenship: "Yes I do. I think it was inappropriate. . . Yes, of course, this is a matter that should be in the public realm," he said.
While acknowledging the issue was based on a family dispute, Mr Higgins pointed out that the oath taken by the President of Ireland included the words "dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland".
Referring to the oath of allegiance, he added: "It would certainly seem to me to be a contradiction if you made an affirmation that didn't allow one to do that with fullness."
Mr Higgins's position on the oath of the President of Ireland, however, raises a perhaps unintended issue in relation to the candidacy of Mr McGuinness, which Mr Higgins may now come under pressure to address.
As an admitted member of the Provisional IRA in 1974, Mr McGuinness would have sworn an oath of loyalty to the terrorist organisation.
The IRA oath commits members to swear: "I do not and shall not yield a voluntary support to any pretended government, authority, or power within Ireland hostile or inimical to that Republic."
He would have sworn this oath on the IRA's Green Book of rules, often referred to as the 'IRA Bible', which refers to the Dail the Defence Forces and gardai as "domestic collaborators".
The 'Republic' McGuinness swore allegiance to is, according to the Green Book, the "direct lineal succession with the Provisional Government of 1916, the first Dail of 1919 and the second Dail of 1921".
The Provisional IRA is so called because it regards itself the only legitimate heir of the pre-1921 Treaty assemblies -- the "Provisional Government", hence the name it took. All successive Irish parliaments are illegitimate, in their eyes.