Sunday 11 December 2016

Gallagher refuses to blame SF candidate for dramatic loss

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

Published 29/10/2011 | 05:00

DEFEATED presidential candidate Sean Gallagher last night declined to blame Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness for costing him the presidential election.

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Mr McGuinness dramatically confronted Mr Gallagher about his involvement in a Fianna Fail fundraising dinner during Monday night's televised 'Frontline' debate.

It led to a torrid final few days to the campaign for Mr Gallagher, who had been leading the polls.

When asked if he blamed Mr McGuinness for costing him the election, Mr Gallagher said: "Tonight is not a night for blame, tonight is a night for celebration."

"Tonight is not about me, tonight is about celebrating the election of Michael D (Higgins) as our next president."

After coming so close to winning the presidency, it was Mr Gallagher's handling of questions about his Fianna Fail past that ultimately cost him the keys to the Aras.

Until last Monday, the Cavanman's unrelenting focus on jobs, enterprise and positivity chimed with voters seemingly unmoved by the other candidates on offer.

Mr Gallagher was initially regarded as a rank outsider, and his bid was not even taken seriously by the political establishment.

But the public had a massive appetite for an Independent president, and voters seemed to settle on Mr Gallagher as the best non-party candidate after David Norris's support collapsed.

The 'Dragons' Den' star firstly sneaked up just behind Mr Higgins, and then hit the front about a week and a half out from polling day, reaching a shock 40pc in two polls.

But his past membership of Fianna Fail and his business dealings had largely gone unexamined, since he wasn't seen as frontrunner. Mr Gallagher wasn't prepared for the intense scrutiny that came his way.

Instead of admitting how active he was in the party, he constantly tried to downplay his party connections.

At first voters didn't seem to overly care about stories and his past connections to Fianna Fail.

But the most significant story -- and the one that would eventually end Mr Gallagher's chances -- was the Irish Independent report that he had invited businessmen to a €5,000-a-head FF fundraiser in 2008.

The guests at the dinner were promised access to the then newly elected Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. The link between Mr Gallagher and hushed fundraisers for Fianna Fail attended by wealthy businessmen would later prove toxic.

Dramatic

Even despite the details of the dinner emerging, three polls last weekend still showed Mr Gallagher with a commanding lead, pushing towards 40pc and heading for the Aras. All that changed on Monday night.

He walked into Pat Kenny's 'Frontline' debate with the election to lose -- and in an hour and a half of dramatic television, he lost it.

Mr McGuinness said he had been contacted by a businessman who claimed Mr Gallagher personally collected €5,000 cheques for the dinner. Mr Gallagher had previously insisted he did not personally solicit donations.

He was also challenged by Glenna Lynch, a member of audience who questioned him on his business dealings. It was later questioned whether she was a political plant. His tangles with Ms Lynch cost him, too.

He took other hits, with his image as a strong community worker suffering with the revelation that he charged GAA clubs in his home county of Louth €5,000 to help them with their applications for National Lottery grant money.

Irish Independent

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