Gay Byrne is people's choice although he's not officially in the race . . . yet
Former 'Late Late Show' host emerges from poll with striking lead and refuses to rule himself out of possible bid
GAY Byrne has emerged as the people's choice for President.
A new Sunday Independent opinion poll shows that he has taken the 'Norris vote' with 34 per cent supporting him in the race for the Aras, giving him a striking lead over the four declared candidates.
The veteran broadcaster has also attracted strong support from factions within Fianna Fail and the party is expected to consider "facilitating" his nomination for the Aras, if he were to declare. Two Fianna Fail TDs already made overtures to Mr Byrne through an intermediary in recent weeks, according to sources.
Micheal Martin, the party leader has said the future President is not among the current contenders, which some observers regarded as a hint that the party is looking towards Mr Byrne.
Fianna Fail has not put forward any party candidate for the presidency despite interest from Brian Crowley and Eamon O Cuiv. Senior figures in the party have been scouting for a suitable independent it could "facilitate" by nominating for the presidency. The move could be opposed by some factions in Fianna Fail who want the party to nominate an internal candidate.
Key figures regard the former Late Late Show host as ideal presidential material while a seasoned political observer in Fine Gael admitted that none of the declared candidates would have his vote-catching ability. If he were to run, Gay Byrne's campaign could also benefit from close friendships in the media, including the influential and wealthy couple behind Riverdance, John McColgan and Moya Doherty.
The latest Sunday Independent/Quantum Research opinion poll reflects the broad appeal of Mr Byrne, who is chairman of the Road Safety Authority. More than a third of respondents -- 34 per cent -- said they would support Gay Byrne for President. That compared with 24 per cent for Labour's candidate, Michael D Higgins and 15 per cent for Gay Mitchell, of Fine Gael. The independent candidates, Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher, polled nine per cent and 10 per cent respectively. Eight per cent said they would support Dana Rosemary Scallon, who is being touted as another contender.
Gay Byrne this weekend said he was flattered, complimented and gratified to be mentioned in connection with the presidency.
He insisted he has not been approached to run for the office but he did not close the door on the possibility either. Byrne told the Sunday Independent yesterday that he wouldn't "have the stomach" for campaigning or "auditioning" before county councils -- presidential candidates must be nominated by four county councils or 20 Oireachtas members. He suggested that he would have to give the matter "serious consideration" if he was offered a nomination.
"As I say, I'm not the sort of person who will get on a bus and go around the country asking people for votes and I'm not the sort of person who wants to go and be interviewed by county councils. So where that leaves us I don't know," he said.
Asked if the required 20 Oireachtas members came to him to nominate him for the presidency, he said: "I would have to consider it seriously otherwise it would be very . . . insulting to the presidency. But I would have to consult with she who must be obeyed as well."
He continued: "Obviously the four main contenders want this disruption in their lives. I'm not terribly sure that we would want it. But let the 20 people or whoever you have in mind, let them come and say what they want to say, but until then I'm not giving it any serious consideration at all."
Asked what he might do as President, he said: "I haven't thought about this in the least, because it has never crossed my mind in terms of if I was President what I would or wouldn't do. Mary McAleese has done a superb job in her presidency and she is going to be a very, very hard act to follow. Nonetheless it is a ceremonial job."
A radio poll on 4FM last week asked listeners to vote on the four declared candidates for the presidency. Mr Byrne swept the boards with 46 per cent of listeners backing him for President, even though his name had not been put forward by the pollsters.
The prospect of Fianna Fail nominating Gay Byrne for the presidency would solve an ongoing problem for the party. Fianna Fail has suffered financially from the drubbing in the general election and the cost of a presidential campaign would further dent party coffers. Key figures are also concerned that any candidate linked to Fianna Fail would struggle at the polls. The party leadership has been looking for an independent candidate who would "meet the requirements of the office" to facilitate their nomination, according to sources. However, this has caused dissent within the party with some factions pushing for an internal party candidate to be nominated.
A senior political strategist suggested that part of Mr Byrne's appeal lay in the fact that he had "suffered at the hands of the banks in a very similar manner to the rest of the country. His life experiences are the same as ours. He is one of us".