Thursday 19 January 2017

Higgins to focus on inexperience of younger rival

Fionnan Sheahan and Luke Byrne

Published 17/10/2011 | 05:00

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Labour's presidential candidate Michael D Higgins canvas
in Dun Laoghaire yesterday
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Labour's presidential candidate Michael D Higgins canvas in Dun Laoghaire yesterday

MICHAEL D Higgins' campaign will use the final 10 days of the presidential election to portray himself as a safe pair of hands versus Sean Gallagher's inexperience.

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The Labour Party and Independent candidates have broken away from the pack of seven hopefuls in the race.

After two polls at the weekend showed Mr Higgins and Mr Gallagher well ahead of their competitors, the contest now appears to be a straight choice between the oldest and youngest candidates in the field.

Mr Higgins (70) yesterday described comparisons of his age and outlook to that of Mr Gallagher (49) as "crude" and got tetchy over questions on the issue.

"I would regard that as deeply insulting, not only to me, but insulting to everyone over the age of 60," he said.

Labour strategists plan to make Mr Higgins' experience a key factor for voters and contrast it subtly with Mr Gallagher's self-confessed status as a political novice who has never run for office before.

The campaign will highlight his understanding of what the job entails and knowing the system to portray him as a "safe pair of hands".

"Essentially, the choice will be between Michael D and Gallagher," a source said.

The party also believes Mr Gallagher's support is "soft" and can as easily drift away, while the Higgins' rating has been more consistent.

Mr Higgins himself listed the requirements he believes are essential to the presidency, including understanding the Constitution, the relationship to government, ministerial experience, job creation, wisdom, judgment, credibility speaking about Ireland and the way a person represents the country.

His comments increasingly seemed to be directed at his main opponent.

Mr Gallagher, for his part, is going to stick with the formula that has propelled him into firm contention.

He has avoided getting embroiled in rows with other candidates and stuck to a positive message.

"The only focus will be on himself, the future, how we turn the country around," a campaign source said.

The continued volatility in the national opinion polls saw Mr Gallagher jump a whopping 18 points in the latest Red C poll for the 'Sunday Business Post'.

He is now on 39pc, followed by Mr Higgins on 27pc.

In a 'Sunday Independent' poll, the roles were reversed, with Mr Higgins on 36pc and Mr Gallagher on 29pc.

Either way, those two are well ahead of the rest of the field for the election on Thursday, October 27.

Mr Higgins admits its down to him and Mr Gallagher with 10 days to go.

"The constant factor in the polls has been my own position at the top or very near the top. There has been a steady increase, obviously, the other candidate has now in fact made significant gains so that, if you like, two candidates have broken away from the rest of the list," he said.

Mr Gallagher was taking nothing for granted and said he wouldn't be complacent.

The rest of the candidates all sought to play down the significance of the poll figures.

Meanwhile, Mr Higgins said he had no comment to make on a report in a newspaper yesterday about an accusation being made against him.

"No I don't. I got a phone call last week and I really just wouldn't honour or dignify that kind of stuff, which is just a baseless piece of gossip over 30 years ago.

"You know, all I'll say is this: there is nothing in my personal or political life that would, for one second, stop me being an excellent president of Ireland," he added.

Irish Independent

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