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Sunday 26 February 2017

Pressure is on as Miriam gets down to hard questions

By this stage, the candidates could find their way blindfolded through the doors of RTE, up the stairs to make-up, and into the studio.

Another night, another bunfight of back-biting, boasting, bitching and braggadocio. This time, the seven candidates were placing themselves in the tender mercies of Miriam O'Callaghan on 'Prime Time' for what's by now an almost-weekly grilling.

And the seven of them were all proclaiming to be "very relaxed" as they arrived -- or at least six of them were -- Martin McGuinness turned up so late that he was whizzed past the media without any time for his usual leisurely chat.

Dana was sufficiently relaxed to chide one reporter who irreverently enquired if she had brought along her trusty copy of the Constitution to brandish in the studio, as is her wont.

"No, but I have 300 copies of it in the car, if you would like a copy," she said with a sweet smile.

They were all throwing a few pre-show shapes; in the studio before the show when the seven were asked to count to 10 for a soundcheck, David Norris promptly obliged -- in English, Hebrew and Irish. As you do.

And there must have been a comforting sense of deja-vu for the seven candidates about the studio set-up -- seven wooden lecterns in a row, but this time Michael D decided to do without a box to stand on.

However, if the candidates were expecting a more fun time of it with nice and easy questions from Miriam O'Callaghan, they were sorely mistaken. Dressed in a power-red dress (perhaps she raided the Special K section of Mary Davis's wardrobe), Miriam made like Uma Thurman in 'Kill Bill' -- she began softly enough but soon the kicks were flying.

First the seven were closely quizzed on the powers of the presidency, and it was clear that some of the candidates had been cramming on the Constitution, and others may have wished they had raided Dana's car.

Sean Gallagher had the air of someone who had been doing some serious boning up on the nitty-gritty of Article 26, until the learned Michael D saw his Article 26 and raised it with Article 13. Martin McGuinness was a bit tentative, and David Norris trod carefully when asked if there were any instances in which he, as president, would dissolve the Dail. "It's a very serious step to take," he said thoughtfully.

These days, the senator seems to have modulated his usual exuberance, speaking at a decibel level that doesn't discombobulate dogs sleeping 10 miles away.

Gay had a bit of a soundbite answer prepared. "The single biggest power of the presidency is having the direct mandate from the people," he declared confidently.

And lord knows the beleaguered chap could do with a good performance to rally the sceptical Fine Gael troops to his faintly fluttering flag.

There was then a chat about God, and the role of Himself in the Constitution, including the taking of the oath of office.

"Do you believe in God?" Miriam asked Michael D, who looked a little flummoxed at the direct question.

"I'm a spiritual person," he told her. "Yes, I'm a believer," he added, to be sure.

Dana scented uncertainty, and got stuck into Michael D's party, which she claimed, "seeks to secularise the Constitution". Michael fair levitated with outrage. "I really ask you, if you want to say anything, where do you source the base of your comment?" he barked.

But Miriam then zoomed in on Martin McGuinness. She wanted to know how he squared his faith with the murders perpetrated by the IRA.

It was Martin's turn to be outraged. "I think that's a disgraceful comment, Miriam," he snapped. But she wasn't for relenting, and then read out the oath taken by members on joining the IRA.

However, it turns out that the reason Martin couldn't remember the oath was that he had never taken it in the first place. "I took no oath," he explained. He had joined the Provisional IRA after three months in the Official IRA, he said.

But Miriam pressed on, taking up the theme of the murders by the IRA of members of the gardai and the Defence Forces in the Republic.

Martin was rattled. "I have unreservedly condemned the killing of gardai and other members of the defence forces. I would never, ever stand over attacks on gardai," he insisted. "I do believe a very large percentage of Irish Army are going to vote for me in this election," he added.

They all got it in the neck from Miriam -- letters (Norris), quangos (Davis), Fianna Fail membership (Gallagher).

A walk to the Park, this most certainly isn't.

Irish Independent

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