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Monday 22 September 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: Luck and no little skill as Gallagher closes on Aras

Published 25/10/2011 | 05:00

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Presidential candidate Sean Gallagher and his wife Trish

Sean Gallagher has emerged from the pack of a pretty uninspiring field to lead the presidential election with just 48 hours ago. But it would do him an injustice to say he was only winning by default as he is succeeding where the others failed.

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Gallagher has got lucky but he's also carved out his own piece of the market.

THE SIMPLE MESSAGE

From the off, Gallagher has kept his message simple, focusing on jobs and the economic recovery. He speaks about fostering enterprise and encouraging entrepreneurship, stands up for small businesses, talks about the country's strengths and volunteers his services to assist the recovery.

There's nothing to cause offence in these statements. He rightly sticks rigidly to the same message. He remains the only candidate in the field with a coherent and consistent message on why he wants to be president.

THE CONTRADICTIONS

His connections to the political link-ups with business that contributed to the economic crisis in the first place have been a mere irony. And the president's largely ceremonial and constitutional role having little to do with job creation policy doesn't matter. He is tapping the mood of the nation, where the primary concern is jobs.

THE SEVEN DWARVES

Despite the highest number of candidates ever, the line-up of candidates is hardly the greatest. Gallagher is coming across as the best of a bad lot as his competitors hit trouble.

THE VAGUENESS

Gallagher has remained vague about his past, sketching a carefully constructed picture as a volunteer and entrepreneur. He avoided going into detail about his Fianna Fail involvement and his business disappointments.

THE INDEPENDENCE OF OFFICE

Beyond the party's disorganised navel-gazing, Fianna Fail's own research about the presidency did identify that the public wants a president who is independent of the Government. Michael D Higgins thought independence of mind would suffice.

THE FF FACTOR

Fianna Fail's failure to contest the election meant a large block of present and past party voters were wandering around waiting for a candidate to latch on to. Gallagher played down his Fianna Fail past throughout the campaign -- at times, to a ludicrous extent -- but it was highlighted enough for party supporters to identify with him, but not too much to turn off those who blame Fianna Fail for the economic collapse.

THE TIMING

Gallagher's late run came at the perfect time, just as the other candidates hoping to attract the independent vote were dropping off the pace one by one.

THE RADAR

Gallagher's late run also ensured he didn't come under the intense focus which halted the others in their tracks. By the time he was in the lead and the spotlight shifted to him he had already nestled himself in the mindset. Polls can provide a momentum of their own.

THE GEORGE LEE EFFECT

Gallagher's status as a TV personality with knowledge of the real world of business from his stint on 'Dragons' Den' propelled him into the category of a celebrity candidate with economic nous. The public has been crying out for politicians who are acquainted with business savvy.

THE HARD YARDS

Gallagher went on his celebrated listening tour of the country. Combining seeking a nomination from councils and campaigning, he covered a lot of ground and grinded out the hard yards.

THE THRIFTY CAMPAIGN

The lack of back-up from a party machine meant he didn't have access to large campaign coffers, hence the necessity to not have posters and print only small amounts of leaflets. Gallagher turned this lack of funding into a virtue, challenging his competitors not to post out leaflets at taxpayers' expense. Again, he struck a chord.

THE APPEARANCE

Gallagher has looked the part throughout his campaign. A large part of the president's job is as an ambassador for the country -- both at home and abroad. He has remained cool under pressure.

THE PRESENCE

Gallagher has managed to avoid the mud-slinging and attacks engaged in by his opponents. Neither has he had any of his representatives doing this on his behalf throughout the campaign.

THE YOUTHFUL IMAGE

Gallagher is the youngest candidate in the field at 49. He has been photographed kicking footballs, skipping on a rope and practising judo. The contrast with Higgins, at 70, with his bad knee, has been stark.

And Gallagher has been accompanied by his new wife as often as possible on the campaign trail, who has spoken of the possible pitter patter of tiny feet in Aras an Uachtarain.

THE PITFALLS

Gallagher isn't there yet and a number of factors could yet put him under pressure on Thursday, even with his commanding lead in the opinion polls.

THE SOFT VOTE

Gallagher is tapping a vote that has proven to be volatile with little loyalty attached. Not the kind of voters to rely upon. Norris, Davis and McGuinness have already witnessed these ebbs and flows in the campaign. Higgins has had a more steady performance throughout.

THE TURNOUT

A low turnout is generally expected in the election, which would suit the political parties with their ability to get their voters out. Dependence on a volatile support base and a heavy youth vote would not be the best scenario.

THE TRANSFERS

Gallagher can afford to see his lead in the opinion polls halved on election day and still have enough in reserve to come through. But a lead of less than 5pc to 7pc will see the more transfer-friendly Higgins back in the chase.

THE SUBSTANCE ISSUE

He has coped well with questions about the president's constitutional role and never gets flustered. But the closing days are dangerous.

THE CHIPPING AWAY

The rest of the candidates will continue to chip away at Gallagher's carefully crafted image. All they need to do is put a doubt in the voters' minds.

Irish Independent

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