Wednesday 17 January 2018

Higgins runs a steady race but can't resist a jab at Dana

Michael D
canvasses in
Cork yesterday.
Presidential candidate Michael D Higgins canvasses in Cork yesterday.

WHAT class of a presidential race is this at all? Comparisons to the Aintree Grand National are unfair -- it's the Grand National run on a mud-drenched track in the middle of a thunderstorm, in the dead of night, with some of the horses doing U-turns, others refusing to go over the fences, falling at unexpected hurdles or even turning out to be horses of a different national colour altogether.

But leading them all, serenely trotting along unfazed by the shenanigans behind him, is the front-runner, Michael D Higgins.

And, so far, his bid for the Aras hasn't been steered off-track by any controversies -- even Vincent Browne was a bit stuck for a curveball to hurl at Michael D in his rampage through the candidates during the TV3 debate on Tuesday night, half-heartedly scolding him about his party's involvement in the 1993 tax amnesty while in coalition with Fianna Fail.

Michael has a distaste of the messier, muddier end of the race; so far he's avoided getting caught up in any affrays and instead has kept his head down, his speeches concise and has firmly stuck to his presidential theme of creating what he dubs a Real Republic.

So far it's working; two opinion polls -- Ipsos/MRBI and Red C -- released on Thursday showed him to be retaining his lead (at 23pc and 25pc respectively) although the field behind him is volatile in the extreme, with Sean Gallagher now unexpectedly coming up on the inside rail.

Yesterday, he was clocking up a few more miles, travelling to Cork to launch his Munster campaign -- mindful probably that any talk of the Real Republic would go down well in a city that its denizens are wont to loudly proclaim as being the Real Capital.

And mindful that the native sons and daughters of the Independent Republic of Cork are more inclined to cast their ballot for someone who has Beamish rather than Guinness flowing through their veins, Michael D kicked off his speech to about 80 supporters in the Clarion Hotel by showing off his roots. His mother Alison, he reminded them, had hailed from the village of Liscarroll.

But nestling within the learned discourse on his Real Republic was also the odd remark that could be interpreted as a swipe at some of the other candidates.

If he was elected president, he said: "I will not be a member of a political party. But I am not going to affect in some way some kind of amnesia towards where I have come from," he added, a possible snipe at Sean Gallagher and Mary Davis, who have both assiduously played down any significance of their past connections to Fianna Fukushima Fail.

"I have been honoured to have been a member of the Labour party -- that's where I come out of," he added for good measure.

So far, Michael has benefited from his elder statesman image, a long-standing politician with a firm grasp of the Constitution and the role of Uachtaran na hEireann, a wise old owl who keeps his head when all around are losing theirs.

But Sean Gallagher is changing the odds, and Michael D may yet have to remove his mortar-board and don a knuckle-duster.

And not even he could disguise his disapproval over the revelations that Dana is the modest holder of dual citizenship -- so modest, in fact, that it slipped her mind to share this pertinent fact with the Irish electorate.

Did he think it was inappropriate of the candidate not to reveal her American citizenship to the people? "Yes I do. I think it was inappropriate," he said.

"Yes, of course, this is a matter that should be in the public realm but I know noting about the detail of it. And I have to say, and it's important for me to say this, it is based on a family dispute and therefore must be deeply distressing for the members of her family," he added.

But he pointed out that the oath taken by the Irish president includes the words, "dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland," adding, "If you would do that, it would certainly seem to me to be contradiction if you had made an affirmation that didn't allow one to do that with fullness," he said, referring to the US Oath of Allegiance.

"What you say is that you renounce all other loyalties and so forth.

It's quite a comprehensive declaration United States citizens take it very seriously and it's quite ceremonial and you don't do it casually," he reckoned.

It was a toe-dip into the Grand National melee, but that's all -- so far. He believes people are responding to his professorial approach.

"I think I will have advantages over some of the other candidates -- even those who are appearing on the inside and the outside. In the end of the day what you need is a fine, even gait to the finish," he smiled.

Irish Independent

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