| 20.3°C Dublin

Independent candidates both hope for keys to Aras

IT was deemed a "happy coincidence" by organisers but the fact that the press release had predicted "presidential rivals team up" hinted that this was no accident.

In the red corner was Senator David Norris. In the blue corner stood 'Dragon' Sean Gallagher, his body-builder frame heaved into a business suit.

The two Independent presidential hopefuls met for the first time yesterday at the launch of the Console snowdrop campaign for suicide awareness.

They shook hands stiffly for the snaps -- all business but with a trace of discomfort on their faces in these early days of their struggle to reach the Park.

An elderly couple passing Buswells Hotel in Dublin marched up to Gallagher, pronouncing themselves as great fans and shaking his hand.

Moments later, it was Norris's turn when an elderly woman came up to him with the same warm welcome.

Gallagher -- an entrepreneur and former community youth worker -- said he was busy putting his manifesto together.

Despite his strong Fianna Fail roots, he has not approached the party for backing and is running as an Independent, he said. But he will "of course" be meeting Fianna Fail TDs, as well as the Independents.

He has also written to all the county councils and is hoping to talk to them individually.

Asked whether, as a successful businessman, he might be willing to forego his presidential salary if elected, Gallagher shifted uncomfortably.

As a result of "unscrupulous developers", there is very little left of the riches from his "Smarthomes" fortune, he revealed.


"I haven't been left with any wealth," he ruefully admitted. But the presidential salary is "set by the Government" -- and it's the job, not the money, that he's interested in.

"I'm not looking for a fancy title or a ceremonial role and a big house. I want to make a difference," he said.

Meanwhile, Senator Norris appealed to Fine Gael to open up the nominations process.

While not actively blocking his nomination, Fine Gael has said it will not be supporting him as the party intends to field its own candidate.

He says his candidacy had now "raised questions" which Fine Gael has to resolve.

"All the parties have committed themselves to a new kind of inclusive politics and I'm all for inclusion," he declared.

So inclusive is he that he won't even knock Fianna Fail.

"There are people of integrity in every single party and that includes Fianna Fail," he said.

The race has begun.

Irish Independent