Tuesday 19 November 2019

Six lessons the six presidential candidates can teach us – and themselves

How Peter Casey is probably not finished with national politics, how Sinn Féin have lost their campaign edge and how incumbent Higgins must now keep his promises

Michael D Higgins
Michael D Higgins
John Downing

John Downing

John Downing offers six lessons the six presidential candidates can teach us – and themselves:

1. Michael D Higgins

Sure he won – what else about it?  

Yes, he had a very convincing win and made it look easy all through. Time and place he was clever to ration debate appearances. And he was astute to judge that the people in prosperous times do not much care about spending controls at the office of president.

But his campaign style was bad for long-term democracy. He must now keep campaign promises he made on delivering more spending accountability.

President Michael D Higgins votes with his wife Sabina at St Mary’s Hospital, Phoenix Park. PHOTO: TONY GAVIN

2. Peter Casey

What’s your problem here? Early polls said he would get 2pc – he will now get 10 times that. 

Again true, but he did it mainly by tapping into some voter’s fears about Travellers and people living on welfare.

That can be dangerous and too easy at times. Yet the issues he raised must be debated rationally and fairly by us all. We must use that opportunity.

Meanwhile, Peter Casey is probably not finished with national politics.

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Presidential Candidate Peter Casey at the count centre for the Presidential Election in the Convention Centre, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

3. Liadh Ni Riada

A strong personal campaign suggested she merited a better vote. But Sinn Féin face huge questions after this most disappointing result. 

They got nothing like their core vote and clearly failed to broaden their base towards women and better-off voters.

Their votes "leaked" to Peter Casey and Michael D Higgins. It was an expensive misadventure as they face EU and local elections next year, and very probably a Dáil election too.

They have lost their campaign edge.

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Canvass: Sinn Fein candidate Liadh Ní Riada on the campaign trail in Crumlin, Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

4.   Joan Freeman

She fought a good battle and can argue that she advanced the case for mental health care and tackling the scourge of suicide. It further enhanced her case that she avoided "attack campaigning".

But by her own admission, she was a "one-trick pony".  A single issue platform is not enough when standing for election to national office.

Candidates must also project their message on to other issues – or else perish.

Presidential candidate Joan Freeman casts her vote with her husband Pat at the Scoil Mhuire polling station in Lucan this morning. Photo: Tony Gavin

5. Sean Gallagher

He must realise that elections are really about the future and past events have limited relevance.

The "nearly man" last time in 2011 looked like he was still fighting the last election.

His attempt to boycott some debates due to Michael D Higgins’s absence failed. He could not project a "me versus Michael D" campaign simply because he did not have a fraction of the outgoing President’s support. 

Successful campaigns need to capture the national mood here and now.

Sean Gallagher casts his vote in the presidential election with his wife Trish and son, Bobby, 5, at the Charlesland Sports and Recreation centre in Greystones. Pic credit; Damien Eagers / INM

6. Gavin Duffy

He amassed considerable wealth advising people on media and messaging. But he clearly could not take his own advice in presenting his case as he did several really poor interviews on radio and television.

His campaign message appeared confused and diffuse. This man has many lessons to teach us about how not to do things.

One wonders can he learn them himself.

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Gavin Duffy and his wife Orlaith Carmody casting their vote at Whitecross National School in Julianstown, Co Meath. Picture: Mark Condren

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