Shane Ross signs for Norris, 67% 'no' to Aras Provo
Ireland waits on Tipperary TDs in day of drama for presidential race
A series of dramatic developments yesterday have elevated the race for the Presidency into the most highly charged event in recent political history.
In mid afternoon, the Independent TD, Shane Ross, revealed to the Sunday Independent that he will nominate Senator David Norris to contest the Presidential Election.
This leaves Senator Norris just two nominations short of the 20 required to enter the race and execute the greatest comeback in Irish politics.
As a result, the spotlight now moves to the Independent TDs Mattie McGrath of Tipperary South, and Michael Lowry of Tipperary North. Mr McGrath last week indicated he would support Mr Norris, but yesterday seemed to be giving in to local pressure to resile from his position.
The position of Michael Lowry was unchanged last night -- he is still willing only to be the 20th man if Senator Norris remains one signature short by the deadline for nominations which falls at noon on Wednesday
Meanwhile, it is understood that Senator Martin McAleese -- husband of President Mary McAleese -- is keeping the situation under close observation.
Senator McAleese -- who was appointed to Seanad Eireann by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny -- is understood to have privately expressed concerns about a possible "democratic deficit" which would leave the people without a candidate who clearly has substantial public support.
A Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research poll has found that support for Senator Norris to contest the election is now at a massive 67 per cent.
In another dramatic development, the Fine Gael presidential candidate, Gay Mitchell, yesterday stepped up his attack on the Sinn Fein candidate, Martin McGuinness, describing him as a Manchurian candidate, in effect saying that the former Provisional IRA leader can not be trusted as President of Ireland, titular head of the Defence Forces.
The most serious charge yet comes as the Sunday Independent/Quantum Research poll has found that more than two-thirds of people believe it is "too soon for a man of violence" to be President.
Mr Ross told the Sunday Independent: "I am going to sign David Norris's nomination papers. I am doing it because I don't want to be the person to obstruct him becoming a candidate. But I am going to be supporting Michael D Higgins for President."
Pressure to nominate Mr Norris is, therefore, likely to intensify on Mr McGrath in particular, so as to avoid a situation where the husband of the sitting President should feel obliged to support the nomination process.
Mr McGrath is to finally to decide his position tonight.
Mr Lowry has already committed his support to Mr Norris should the senator receive 19 nominations and require a further one.
It is understood that Mr Lowry intends to hold to that position but may come under pressure now to give the crucial 19th nomination.
It has been widely reported that four local councils are ready to declare for Mr Norris, but it is by no means certain.
The Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research poll has found that there is also majority support (55 per cent) for Dana Rosemary Scallan to be nominated, a finding which will influence undecided councils to support her and/or Mr Norris, should the senator require such support in the event of a curious volte-face by Mr McGrath.
The attack yesterday by Mr Mitchell on Mr McGuinness will add substantially to the nature of what is expected to be a no-holds-barred election campaign up to polling day on October 27.
Mr Mitchell told the Sunday Independent yesterday: "I joined Fine Gael in 1969 as a boy and have spent my entire career defending the State, not the '26 counties' as Martin McGuinness calls it. I'm not prepared to cede pre-eminent leadership of the State to a Manchurian candidate."
Originally a 1959 political thriller novel, the term 'Manchurian candidate' more commonly refers to a candidate running for office who publicly supports one group but uses his executive or legislative powers to assist an opposing group.
Mr Mitchell has chosen to use the term with reference to the Defence Forces, or Oglaigh na hEireann, in the context of Mr McGuinness's admitted past membership of the Provisional IRA, which styles itself the so-called 'Oglaigh na hEireann'.
The Fine Gael candidate, therefore, could not have made a more serious charge against Mr McGuinness, who has stepped down from his position of Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to contest the presidential election for Sinn Fein.
Mr Mitchell told the Sunday Independent: "Article 13 of the constitution vests supreme command of the Defence Forces in the President. Section 17.1 of the 1954 Defence Act, under the heading 'military command', states that 'under the direction of the President and subject to the provisions of this act', executive and administrative powers are exercisable by the government and Minister for Defence.
"The President has a constitutional and statutory role in the military command. Mr McGuinness would not be allowed such a role North of the Border. The people of this sovereign State need to think very hard before conferring such a role here."
In a further new line of attack, Mr Mitchell also said that at a time of international financial turmoil people needed to be "very careful".
"Electing a representative of a party which espouses the crazy policies which SF do would send a dangerous message, and could drive foreign investors elsewhere."
Yesterday Mr McGuinness said he had no intention of engaging in "petty attacks on fellow candidates for the Aras".
Describing himself as a "unifier", he said: "I have fought many election campaigns and I have never engaged in negative campaigning or in petty attacks on fellow candidates. I do not intend to change that approach now as we face into the presidential campaign."
The Sunday Independent/Quantum Research poll has produced results broadly
in line with the results of a Millward Browne Lansdowne online poll for RTE News on Friday, which showed Mr Norris to be the frontrunner to win the election if nominated.
Our telephone poll of 500 people nationwide shows: David Norris (29 per cent); Michael D Higgins (17 per cent); Martin McGuinness (15 per cent); Gay Mitchell (12 per cent); Mary Davis (12 per cent); Sean Gallagher (nine per cent) and Dana Rosemary Scallan (six per cent).
The poll also found that 72 per cent felt the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, should have allowed his TDs and senators to nominate an independent candidate, a decision which the party may yet come to regret.
The independent candidate, Mary Davis, will be concerned at the huge extent of opposition to her decision to continue to accept the nominations of county councils.
Ms Davis remains adamant that she would not ask any of the 12 councils who have so far nominated her to consider the support of other candidates.
In our poll, however, 74 per cent said Ms Davis should have stopped when she achieved the required four nominations.
The poll further found a massive 85 per cent would give credit to the other independent candidate, Sean Gallagher, for his decision to ask councils to stop nominating him when he had the four nominations required.
Those polled are equally definitive in relation to the issues which have so far come to dominate the campaign of the Sinn Fein candidate, Mr McGuinness.
In contrast to the position which Sinn Fein is attempting to adopt, 74 per cent said that the "violent past" of Mr McGuinness was relevant to the presidential election and 69 per cent said it was "too soon for a man of violence" to be President.
A smaller majority (53 per cent) said they did not agree with the decision of Mr McGuinness to walk away from his position of Deputy First Minister to contest the election, while 47 per cent agreed with that decision.
The growing support for Mr Norris to contest the election is now evident in each of the opinion polls that have so far been taken, an indication that the public will not be inclined to easily forgive and forget should Mr Norris fail to secure a nomination.
James MacCarthy-Morrogh of Millward Browne Lansdowne says Mr Norris is poised to take much of the liberal and white-collar vote that the Labour candidate, Michael D Higgins, "has enjoyed for much of the 'phoney war'".
Mr MacCarthy-Morrogh said: "Moreover, Norris's appeal is far more demographically and regionally widespread than might have been thought up to now. He is a much more formidable a candidate than simply one who appeals to Dublin liberals."
The position of Mr McGrath yesterday was that he would meet his supporters tonight to decide on whether he would support the nomination bid of Mr Norris.