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John Drennan: This contest will reveal true state of our politics

Presidential candidates are not quite as separated from reality as those barristers in the law library who believe the main purpose of a general election is to select the next Attorney General, but it is often a close-run thing.

In spite of the apparent harmlessness of a position where, like a government backbench TD, or, ironically enough, the British monarchy, your main purpose is to say nothing and stay alive so we are all spared the inconvenience of an election, a certain fine madness seems inevitably to attend our presidential campaigns.

Still, when it comes to those of us who live in the cheap seats, if it is useful for nothing else, the Presidency provides us with a delightful soap-opera to divert us all from the recession.

So far, this has certainly been the case for a Fine Gael party which -- with the exception of Enda, who was not at all keen on having a turbulent priest bellowing from the Park -- is mourning the loss of John Bruton.

Happily, the disappearance of Mr Bruton means the party is enjoying the invasion of the lightweights. The current front-runner, Gay Mitchell, has, for example, three claims to fame. Two of these consist of insults from Bertie Ahern -- "you're a waffler" -- and Michael McDowell, who called him the "evil of two lessers".

Gay also famously attempted to bring the Olympics (or maybe it was the World Cup) to Dublin, while, lest you might think Gay is not intellectual enough, he has also published the Gay Mitchell Quiz-book of Irish Politics.

There is also Pat Cox, of whom the less said the better, since he'll talk enough for all of us. Sadly when it comes to the former FF, PD Independent and now FG candidate (well at least he'll be a President for all the people) Pat is about to learn the hard way that in the Blueshirts, blood really is thicker than water and Fine Gael blood is thicker than most.

Those of us who had dreamed of a lovely girl in a white cotton dress and the smell of hot scones drifting across the lawn of the Aras are also likely to be disappointed, for when it comes to Mairead McGuinness. . . well, Mairead will continue to do a great job in Europe.

Still, it could be worse, for FF is now so desperate, talk is emerging of the possibility that Eamon O Cuiv (if you don't know -- and many won't -- he is the grandson of De Valera but looks and sounds like Dev's grandfather) may be unleashed on the public.

Inevitably, so far the real stars of this version of the Phoenix Park 'Wacky Races' has consisted of that political group of Independents who can be filed under the generic term of A. N. Other.

David Norris is, of course, perfectly qualified for the office apropos of having spent three decades in another powerless, irrelevant talk-shop which also regularly muses about the state of the nation and is instantly rebuffed every time it attempts to hold a conversation with it.

Outside of Mr Norris, we have the very nice woman who organised the Special Olympics.

Now, who is she again. . . oh, wait, Mary Davis.

Mary's desire to be President is somewhat qualified by an apparent ignorance about the contents of the Constitution she wants to protect. It might well be the case that in a better world, love, Presidents could veto the Budget but you are not Obama, dear. Still, pet, at least you know now.

The RTE Dragons Den celebrity Sean Gallagher has meanwhile gone to some pains to re-invent himself as an ordinary decent non-FF candidate. It is, one supposes, a measure of where we have travelled that it is all right for the President to be gay but being associated with FF is toxic.

Amidst all of this joy, one would almost forget Labour (don't feel too guilty, it's happening a lot), whose current troika of political Tinkerbells consist of a former Mephistopheles of spin Fergus Finlay, Ireland's best-loved socialist Michael D and Kathleen O'Meara.

In fairness, we are perhaps being just a touch too facile if we claim the Presidency is no more than a soap-opera.

The great hidden secret of the Presidency, and the reason why the contests are so febrile, is that it is like The Mousetrap in Hamlet -- a play within a greater play.

Since the country returned to the habit of holding elections for the post, it mirrors, in its own eccentric little way, major developments within society and politics.

Rather like the great struggle between Mary Robinson and Brian Lenihan Snr, which morphed into a battle between the patriarchal Old and a better New Ireland, or the triumph of Mc Aleese, which signified the return of FF to the centre of the national stage, this current campaign will also send out a number of key political messages.

In spite of all the feigned indifference, Mr Kenny is more than keen to strengthen FG's imprint on the institutions of the State, for should FG secure the Presidency, the great purpose of stealing FF's clothes to such an extent that FG becomes the new natural party of government will be complete.

For now, it appears the only fly in the FG soup is provided by the presence of David Norris, who is still recovering from that unfortunate 'Carry on Up Plato's Symposium' episode.

The selection of Norris could, however, seriously influence how the world may see a country that would be open enough to select the first openly gay President in a Western democracy.

It is, to put it mildly, somewhat of a stretch, but Mr Norris could be our Vaclav Havel, the former philosopher president of the Czech Republic.

Of course, if Mr Norris is not elected, that could send out a completely different message. But that of course is up to the people. . . and the political establishment.

Sunday Independent