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Kevin Doyle: Tycoon candidates mean business but they need a lucky break

Kevin Doyle : Donald Trump has shown the way - and now three businessmen aim to match him in the race for the Aras, writes Kevin Doyle


Gavin Duffy is among those seeking nomination (Niall Carson/PA)

Gavin Duffy is among those seeking nomination (Niall Carson/PA)

Gavin Duffy is among those seeking nomination (Niall Carson/PA)

Everything is life is luck. That's the angle Donald Trump takes on success. At the same time, he claims to have "tremendous intelligence, smarts, cunning, strength and stamina".

In fact, the US President believes he has the "hottest brand" in the world.

For better or worse, it got him all the way to the White House and it would appear that he has inspired a generation of businessmen who think they can be politicians.

But let's get one thing clear from the start: Ireland will not be electing a Trump.

We certainly have an eclectic mix of potential candidates but none of them, not even artist Kevin Sharkey, who wants to keep Ireland "predominately white", are close to the US President when it comes to being outrageous.

Events of the past few days though have led to conversations about what exactly we are looking for in a president.

What is it about Dragons' Den that gives wealthy middle-aged men the confidence to run for Aras an Uachtarain?

People have looked for conspiracies. Maybe they are working in cahoots? Maybe it's all a big joke? Maybe they have more money than sense?

That last point is probably the closest to the truth. There is only a certain type of person can afford to have a real shot at the presidency. Generally you are a party hack or independently wealthy.

You can't buy the Aras - but having some money will help you gain name recognition, fund PR crews, staff and the inevitable nationwide tour.

The maximum spend by a single candidate during the contest is €750,000 and unless you perform strongly, that will be dead money.

The emergence of Atlanta-based businessman Peter Casey last week caused quite a stir among his fellow entrepreneurs Sean Gallagher and Gavin Duffy. While all three consider themselves ''friends'' in the practical sense of the word, neither Gallagher nor Duffy had any clue that Casey was about to enter the race.

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Duffy and Casey would be closest to each other, having shared a Dragons' Den dressing room for two years. But those behind Duffy's campaign were flabbergasted when his name emerged last week as a potential candidate in the pages of the Irish Independent.

Having spent months planning their own campaigns, it was difficult to see what exactly Casey hoped to achieve with his somewhat late entry.

Mr Casey is moving home to Ireland, handing over the reins of his businesses to his son. But the millionaire is unlikely to be looking at the Aras as a full-time Dublin residence. In fact, he claims to own the most north-easterly home in the Republic of Ireland.

Sean Gallagher was not on the RTE programme at the same time as Casey but the pair know each other reasonably well.

They met up in America recently but the only talk about the presidency was when Casey asked if Gallagher was going to run again. The answer was allegedly ambiguous.

Despite their similarities, the chances of all three getting local authority nominations are actually pretty high.

A source in one of the camps noted: "The fact so many 'protest type' candidates are going around to councils too makes them look like credible candidates. That has helped their cause."

The danger after that, though, is that they cancel out each other, rather than Michael D Higgins.

Against a backdrop where the country is showing little sign of having a seven-year itch, they must each convince voters that the incumbent has overstayed his welcome.

To achieve that, they need to outline a winning vision for an office that carries very little day-to-day power.

Step one will be explaining why their business credentials qualify them to be president.

Given the job description, which includes hosting garden parties and attending sporting events, it would seem more suited to somebody from the community or charity sector.

Yet Adi Roche and Mary Davis will testify that their proven track records for serving society's most vulnerable meant nothing in the heat of battle.

Unlike in Trump's America, the highest office-holder in the land here is largely a ceremonial role. This point has been missed by many of those promising change.

Duffy has talked repeatedly about the ''soft power'' that comes with being president. In Carlow, he told councillors that he wouldn't wait for the Government to take action in a case like Priory Hall. He would visit the residents, highlight their plight and effectively embarrass those in actual power to take action.

In his opening pitch, Casey repeatedly accepted the president can't change policy but promised to harness the power of the Irish abroad to make the country stronger at home.

An online platform was central to his proposal. Apparently "Zuckerberg could arrange it for us in three or four months".

He also made the point that while others are talking about attracting investment to Ireland, he has actually spent his career doing just that.

"It is a real, meaningful message. I'm not just saying I can help companies come to Ireland. I have helped companies come to Ireland."

He admitted it was a "profitable exercise". "It wasn't charity. I can sell Ireland as passionately as anyone. I'm sure Sean and Gavin can too, but I've actually been doing it," he said.

We have yet to hear what exactly Gallagher is proposing this time around, apart from making Ireland "a significant player within Europe and globally".

His 2011 campaign, with taglines including ''Let's put our strengths to work'', resonated with voters largely because we were in the depths of the recession. The grass is much greener now so he faces a challenge to come up with the "fresh approach" he talked about his in press statement.

The Dragons will face many questions over the coming weeks - but "why'' is likely to be the most common.

But perhaps a more pertinent one for the businessmen would be: ''Why aren't you running for the Dail?''

Our Cabinet is effectively devoid of entrepreneurs. The Taoiseach is a doctor. The Business Minister managed a credit union. Prior to politics, the Housing Minister worked in the area of international arms control. The Health Minister studied to be a journalist.

Surely Peter Casey should be aiming to be Minister for the Diaspora. Gavin Duffy could take on Communications or maybe Social Protection. Send Sean Gallagher into the Department of Enterprise.

Or perhaps, being astute businessmen, they've studied the Irish political landscape and realised it takes a lot less effort to chance your arm in a presidential election than work your way up through the party system to the point where you are considered for Cabinet.

All the evidence suggests Mr Higgins is halfway home before the race has even begun.

It will take an almighty campaign for anybody to even offer him a real challenge.

But as Trump would argue, perceived wisdom is often discarded by Lady Luck.

Ireland may not be looking for a businessman as president - but, as Sean Gallagher knows, a twist of fate could be the difference between winning and losing.

Maybe the real reason so many Dragons are trying to put the ''den'' in president is that they see an opportunity. It's a gamble but if it pays off, the win will be massive.

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