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Shane Ross: Quango queen eyes the Park

IS there a single presidential candidate with a clue about business? Where is the leader-in-waiting who might fly across the globe, blazing a trail for Irish enterprise?

I had high hopes for Senator Feargal Quinn, but he hung his hat on the fortunes of Dragon's Den star Sean Gallagher. Indeed Sean might have fit the bill, but his spell on the board of Fas and his far-too-recent membership of the national executive of Fianna Fail is a hard pill to swallow.

Last week, I and other TDs came under pressure to sign the nomination papers of the vessels of vanity who want to occupy the Aras. So I dug out their CVs to see if any of them might have an idea about the difference between a contract for difference (CFD) and a credit default swap (CDS).

The results were awful.

Gay Mitchell's business credentials make him sound like the most boring beast in Ireland. His campaign website describes him as a "chartered secretary and accountant". Nothing is revealed about where he practised these dull arts.

Michael D Higgins was a university lecturer, as was David Norris. Neither claims any great knowledge of business. Martin McGuinness has been far too busy. . . er, defending his community, to be corrupted by commerce.

The search for a champion of enterprise seemed fruitless. Most of the candidates' credentials were padded, full of motherhood and apple pie. Gay had been a youth leader at St Joseph's Boys Club in Inchicore, and was a community activist and even treasurer of a St Vincent de Paul network. Such goodness may make us mortal sinners feel guilty, but it hardly makes the wheels of business buzz.

Michael D's business profile includes his justifiable claim to have "reinvigorated" the Irish film industry during his term as Minister for the Arts and Culture. Otherwise he lists a record of cultural achievements that put his competitors to shame.

Norris is big into human rights, but he would never pass the CFD/CDS test.

McGuinness has so far declined to post a CV on the web. It would make fascinating reading. No doubt he kept the books in the Derry IRA and was an expert in the cost of explosives, the going rent for burying arsenals of weapons and the price of trips to Libya; but that is -- hopefully -- not likely to be much use to him in the Aras.

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Martin may even know a bit more about banking than he cares to admit. He could, just like Gay, call himself a "community activist", admittedly of a different complexion.

Not much evidence of an ounce of commercial nous surfaced between all four candidates.

And that just left Mary Davis.

Mary showed signs of promise. The difference between Mary and the other candidates was striking. While her rivals strain to paint a commitment to entrepreneurship, Mary is coy. Mary has simply smothered her promotional bumf with apple pie. Unfortunately, she chose to omit some of her greatest achievements.

In her election literature there is Mary with Mandela, Mary with the elderly, Mary the mountaineer and -- above all -- Mary the woman who brought the Special Olympics to Ireland.

Modest Mary has an unrivalled record of selfless service to the community. She even refers to herself as a "social entrepreneur", an all-embracing cuddly phrase which combines the happy clappy stuff with the buzz of business. She won the Lord Mayor of Dublin Millennium award, the Person of the Year Award 2003, the Woman of the Year Award in 2003. Miraculously, she is not yet Man of the Year. She won the Spirit of Humanity Award this year and has notched up honourary doctorates from three universities.

Mary should skip the presidency and simply ascend directly to beatification or sainthood. Her virtue is simply dazzling.

Despite her obvious claims to piety, Mary is too modest. While she lists her chair of the Taskforce on Active Citizenship and includes the Irish Sports Council, the UCD Foundation and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland in her portfolio, she has chosen to omit a few rather more rewarding business achievements.

As a former PE teacher, Mary is certainly qualified for membership of the Sports Council, but it is difficult to understand why she is not proud of her place on the board of the Irish Civil Service Building Society. It's even more difficult to understand as it is a Bank of Ireland satellite. It fails to merit a mention.

When Mary departed in 2010, directors of the Bank of Ireland subsidiary were being paid €25,000 a year. As a presidential candidate -- with banking experience -- she could offer priceless insights into the property collapse, the current mortgage crisis and the behaviour of the directors of the Bank of Ireland, which paid her such a fine part-time wage. Instead, she prefers to stay silent about this hidden area of her expertise.

Probably just an oversight. You cannot fit everything in with a CV as long or as virtuous as Mary's. But funnily enough, there is another important omission. Mary picked up a gig in no less a semi-state than the deeply troubled Aer Rianta (now the DAA). Indeed, she did a five-year stint there -- possibly the most rotten quango in Ireland.

It is difficult to understand why a PE teacher was a political appointee as a director of the DAA, but she probably helped them with all their verbal acrobatics.

Mary could surely now give us her views on DAA chief Dermot Collier's enormous pay package of €638,000 while she was on the board and a member of the audit committee.

Did she approve it? Can she justify it in the light of the semi-state's huge debt and poor performance?

She might also let us know if she thought she merited her €17,500 annual fee. She could give us the real reasons why Dublin Airport is such a total shambles. She could give us the inside track on the white elephant known as Terminal 2.

So, modest Mary is uniquely placed to shed a light on exorbitant pay in both the banks and the semi-states, as she was at the coal face of both. Michael D would be happy to discuss big bonuses for fat cats with her.

Although Mary was busy at the DAA and the Bank of Ireland subsidiary during the boom years, she found time to serve the State in other capacities. Back in 2000, the Fianna Fail government appointed her as a director of Stadium Ireland, more commonly known as the "Bertie Bowl".

Again, she fails to mention it in her manifesto.

This was a vanity project, pioneered by the former Taoiseach, which floundered into oblivion as the recession hit in 2007. Mary was paid for her troubles on the board of Stadium Ireland. As a presidential candidate and a Fianna Fail nominee, let her tell us why Bertie's folly failed.

Mary flourished under Bertie's government. Not just in terms of the political appointments to the Bertie Bowl project and the DAA; she also landed the highly sensitive post on the board of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland.

A pity that she was not a bit more upfront about her business pedigree.

The Queen of the quangos wants to be President of Ireland. Let us hope that she discards her halo and shares her business experiences with us.