Sunday 16 December 2018

Could it be that Aras hopefuls are betting on a big Higgins implosion?

Michael D has shown an ability to be dismissive of genuine questions - which could see him backed into a corner during the campaign, writes Kevin Doyle

Michael D Higgins. Photo: INM
Michael D Higgins. Photo: INM
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

'What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate," said Donald J Trump. It was September 2014 and he was still two years away from securing the Republican nomination for presidency.

But, perhaps, it is the attitude that got Trump all the way to the White House despite his enormous, glaring and dangerous flaws.

The advice would serve our own presidential hopefuls, including the incumbent Michael D Higgins, well as we head into the silly season.

The race to Aras an Uachtarain has barely started and already we know everything about businessman Gavin Duffy's property portfolio and Fianna Fail links.

We have learned that not only is charity worker Joan Freeman the sister of former Where In The World? presenter Theresa Lowe, she's Maria Steen's aunt. Both women were central figures on the wrong side of the abortion referendum.

Artist Kevin Sharkey told us last week that he has never been exposed to what he called "black culture" despite being black.

And the families of the men who founded Aer Arann made it clear that they don't want Padraig O Ceidigh taking undue credit for work undertaken when he was a 12-year-old boy.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein are doing a lot of talking but keeping their player off the pitch until much closer to match day for fear of an early sliding tackle from the media.

Others, like barrister Noel Whelan and Senator Gerard Craughwell, had the good sense to get out before silly season turned into killing season.

But the one question that none of the dreamers have been able to adequately answer is why they would put themselves forward for this sort of scrutiny - especially against somebody like Michael D Higgins who fought the good fight in 2011 and survived.

So far the messages offered up by the 'non-politicians' have been far from inspiring.

Duffy's pitch to speak to our hearts, rather than our heads, immediately went nowhere. For a start, most people accept they don't understand much of what the President says in his speeches.

Take this passage as an example: "Hans Jonas's attempt at healing the separation between psyche and physis proclaimed by Descartes, and at returning the human to a meaningful place within nature, as a recall of old patterns of wisdom, of ancient mythic systems, is but one illustration of the many ways in which philosophical ideas can so fruitfully nurture our responses to some of the great challenges of our time."

It doesn't exactly speak to 'Middle Ireland' but that's OK because we've become accustomed to Michael D's ways.

Sharkey seems to be blaming Europe for building roads that have allowed 'the Germans' (Aldi and Lidl) take over rural towns.

Aside from the fact that the President can't stop the Government from building, most people are glad of the roads and enjoy filling their homes with items that seemed very practical at the time of purchase.

Freeman's proposition to voters is based around volunteerism and mental health, both worthy causes, but just ask Adi Roche or Mary Davis how being the 'worthy' candidate worked out for them.

So back to the question: Why would they run against Michael D Higgins?

The most obvious theory is that maybe, just maybe, the President will himself implode.

On the front page of this newspaper last weekend, Duffy made the point that it would be "unusual and unfair" if the sitting President wasn't asked "very personal questions" like everybody else.

In hindsight, Mr Higgins did coast along during the 2011 campaign as all those around him fell into the gutter.

And he has become somewhat touchy with the press during his term in office - preferring soft topic-based interviews rather than wide-ranging, deep delving ones. Take his appearance on RTE's Sunday Sport last weekend where he barely stopped for breath.

He won't get away with that for the next three months. Tough questions must and will be asked if he is to justify a second term - and the sometimes dismissive attitude towards journalists will have to be dropped.

His presidency has cost us €30m which doesn't actually sound like huge money over seven years - but on a recent trip to New York he took exception when asked whether people got value for money.

He told my colleague Cormac McQuinn it was "rather sad" that he would travel across the Atlantic to ask such a thing.

"I think the people who represent the Irish-America media deserve better," Mr Higgins said.

The exchange went largely unnoticed, in contrast to a similar incident when Enda Kenny was followed to Canada by journalists to be asked about stepping down.

The then Taoiseach's reply ("I can't believe that you travelled this distance to ask a question like that") was widely debated with the consensus being that Mr Kenny was the one that was out of order.

Mr Higgins was also asked whether it's proper that the Aras is one of the last offices in the State that is protected from nosy journalists who like to investigate how money is spent and decisions are made.

"Any arrangement in relation to the Freedom of Information which the government of the day decides to pass, I as President will, in fact, be perfectly happy to fulfil it," Mr Higgins said.

Those kind of dismissive answers to genuine and legitimate questions could see Mr Higgins backed into a corner during the campaign.

And perhaps that's what Gavin Duffy is betting on.

That Michael D Higgins now sees himself as above the day-to-day rumour mill and immune to media probing - which could lead to a bad reaction if some twist of fate presents him with awkward questions.

It's a long shot but while Michael D Higgins might not be a gambling man, we know from Gavin Duffy's days in Dragons' Den that he likes an occasional punt.

Sunday Independent

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