Friday 15 November 2019

Sharp lessons to learn as Áras race won and lost on TV

'The election campaign was right up there with the best of the soaps for drama.' Photo: Reuters
'The election campaign was right up there with the best of the soaps for drama.' Photo: Reuters

Gerard O Regan

After a sometimes bruising presidential campaign, the nation went to the polls yesterday to vote. Here are 10 things we learned in the race for the Áras.

1. The 'Coronation Street' factor

Irish people - despite regular protestations to the contrary - love elections.

Every campaign develops its own drama. With varying characters - with plot and counter plot - it's right up there with the best of the soaps for drama and entertainment. More than 800,000 people tuned in to watch the RTÉ debate.

2. It was not a boring election.

Hurlers on the ditch gave the contest the thumbs down from the get-go. We were told ego-driven political neophytes were making fools of themselves. But ego is the primer for success in the political hurly burly. In any case, taking the decision to fight a presidential campaign obviously requires a large dollop of self-belief.

3. Tilting at windmills

Some of the policies put out there were a bit wackadoo, but it was a difficult gig. The TV debate was akin to 'shadow boxing', said Seán Gallagher. Landing a knockout blow was nigh impossible. Pinning down the essence of the presidency is 'like chasing a butterfly,' said one observer.

4. Style and substance.

More than any other election in our history this campaign was won and lost on TV. Many voters took a like or a dislike to one of the hopefuls, on the flimsiest of evidence, based on their TV performance. A general election will be fought on a wider battleground. But for all politicians there are sharp lessons to be learned.

5. What the punters wanted

Most voters wished for a president who would boost the national feel-good factor. They also want somebody who has 'the vision thing' laced with a bit of sparkle.

6. A whiff of The Donald

Some called it Trump-style populism, others argue it was just cutting through waffle in our public discourse. Peter Casey with his comments on Travellers opened up Pandora's Box. Whether it can be completely closed remains to be seen.

7. Gilding the lily

Hypocrisy abounded in some quarters following the Casey comments. A suspicion remains that all were not giving their unvarnished views as they scrambled for the high moral ground.

8. The old dogs

Sometimes the old dog does know better when traversing the hard road. The decision by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil not to contest the election was sensible from their point of view. Much better to hold firepower for bigger battles to come.

9. The X Factor

When all is said and done, none of the challengers emerged with that 'certain something' that would make them really stand out. In fairness, this rarely happens. Elections are usually won and lost in a hard slog bound up with the ordinary. But it has been a huge learning curve for some who threw their hat in the ring.

10. The bottom line

The biggest lesson of all is that holding down the job of president makes the incumbent 'presidential'. In comparison, pretenders to the throne can seem extraordinarily lightweight. We tend to forget that before they made it to the Áras, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese lacked that special gravitas the office subsequently bestowed on them. Becoming president elevated both to a higher plane.

It is to their credit they turned the job into a role where we now expect - as a given - aplomb and achievement.

Irish Independent

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