Monday 27 May 2019

Former Dragon Seán Gallagher back in town

Starts off campaign in town he lived in for twenty years

Above, Seán Gallagher and his wife Trish at Dundalk Retail Park where they met Aaron Rogers and his daughters Lilly and Lucy
Above, Seán Gallagher and his wife Trish at Dundalk Retail Park where they met Aaron Rogers and his daughters Lilly and Lucy

Margaret Roddy

Seán Gallagher suffered one of the most bruising defeats in Irish political history when he crashed out of the 2011 Presidential election. He was on course to victory when he stumbled to answer a question on a live debate on RTE. It didn't matter that it subsequently emerged that the allegation came from a fake twitter account, the damage was done.

For eighteen months after the election, his phone didn't ring. 'No one called except for close family and friends,' he recalls.

It was a tough time. 'Not because I wasn't successful in winning but because of the way it ended,' he says. The timing of the RTE Frontline programme and the radio show the following morning, left him with no time to regroup and fight back.

'A lot of people who watched the programme had discounted the allegation but it wasn't my finest performance.'

He says that in the years since, hundreds if not thousands of people have come up to him and said 'Do you know what you should have said?'

In hindsight, he says he knows what he would have done but in the heat of the moment, under the glare of the studio lights, he doubted his own memory.

'People saw me as something I'm not, they saw me as unconvincing. It took time to come back from that.'

As he reflected on what had happened, Sean says he still believed that he had something to offer the country.

'I wrote to the government, the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, and said that 'your vision is my vision and I want to help the country recover' but no one responded.'

In addition, 'Tweetgate' had left what he calls 'a lingering cloud' which he needed to dispel so he began a legal challenge against RTE which only ended last December with an apology and an undisclosed payout.

There was, he says, 'a process which Trish and I had to go through. I set out to get a clarification from RTE which led to six years of a protracted case.'

'It's a difficult challenge to take on the national broadcaster, but true to the values of fairness which I believe in, I had to pursue it.'

He says he holds no animosity towards RTE and the only reason he didn't take part in last week's radio debate was because President Higgins wasn't available. 'I will take part in all future debates when all the candidates are available.'

'I never ceased to be committed to Ireland, to Ireland's future, our communities and business,' he continues.

The former Dragon points to the column which he wrote in the Sunday Independent for six years encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs to locate in parts of the country which never get foreign investment. 'I continued to promote and champion the SME sector and the need to create jobs in the areas where the multinationals never located.'

'On a higher point, what mattered to me in 2011 still matters to me but with a different emphasis. At the time there was a crisis in unemployment and emigration and our young people were leaving which was a source of despair all over the country, and I wanted to do something about it,' he explains. 'At the time I was very clear, given my background in youth, development, and community enterprise and jobs, and having worked for InterTrade Ireland, that I wanted to help the country.'

'My cry out was to do for jobs what Mary and Martin McAleese had done for the Peace Process.'

He believes that he can use the office of the President to promote Ireland at home and abroad with the aim of attracting foreign direct investment and developing new markets.

Things have chanced since 2011, both on a national and personal level.

'Trish and I have been blessed to become parents to Bobby and Lucy,' he says. 'So much has changed in our lives and in Ireland.'

There are, he stresses 'whole swarths of Ireland that the recovery never arrived.' And alongside his interest in promotion the SME sector, he says he is now looking at things differently, through the eyes of a parent.

'Now it's about looking at the future as a parent, of wanting to help shape the type of Ireland our children will grow up in, in creating a society of equality and fairness, where uniqueness is celebrated and where the community spirit that I grew up with is cherished.'

He believes that his diverse background, of youth work, enterprise and championing disability, gives him a strong appeal. He has a clear plan for a year long initiative around supportive employment, education and opportunities for people with disabilities.

Although he nows lives in Delganey, Co Wicklow, his roots are along the Border. 'I was born in Monaghan, grew up in Cavan. My father is from Donegal and I spent nearly twenty years in Louth,' he says.

'I believe now we will see a United Ireland in my lifetime and I believe working for this is something which the President can do. I would work to build on Mary and Martin McAleese did so well. They clearly found a way to do make that happen.'

'I want to be President for all the people of Ireland who want me as their President,' he says. 'There are lots of people just a few miles from here who have an Irish passport and consider the President to be their President.

'I would represent them as their President and would be a friend to everyone in Northern Ireland,' he says.

'I think there is a programme of work which needs to continue before you can talk about the unification of territory. I would concentrate on building relations and winning trust which is the foundation of the unification of people, communities and territory.'

'That's a process which needs to be led, supported and nurtured,' he says.

Pointing to the lack of leadership with the suspension of the Northern Assembly and challenge posed by Brexit, he says Ireland has the opportunity to play a stronger role in Europe and the World.

His background in Fianna Fail had been used against him in the last campaign. This time round, he says that he is 'very proud' of his time in the party. 'It taught me a lot about the political process and it was important for me to have an understanding about politics before going forward for election.'

'I am grateful for the support I am getting from Fianna Fail councillors, and indeed Fine Gael and all parties.'

He says that in spite of the process which people have to go through to get a nomination to stand for election, the office of President is non-political. 'It's outside of party politics.'

Rejecting the suggestion that he is a Fianna Fail candidate in all but name, he points out that Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has publicly declared his support for the incumbent.

As his campaign bus rolled into Dundalk last Thursday, he is greeted by friends who campaigned for his last time around and who are supporting him again.

'He's as brave as a lion,' says Derek Roddy who worked alongside him in Smarthomes. 'He's been a good friend for over 20 years and it's great to see him coming back to Dundalk.'

In the Park Cafe, there's no shortage of people coming up to shake his hand and to wish him well. A couple from Carrickmacross are among them. They intend voting for him. 'He came across very well last time. I was sorry for the way he was treated,' says the wife.

The Argus