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All in the presidential game

By Saturday, presidential debates had been happening for so long it felt like every RTE presenter might get a go. Before Lucy Kennedy and Socky got their turn, we got Charlie Bird.

He jumped breathlessly from question to question, didn't always seem to listen to the answers and asked new questions before candidates were finished. It should have been called Charlie Bird's Micro Quiz-M. I think I heard a quiz-show buzzer at one point, and I believe that Sean Gallagher won a cheque book and pen.

Thankfully, the candidates weren't taking it seriously. Austere legislator Gay Mitchell restyled himself "radio funnyman" Gay Mitchell.

"I'm the only 'Gay' that's going for president!" he chuckled, to avoid answering whether he would marshal Gay Pride (this annoyed David Norris). He also proclaimed that when elected he'd "surprise everyone by smiling every day". Thankfully, it was radio so we only had to imagine this (I've heard it said that Mitchell's unseen teeth form a portal to a mind-warping hell dimension).

Candidates later offered to feed us (work in soup kitchens) and house some of us (well, Priory Hall residents) and Norris was morally outraged by frivolous decorations. Why, he asked, was there a row of pumpkins lining the stage? ("Are those not the election candidates?" I thought.)


They turned out to be the creations of an artist introduced to RTE by a member of Norris's own campaign team.

Newstalk's interactive radio/internet debate was a harder-edged digital affair simultaneously "televised" online and featuring video questions from the electorate. The most important technology, however, was Ivan Yates, a man more clockwork than digital, wheeled out in all of his sh*t-stirring, combative glory.

His assertion that Gallagher was "a Fianna Fail builder" rattled Gallagher ("I have never built a house and you need to stop saying this"). Yates even turned "radio funny-man" Gay Mitchell back into "political street-fighter" Gay Mitchell.

"I've looked after my business better than some, Ivan," said Mitchell, digging back in response to a dig about his half-hearted party support. Of course, all the focus on what presidential candidates think and feel is beside the point. The only really relevant question is: "Can you shut up about what you think and feel for seven years?" But there were still facts to be established.

On Monday's Frontline debate, McGuinness accused Gallagher of being a Fianna Fail bagman who had collected a mysterious cheque from a mysterious individual.

On Today with Pat Kenny, Gallagher attacked McGuinness with military metaphors and tempted fate by suggesting a Frontline audience member who had filleted him on his business affairs was a party plant.

Fate answered and soon the lady was on the phone filleting him again.

Gallagher's issues surrounding the cheque, his Fianna Fail connections and his own finances still seemed muddy, so later Matt Cooper and George Hook both gave him a good going over.

They softened up the Dragon's Den investor for LMFM's excellently briefed and wonderfully annoyed Michael Reade who, on Wednesday, methodically took him apart.

And still Gallagher didn't realise he was the Fianna Fail candidate. Perhaps he is the Manchurian Candidate? If he becomes president he'll be "activated" by a subliminal signal from Micheal Martin and will start building houses in Phoenix Park.

On Sunday's Dunphy Show, Dunphy, John Waters and Ed Molloy had been entertainingly disgusted by how "the most sophisticated electorate in the world" (Molloy) were being duped by his bald-faced charm.


"There's a kind of a sneakiness about the Irish electorate, a duplicity, where . . . they'll rant and rave in one way about Fianna Fail and builders and then they'll elect a Fianna Fail builder as president," said Waters.

"He's a cute hoor John. He's a cute hoor and we're a nation of cute hoors," said Dunphy later, as the Dunphy-baiting texters (his key demographic) went mad about bias.

Irish susceptibility to slick hucksters was once a concern for iconic agony aunt "Dear" Frankie Byrne, the subject of an excellent Documentary on One.

A look at the Ireland of the time rather than Frankie herself, in one extract she entreated a letter-writer to ignore flash Harries "slipping into the kitchen with marriage proposals while you're slaving over a hot oven". It was hard not to think of the race for the Aras.