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Andrew Lynch: Look before you leap , Gaybo... these are shark-infes ted waters

BACK in the 1980s, Gay Byrne caused a minor stir by revealing that he had voted for Charlie Haughey's Fianna Fail in a recent General Election. Now it seems that the Soldiers of Destiny want to repay the compliment.

The broadcasting legend has revealed that FF leader Micheal Martin rang him on Saturday night and promised the party's full support in a presidential campaign -- which means that a place on the ballot is there for Gaybo as soon he gives the word.

Byrne and FF are not exactly a natural fit. During his heyday as presenter of the Late Late Show, it was members of that party more than any other who condemned him for giving a voice to social liberals.



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As the son of a World War One veteran, whose family listened to the King's speech on Christmas Day, and who once wanted to wear a remembrance poppy on the Late Late (he eventually decided it wasn't worth the hassle), he was even accused of being a closet West Brit.

Today, however, Gay and Micheal clearly need each other. If Byrne really wants to be president, then he requires the signatures of FF's 20 TDs to get his name on the ballot paper.

Martin, meanwhile, would dearly love his battered party to be associated with a winning campaign and give Enda Kenny's coalition a black eye in the process.

Given the toxicity of the FF brand at the moment, running with their support would be like a horse in the Grand National with a massive weight on its back.

However, Gay's personal popularity is so huge that he could probably overcome even this considerable handicap.

The message from the opinion polls is clear -- if he genuinely wants this, then he can almost certainly have it.

But does he? Byrne claims that he has only started to take the idea seriously over the last week or so, when it became clear that the downfall of David Norris had left a huge gap in the market. The next president must be someone who is wholeheartedly committed to the job, not a celebrity who gives the impression that he is only doing it as a personal favour to the Irish people.

Gay would obviously shine on the big set-piece occasions such as a State visit, but could he handle the more mundane duties of the presidency?

He has already said that at his time of life, he has no interest in traipsing around the country looking for councillors' support.



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As president, however, travelling the highways and byways of Ireland is exactly what he would have to do on a weekly basis -- and after a lifetime of schmoozing with celebrities, he might just regard that as a hassle he could do without.

Sean Gallagher's none-too- subtle digs this week have shown that Gay's age could turn out to be his Achilles' heel in the upcoming campaign.

At 77, he is exactly as old as Eamon de Valera when he was first elected to the Park in 1959.

However, that was an era when presidents were about as busy as a FAS director coming up to retirement -- and after the groundbreaking tenures of Robinson and McAleese, people have come to expect rather more energy from their head of state.

As a candidate, some of Gay's more conservative political views would come under the spotlight.

Left-wingers might well ask him to explain his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, dislike of the EU and cautious support for the invasion of Iraq.



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He should also expect a rough ride from his colleagues in RTE, who will be terrified of any accusations of bias -- although since Pat Kenny has already said he would vote for him, presumably somebody else will be chairing the set-piece television debates.

Gay Byrne is standing on the end of the diving board.

He needs to think long and hard before diving in -- because as Charlie Haughey could have told him, there are shark-infested waters below.


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