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Fianna Fail's plan to abduct Gay Byrne and hide him in The Park was an attempt to convince the public that they were still a power in the land. They realised that as a friend of mine in The Evening Press used to say "He was only a prawn in the game". And it pleased me that he didn't go.

Gay has been known to me since we both did bits and pieces in the upstairs studio in the General Post Office. We met occasionally at lunchtime in a pub nearby. My visits there were with a little group of friends who were journalists. Gay never joined us and who could blame him for that. He sat on his own and sipped tomato juice.

Obviously he looked on us as an inferior species and he wasn't far wrong. He went on to great success and probably fortune and I admired him. He took no direct interest in politics but in The Late Late Show he opened windows on to dark corners in Irish life.

It was for the best when he declined to go for The Park: he would hardly have survived a bruising campaign -- it might have left him wounded if not damaged. His opinion of himself might never be the same again.

And if he had got to The Park his sanity might be chipped away in that big lonely house. And so the way is open now for many candidates.

Mary McAleese is going after 14 years during which she left hardly any mark. She came into politics, like Mary Robinson, but with not as much background in civil rights. She always admired Charlie Haughey. She became President by good planning. After her first seven years, she nominated herself. Fine Gael and the Labour Party disgraced themselves by not putting up a candidate. That made a laughing stock of democracy. We had no election.

Mary's biggest fault is that she is innocent. She told the Australians that they were a great nation. If she had done her homework and read Australian John Pilger, the journalist and documentary maker, she would have known that Australia was built on ethnic cleansing. Pilger used to say that there were thousands and thousands of little skeletons in the Australian cupboard. Mary didn't go to see the leaders of the Aborigines nor did she ever see the natives sleeping on the floor in Wyndmark Underground Station and Mall. Was she not aware of the aborginal's problems?

Back at home she was careless in her use of language. When a ceasefire seemed imminent she said that it was time for the armed struggle to stop. The armed struggle included the abduction and "execution" of Jean McConville, a woman with a young family. The victim was accused of being a British agent. That was laughable. Her only crime was that she was a convert to Catholicism and had gone to help a young British soldier fatally shot outside her home.

Nevertheless, Mary hasn't been a bad President. Her presence in The Park pleased many and she was a gracious lady who carried out her duties well.

Fianna Fail, of course, are fiercely determined to get back. And many backrooms in pubs all over the country have been used as a springboard. The local elections may tell a tale but it is doubtful if Fianna Fail will ever again get a clear majority in Leinster House. They have been in power, with only a few intervals, since the early 1930s but their record is not impressive: they left the country bankrupt in all but name, a depleted rail service and every waterway in the country polluted to some extent -- and most people were left with a deep distrust of politics.

The new government faces huge problems: One is to restore the purity of our lakes, rivers and streams. Then they must keep adding to the railway system. And they must punish all malefactors in their ranks -- you remember Ray Burke taking money out of the country in a diplomat's bag. It sounds incredible but it happened.


Fianna Fail's greatest crime of all was to depose Jack Lynch, a man of honour, and replace him with Charlie Haughey, a man not noted for that quality. He is mainly responsible for our economic trauma and yet he was granted a State funeral -- but only because there was a General Election coming.

It was all the ultimate in cynicism and turned many people against the Grand Old Party.

Is Bertie Ahern still in politics? He would love to have gone for The Park but he came badly out of the Moriarty Tribunal. Several Deputies are very angry because they were overlooked in favour of Byrne.

The Presidency is best occupied by a woman. Is the office worthwhile? When ambassadors come they need to be greeted by a head of State who is not deeply involved with any political party.

It will be a good contest and may go to several counts. Michael D Higgins will be favoured by many but it is doubtful if he will have the Party behind him. We do not yet know all the candidates, but Mary McAleese may have opened the door for a third woman president.

Fogra: Congratulations go to Ciaran O'Lionaird on becoming the first man since Niall Bruton in 1997 to make the World 1,500m Final. Fogra eile: Comhgairdeachas to Deirdre Ryan on making the High Jump with a new national record of 1.95m.