Dave Ryan runs down the final debate in the race for the Presidency
‘What I have done, I may well have delivered the photograph. If he gave me an envelope I… if he gave me the cheque it was made out to Fianna Fáil headquarters and and it was delivered and that was that.’ –Seán Gallagher
In the final week of the Presidential election, the two most important figures have been 40% and €5,000. The first figure represents the impressive polling performance of Seán Gallagher coming into the home stretch. Polls on Sunday show the entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den star a full 14% clear of his nearest competitor, Michael D. Higgins. The second figure represents what may be Gallagher’s downfall just short of the finish line. More on that anon.
Last night, before a lively crowd, Pat ‘Captain Charisma’ Kenny moderated the final debate for the office of President. With drama, wit, and panto crowd- type reactions, this was the second best debate of the lot, second only to the enthralling Vincent Browne debate. Here’s how I saw the evening’s events:
Dana Rosemary Scallon- At this point, she knows she’s finishing near the bottom, a realisation most had come to long before she did. Last week’s attack at the hands of a malicious tyre did not deter Dana from attending the final debate. One of Dana’s major problems in every single debate is that she is incapable of breaking away from rehearsed soundbytes; soundbytes which aren’t all that varied in their themes: Europe, constitution, banks. If you’ve seen one of the debates, you have pretty much heard everything Dana said last night. Verdict: *
Gay Mitchell- Oh Gay. What a quandary his campaign has been. The nominee of the biggest political party in the country (by some distance), Gay Mitchell’s polling has been completely at odds with Fine Gael’s. This was a statement put to him last night by Pat Kenny, but he was unable to satisfactorily explain it. Indeed, party leadership was very slow to put Fine Gael’s election machine into motion, but even his party’s supporters don’t seem to be backing him. On Tonight with Vincent Browne after the debate, it was suggested he may be suffering by virtue of not being Pat Cox. In the debates, his main failures have been misdirected attacks. Particularly in the early debates, Gay spent most of his time attacking Martin McGuinness, attacks which backfired as McGuinness’ numbers rose, and Gay remained stagnant. Last night, he was doing fine for the most part, but in a bizarre turn of events, spent the last five minutes of sir-time attacking Pat Kenny of all people. At its core, his initial point was sound: An audience member had asked candidates (starting with Mary Davis) if someone like Denis O’Brien was of suitable character to sit on the Council of State. This may not have been the intention, but it could have been interpreted as an invite for the candidates to criticise Denis O’Brien, who was not there to defend himself. But Gay went a step further, accusing Pat of bringing down the quality of the debate, and not allowing them time to get their message out. Ironically, the five minutes he spent ranting about Pat Kenny could have been spent getting his message across. Verdict: **
Mary Davis- It’s less than an hour after the debate, and I’m genuinely struggling to recall anything significant Mary Davis said or did during it, which is never good. I knew I would have to write this article, and tried my best to remember every detail. I can only imagine how little the casual viewer must have come away with. The problem that has endured throughout Mary’s campaign, as explained on Vincent Browne last night is that despite the fact that her work with Special Olympics shows that she must be extraordinarily compassionate and driven, she has yet to show these qualities to the electorate. Last night, she continued to fail to connect with the audience. She did not come off as unlikeable though; that had been a problem in early debates. Her major victory in my eyes was frankly stating that the President cannot create jobs, they can just influence. She avoided the potential catastrophe of the Denis O’Brien question by allowing Gay Mitchell to proceed to give Pat Kenny the third degree Is still likely to fall far short of the expectations people had when she announced her candidacy. Verdict: **
Michael D. Higgins- A disappointing night for Michael D., at a time where he really could have used a strong performance to lose the gap on Gallagher. Whereas he didn’t do anything bad necessarily, he failed to set the world alight here. Received a warm response from the crowd throughout the evening, and was keen to point out that the only criticism people have found of him is the only thing he can’t help- his age. Still seems to have by far the best grasp of the actual job of President. Verdict: **1/2
Seán Gallagher- Mr. Gallagher is probably hoping the floods meant not a lot of people saw this debate, because he had a very bad night at the races. In each of the debates where he was an outsider, Seán Gallagher had been calm and confident. This was his first big debate as the strong front-runner. Even before ‘the incident’, he appeared nervous, and a bit more stilted than we had become used to from his previous appearances. Perhaps the weight of expectation was beginning to get to him. Then it began. Firstly, the question of a payment in excess of €80,000 “resting in the wrong account”, which has been widely reported, came from the crowd. Gallagher attempted to explain, but did not manage to convince anyone with a background in accounts, Michael D. included. But then, the real trouble began. Martin McGuinness alleged that he had been in discussion with a man who claimed that Gallagher had engaged in fundraising activities on behalf of Fianna Fáil, despite Gallagher’s insistence that he had not done so. The allegation referred to an event in Dundalk in 2008, where Fianna Fáil had had a fundraising dinner. It was alleged that Mr. Gallagher had encouraged or invited people, including this man in question, to attend this dinner. Gallagher attempted to pass this off as nothing, saying that he had been asked to mention the dinner to people in the community, and was simply passing on the message. Having lured Gallagher this far into a trap, McGuinness then revealed that this man also claimed that Gallagher had driven to this man’s house, delivered a picture, and received a payment of €5,000. Gallagher flatly denied this accusation at first. He was pressed by McGuinness and Kenny, and by the prospect of a Sinn Féin press conference at which this man would be in attendance. Then, the line newspaper editors all over the country had been dreaming of came. He said that Martin had said he went to this man’s house, he agreed to that accusation, he said he was just delivering the picture, “….and if he gave me an envelope an envelope….” it had nothing to do with him. At this point, my jaw hit the floor. Nobody to this point had mentioned the word envelope. The crowd weren’t stunned into silence like myself, and began booing Gallagher loudly. Gallagher attempted to discredit this man by saying that he was a convicted criminal, a fuel smuggler; the implication being that the man could not be trusted. Pat pointed out that that meant he invited a criminal to a “Fianna Fáil do”, but Gallagher insisted he was unaware of the man’s criminal record at the time. A quick peek at today’s newspapers on Vincent Browne showed that almost everyone has put this envelope story on the front page. Will this astonishing moment be enough to take away Gallagher’s huge lead in the polls? If anything will, it’s association to envelope payments while involved with Fianna Fáil. Verdict: Im-plosion?
Martin McGuinness- Martin McGuinness had his strongest performance yet in this debate. He answered almost every question well, be it Presidential salary, or the confines of the Presidential role to 26 counties. His set-up of Gallagher before revealing the extent of his knowledge about this man was sensational. However, he was questioned about Jean McConville, whether he would consider her death a murder or collateral damage of war. He essentially did not call it a murder, but would not disagree with anyone who said it was. Given his position, it was probably the best answer he was going to give, answering the question without actually coming down either side. He only looked bad in comparison to how quickly the other six called it murder (or “Murder Most Foul!” as David Norris called it). Verdict: ***
David Norris: The David Norris everybody wanted finally showed up, but too late in the day to turn the tide. Norris was witty, engaging, and most importantly, did not get angry and shouty. Had the David Norris of the Frontline debate showed up for all the debates, he might have stood a chance. Not much of note from what he said that we don’t already know. He claimed the best line of the night for referring to Seán Gallagher’s use of the word ‘envelope’ as “unfortunate”. Verdict: ***
Highlights from the tweet machine (largely Paudi):
@PaudiMcTurkish: Gay Mitchell’s attempt at smiling is hilarious.
@PaudiMcTurkish: To quote the great warrior poet Martin McGuinnes, I mean Ice Cube, “If the day does not need an AK, it is good”.
@PaudiMcTurkish: Only the truly independent? Aragh mary, quit talking shite
@PaudiMcTurkish: McGuinness has had a lot of talks with individual gentlemen it seems.
@PaudiMcTurkish: Norris has an empty closet. Lol
@PaudiMcTurkish: When is the swim suit section?
@PaudiMcTurkish: Dana would defo win if the presidential debate was a sandwich making competition
@thobiasinkblot: Loud noises! I don’t know what we’re yelling about
@PaudiMcTurkish: How dare you Martin, come down to our country. Dear god audience lady. I suppose you could say that to McAleese too
@SeanMoncrieff: Jaysus, just turned on. Is that a pool of urine around Sean Gallagher’s feet?
@hill16bhoy: “I’m the type of Irish person who doesn’t want to know anything about the troubles” – that’s the kind of stupidity your dealing with
@PaudiMcTurkish: WHO IS THIS WOMAN!!!!!!!! STUPID QUESTION
@PaudiMcTurkish: God this debate is loaded with so many Fr. Ted references. They really did get Irish life and society right
@ThatSharonOne: gay- i regret I’m so boring… I bore my own face when I look in the mirror
@PaudiMcTurkish: MURDER MOST FOUL
@PaudiMcTurkish: Is it just me or does Sean Gallagher’s head the same shape as those yellow things from Despicable Me
@MadDurdu: Avast ye trolls sean gallaghers fbook page beckons
@FergalRowe: #aras11 has gone all Jerry Springer
@ShmickHugh: Gallagher:…if i was provided with an envelope….*shit*…….
@PaudiMcTurkish: maybe the 40% voting for Seany G (my rapper name for him) don’t watch tv, read papers or listen to the news?
@PaudiMcTurkish: Gay Mitchell’s Wu Tang Clan name is Wicked Bandit. I really thought that would be Sean Gallagher’s.
@BarryMcColgan: Breaking news; Michaél Martin has just been rushed to hospital with a television stuck to his foot.
@PaudiMcTurkish: My internet went nuts there. I wonder was it anything to do with me trolling Sean Gallagher’s page. Fear not dongle to the rescue.
@donalfallon: If anyone would like to see some clearly deluded people,check out the Sean Gallagher campaign page on FB. He eh….won apparently.
-Join The Observer Community: