WHILE the re-election of Michael D Higgins as Uachtarán na hÉireann for a second seven-year term proved the foregone conclusion that most people thought it would be, the campaign itself was a strange one, resulting in the lowest turn-out ever (43.9%) for such an election and the biggest-ever winning margin. Garnering 55.8% of the vote, the incumbent – who is a wily political survivor of long standing – knew that his track record in the first term would stand to him.
None of the others seemed to possess outstanding statesman-like qualities to qualify them for the job. Having seen the way a rich TV personality businessman being elected to public office for the first time as President of the United States of America has turned out so far, the Irish electorate seemed wary of the three candidates who had appeared on the Irish version of Dragons Den, each of whom had quite different experiences at the hustings.
The remaining candidates, Liadh Ní Riada and Joan Freeman, both had chastening experiences with the former returning less than half the core Sinn Féin vote of 14-15%. The Mid Cork-based MEP did not have Sinn Féin on her election posters and maybe this was a message to the party that the electorate are not fools, while she upset many hardliners in her own party by saying she would be prepared to wear a poppy symbol if she was elected.
Meanwhile, Pieta House founder Joan Freeman was unable to harness that goodwill that exists towards the mental health charity she runs and convert it into votes, finishing fifth of six. The Dublin-based senator just did not display enough credentials to convince voters of her suitability for the highest office in the land.
Of the three ‘Dragons,’ only Peter Casey could say that the presidential campaign was a success for him – although not in the way he expected it might have been following his criticism of the special ethnic status of Travellers. While many would privately agree with some of his sentiments, they were not befitting of someone aspiring to the presidency and the 23.3% of the vote he got was more of the protest variety in which people vented their frustrations generally against the establishment. It will be interesting to see if he’ll try to build on his notoriety as a maverick politician in the next general election.
For Sean Gallagher, who got over half a million votes in the 2011 presidential election, his 94,514 showing this time was a disaster and probably spells the end of his ambitions in this regard. Gavin Duffy finished last and just never seemed to get his debut political campaign off the ground.