With all the players now selected, the race for the Park is finally properly engaged. Dana Rosemary Scallan and David Norris left it mighty late but got there by the skin of their teeth. Norris has been the most frustrating of the candidates, first in the queue, jumped out and finally realising that there was a genuine groundswell of goodwill behind him, he squeezed in the door as it was closing.
Some of the candidates are well established in our collective awareness at this stage but few are tickling our fancy. Gay Mitchell pulled a stroke by playing the party loyalty card to get the Fine Gael nod – his right of centre, Christian Democratic values might not register well with a modern Irish electorate and the big block of Fine Gael voters are certainly not enthused. His street fighting instincts and “establishment” credentials might not be the ideal qualities to justify elevation to the top job at the Arus. In the end game, his transfers could be the deciding factor – will his coaltion partner benefit sufficiently?
Michael D Higgins, the father figure and elder statesman of the Labour party, has quietly established a healthy foothold in the national consciousness and could be a major beneficiary of transfers as the field shortens. His age might militate against him with a younger electorate but he should certainly be in the last 2 or 3, fighting hard for that cherished prize to round off an illustrious career. Transfers will be crucial.
Universally dismissed as an also ran, entrepreneur Sean Gallagher will give his all to make a good fight of it. As a former Fianna Fail executive member, we could still see a ground swell of the Soldiers of Destiny rallying behind him to help thwart the Shinners in their shot at the wide open goal. His transfers could be decisive, should a late surge in the poll come for him.
Another early runner was Special Olympian Mary Davis and slowly her star has been rising. She has kept her head down when controversies were flying back and forward, working diligently in the background developing a support base. If she can stay ahead of some of the other less fancied runners, she should be a substantial beneficiary of transfers and could well be a dark horse when the final names are awaiting elimination. Watch this space.
Dana, like Mitchell, has a strong identity with the Christian right and has come too late to the table to be a realistic candidate. Again it will be interesting to see where her transfers go but there might not be enough to make a huge difference.
The big two so far in the media stakes are Martin Mc Guinness, parachuted in by Sinn Fein to snatch the big prize to put them in poll position for the 1916 centenary celebrations and out again, in again David Norris. Both have been subjected to huge media scrutiny and will be on the defensive for the next 4 weeks. Questions about IRA membership, bombings, shootings and snubbing of the Queen have been the daily scourge for Mc Guinness as he struggles to shake off his controversial past. Norris has a cloud hanging over him thanks to his inappropriate letters of support for his former lover over the statutory rape of a 15 year old in Israel.
Despite these controversies, both candidates continue to hold good public support and will more than likely be in the frame for the last few places on the podium. The key issue – how will they fare in getting cross candidate transfers? My guess is they won’t do well and will watch nervously as Michael D and possibly Mary Davis pick up steady support as the others depart. Given that Fine Gael are more likely to favour a Labour candidate, my money will be on Michael D with Norris a close second.
The Irish people will decide wisely at the end of the day. The two Marys have made the Arus “the Peoples Palace” and certainly whoever succeeds will definitely be worthy of the electorate’s trust to represent Ireland for the next seven years – will we have a street fighter, a gay, an intellectual, a do-gooder, a singer, a Provo or an entrepreneur? Over to you.