What a week it’s been in the race for the Áras. We’ve had a mystery whodunit (Dana), a shocking televised trial (McGuinness), an uncomfortable tragicomedy (Norris), a disturbing authoritarian drama (Mitchell), some touchie-feelie fuzziness (Higgins), an Irish version of The Hills-meets-The Kardashians (Davis), and a really bad memory act (Seán Gallagher).
Indeed it is to the latter candidate that I turn as we look at how the Fianna Fáil Independent nominee has fared in recent days. If we are to believe the news media establishment (which has grown rather fond of Gallagher as their Anyone-But-McGuinness campaign has faltered) he seems to be a winner. We are told that he is now the favourite. At least that is what the Irish Independent is claiming in a report that should take the reward for the best spun article of the election (so far):
“The fight to be the ninth President of Ireland is now a two-horse race between Labour’s Michael D Higgins and Dragons’ Den star Sean Gallagher, according to the latest Sunday Independent/ Quantum Research nationwide poll.
Several candidates including Mary Davis, Dana Rosemary Scallon and Senator David Norris have all seen large drops in support, while Martin McGuinness remains well behind the leaders.
… Mr Higgins remains the front-runner on 36 per cent, up nine points on the previous poll.
But close behind him is Mr Gallagher, who has seen his support rise spectacularly from 9 per cent in mid-September to 29 per cent this weekend. His support almost doubled last week alone.
The bad news continues for Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell. Despite having the Fine Gael party machine behind him, his support has dwindled further, dropping from 10 per cent to 6 per cent.
Mary Davis fares the worst. In our last poll, her first-preference share stood at 12 per cent but now her support base is down to 4 per cent.
Dana Rosemary Scallon’s support is also in meltdown; her vote has gone from 7 per cent to just 2 per cent.
Former front runner, Senator David Norris, has also seen his support decimated, down from 20 per cent last time round to 10 per cent now.
Sinn Fein candidate Martin McGuinness has seen a marginal rise in his support from 11 per cent to 13 per cent, but it would seem he has far too much ground to make up between now and polling day.”
From reading the above piece, and the placing of the reporting of McGuinness’ polling numbers behind all the other candidates, it would be hard to credit that McGuinness is actually in third place and his support has gone up; and that despite a week of terrible reporting and some undoubted PR setbacks (the survey was conducted on Friday by Independent Newspapers controversial in-house polling group).
However RTÉ is reporting that:
“Independent candidate Seán Gallagher has moved into the lead in the Presidential election, according to a Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post…
The poll suggests that Seán Gallagher has jumped 18 points since the last Red C poll nine days ago, and is leading on 39%.
The Red C poll shows Michael D Higgins is in second place with 27%.
Martin McGuinness is down three points to 13%.
Gay Mitchell is down two points to 8%.
David Norris is down seven to 7%.
Mary Davis has lost five points to 4%.
Dana Rosemary Scallon is down three points to 2%.
The poll was taken on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, before the RTÉ Prime Time debate was held.”
Ah, statistics, damned statistics and lies. Anyone have a coin to flip?
Given the media establishment’s long-term love affair with a certain political party (until an unceremonious – and rather timely – dumping of the latter) it is no wonder that some newspapers and journalists have started to row in behind Gallagher. A strong showing in the Presidential election will set him up nicely for a run at Dáil Éireann in a few years time and then the leadership of a certain political party.
And people thought that certain party was foolish not to field an official candidate? Sinn Féin isn’t the only organisation in Ireland adept at pulling deft political strokes. Or planning for the future.
The most important part of the RTÉ article is the fact that the poll took place before the controversial Prime Time debate which has sparked so much criticism amongst the online chattering classes (not too mention the old school phone-in radio shows). It will be interesting to see how Martin McGuinness’ numbers change in reaction to the hostile grilling he got from presenter Miriam O’Callaghan and the negative reaction it drew from many viewers. Despite several attempts to turn the story against the Sinn Féin candidate by some Establishment journos many believe there will be something of a sympathy vote added to McGuinness’ core support.
Talking of support, the Labour candidate Michael D. Higgins, that well-known supporter of non-Irish terrorists international freedom-fighters, from Latin America to the Middle East, has spoken out via the Irish Independent about his concerns that Martin McGuinness’ election would give a retrospective mandate to the Irish Republican Army’s thirty-year armed struggle:
“Michael D Higgins, the Labour candidate, has raised concern that Martin McGuinness is using the presidential election to “rationalise” and “endorse” the Provisional IRA campaign of terrorism.
In a strategic intervention, Mr Higgins – one of the two clear frontrunners – has also told the Sunday Independent that it would be “quite wrong” for Sinn Fein to “claim ownership” of the peace process for “electoral purposes”.
He said there was a “clear conflict” between accounts given by Mr McGuinness of his “paramilitary career” and information available to successive Governments.
“Irish people want a President who will be honest and open… I believe it would be helpful if the conflict over different accounts was faced up to and answers given,” he said.
Mr Higgins said that he, personally, was “absolutely and unequivocally opposed to the campaign of violence carried out by the IRA” and highlighted his “political opposition” and “personal revulsion” at that violence.
On the IRA campaign of violence, he said: “I would be particularly concerned if this presidential election campaign was to be used to seek some sort of rationalisation of or endorsement for that campaign.”
In what was last night interpreted as vindication of the strategy to highlight the terrorist past of Mr McGuinness, the former Labour minister added that he expected the electorate would “want to consider not just the recent record of Martin McGuinness but also his record overall”.”
Oh-ho. Is that so, Michael D? Well, let’s have a look at your record shall we? Hmmm, where to begin…? Why not with your 2004 statement following the death of the Palestinian terrorist guerrilla freedom-fighter Yasser Arafat, which is still sitting proud on the Labour Party’s website:
“Responding to the death of Yasser Arafat, Labour Foreign Affairs Spokesman Michael D Higgins TD said his historic achievement will be to have held together a disparate coalition of groups under the umbrella of the PLO and to have transformed that group into a recognised political entity.
After the 1967 War, his achievement in organising a demoralised Palestinian people had as its crowning moment his address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1974. From that moment on, the struggle of the Palestinian people had international recognition.
Later, as many different countries came to recognise the PLO, it became clear that Yasser Arafat would be recognised as the symbol of the Palestinian people’s struggle.
In later years he has been a virtual prisoner in Ramallah, spending most of his time under house arrest. The refusal of Ariel Sharon, supported by President George Bush, to negotiate with Yasser Arafat as the representative of the Palestinian people had the effect of stalling the peace process and led to international condemnation.
The contradiction of Arafat’s being kept under house arrest, being deprived of resources, and yet at the same time being required to exercise control over disparate militant groups involved in attacks on Israeli civilians, was not lost on the international community.
His critics will stress his slowness to deal with the findings as to corruption among elements of the Palestinian Authority, and his alleged autocratic style of leadership. Nevertheless, he will be seen as the uniting figure of Palestinians in their struggle, the iconic figure around whom different groups organised, the person who established the Palestinian struggle internationally, and undoubtedly the major founding figure of a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian state”, he added.”
Umm. Did Michael D. Higgins just excuse Yasser Arafat for any responsibility in the killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian “militant groups” during the latter part of his leadership of the PLO? Actually he has a point there, albeit a narrow one. But when did the killers of civilian men, women and children become militants not terrorists? Or is such neutral language only reserved for exponents of political violence outside of Ireland?
At the same time Michael D. Higgins, then an opposition spokesperson for Labour, turned out in Galway for a candle-lit vigil in Arafat’s honour with some, um, interesting folk:
“The Islamic community of Galway marked the death of the Lion of Ramallah with a candlelit vigil in Shop Street last night, organised by the noted anti-war activist, Nuria Mustafa Dunne. Co-religionists from Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan met in solidarity, with activists from the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a representative from Amnesty International… the Irish Centre For Human Rights in NUI Galway along with Michael D Higgins, Mary Kelly and Green Party City Councillor Niall Ó Brollachain to bear witness to the fallen scourge of Zionism.”
So, Arab terrorist-turned-statesman good; Irish terrorist-turned-statesman bad? Interesting world view Michael D.
You were also pretty unhappy about Hamas, the Palestinian political party, being added to the European Union’s list of terrorist-supporting organisations in 2007, as this Oireachtas Report makes clear:
“Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Several questions immediately arise from the Minister of State’s response. …Does he agree that the credibility of the European Union is badly damaged by, in the first instance, the clearing house decision that added Hamas to a proscribed list, with no accountability to this Parliament or any parliament in Europe, and, following that, its failure to recognise the result of the election, which was acknowledged as free and fair by several international bodies, including the Carter Centre? All we had from the EU was a mealy-mouthed statement expressing gratitude that no lives had been lost in the course of the election. It is absolutely absurd to suggest it is dealing with all the parties. What contact has the EU with Hamas?
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, suggested in a previous reply to a question on this issue that he had made the Irish position known. However, we do not know what the Irish position is. Is it our position not to recognise the results of the election? Is it our position not to have any contact with Hamas? Is it our position never to remind Israel that as an occupying force, it is in breach of international law by cutting off vital structures for Gaza?”
You go for it, Deputy Higgins. Free Occupied Palestine! But don’t mention Occupied Ireland. Oh, you sort of did.
“Deputy Michael D. Higgins: Hamas is more advanced than the IRA.”
You what now?
Okay. Deep breadth.
In fairness, I find little to disagree with when it comes to the political, social and economic views of Michael D. Higgins. However the absolute obsession of many on the Irish Left with Palestine I don’t get. I find my sympathies lie more with Israel as I see in that state (or perhaps I should say people?) something much more empathic to an Irish person given our similar histories and nature. Admittedly those sympathies are harder to sustain when one see’s the deplorable treatment of the people of Occupied Palestine under Israeli rule and the failure of Israel to engage in any meaningful process towards making peace with their most immediate Arab neighbours. But that is a discussion for another day.
What irritates me is the utter hypocrisy of many on the Irish Left (and some on the Right) who will gnash their teeth and cry tears of blood for a foreign people under an occupation in a foreign land. But Irish people living under an occupation in Ireland? Eh, no thanks. We’re not into that sort of thing.
Yes, Higgins facilitated the scrapping of Section 31 in 1993, the piece of Irish government media censorship that banned Sinn Féin from the airwaves (and which probably added another decade and a few thousand more casualties on to the Northern conflict as Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour protected their own electoral backs). But the removal of that anti-democratic law was a necessary part of the unfolding Peace Process, not some selfless benevolent act on behalf of the political establishment.
Sorry, but when all is said and done, hearing Michael D. Higgins question others on legitimizing acts of political violence is more than even I can stomach. To paraphrase the late, great Carl Sagan:
“If we like them, they’re freedom fighters… If we don’t like them, they’re terrorists. In the unlikely case we can’t make up our minds, they’re temporarily only guerrillas.”