If politics is a dirty business, it doesn’t get much dirtier than an Irish presidential campaign. Smear tactics, malicious mobs and well-timed leaks have become the weapons of choice used to cripple the most competent of candidates.
David Norris’s noble and proud exit earlier this week was admirable given the nasty dirty tricks that mired his campaign.
While some point the finger at the Israel’s secret service agency, the Mossad, as they try to identify the dark forces involved in ensuring the Senator’s well orchestrated fall from grace, when is comes to Irish Presidential campaigns the tactics of secret agents can often seem tame. This after all is a blood sport and not for the faint hearted.
Rumours are now rife the dirt is currently being dug on Michael D Higgins, while Gay Mitchell is fighting for survival as news of his clemency plea on behalf of a Florida death row inmate convicted of killing two people at an abortion clinic in 1994 has mysteriously come to light.
But as the mud continues to fly it seems all is fair in love, war and Irish presidential election.
President Mary McAleese may have sipped tea with the Queen earlier this year, but in her 1997 run for top office she was branded a Provo and it was suggested she would be a “sectarian time bomb” if President.
So the clock and dagger campaign that stopped the public getting the chance to decide whether they wanted David Norris as president or not is nothing new.
Brian Lenihan appeared untouchable in the run for the presidency in 1990. That is until a UCD student produced a tape recording of Lenihan confirming he asked President Patrick Hillery to dissolve the Dail in 1982, even though he denied he had done so days earlier on RTE’s Question And Answers. Even mature recollection could not save his campaign.
In the trenches of a general election politicians go to war over policies and programmes for government, but things rarely spill over into personal attacks. However, the race for the Aras is a popularity rather than a politic contest, and any available mud is thrown or manufactured to stick and stymie potential presidents.
Adi Roche was seen almost as a saint for her work with the children of Chernobyl, until she threw her hat into the ring as the Labour Party nomination in 1997. It just took a matter of days for her halo to slip after disgruntled former employees spoke out and untruthful rumours about her brother’s links to republic terrorists surfaced.
But while candidates are left battered and bruised, it is the Irish public that loses out. The presidential nomination process needs radical reform. At present it simply serves the political elite and any candidate without the backing of one of Ireland’s main political parties is fighting a losing battle.
So, sadly the public are robbed of the chance to vote for enlightened and erudite candidates such as David Norris and Niall O’Dowd, who resigned from his campaign last month, and instead have to contend with the usual ship of fools from the main political parties.
Paul Allen, Managing Director of Paul Allen and Associates PR, www.prireland.com.