When Sean Gallagher,49, began running for president of Ireland he was a 40/1 outsider.
Next week he will likely be odds-on favorite to become Ireland's ninth president. It is an extraordinary turnaround, one of the greatest in Irish political history. Gallagher has come from nowhere to lead by 12 points in the latest opinion poll.
To hear him tell it, however, he always believed that it could happen, though he knows he is still not past the finish line.
Though he was well known for his role on Dragon's Den, a reality TV series, and as a successful entrepreneur, he had never run for political office.
Born severely sight impaired and still with restricted vision, he faced long odds from the start.
But in the presidential race he has simply outworked all his opponents, some of them household names. He proved his mettle by visiting almost every county in Ireland in order to get on the campaign ballot paper.
He spent months traversing the highways and byways of Ireland and came back deeply informed on what the Irish people wanted in their next president.
They wanted the role of president to be relevant again, one that “dealt with half a million people unemployed and emigration taking the lifeblood of many communities --- they wanted someone to deal with those types of issues,” Gallagher told irishcentral.com from Dublin.
He was talking the language of the Irish people. While the other contenders endlessly debated the esoteric meaning of the presidency, he acted on his gut instinct that the people wanted straight talk, not philosophy, and to see a president who cared about the issues today.
Gallagher’s background of overcoming hurdles augurs well for him in his race for the presidency.
Originally from Cavan, near the border, he became a youth and community worker and says his formative experience on emigration came at an early age.
That was when his successful minor football team in the early1980s disappeared overnight as an economic crisis hit and half the team emigrated to America.
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He understood then the loneliness of emigration, not just for those who left but the many families left devastated.
If elected president Gallagher promises to make emigrant issues a key priority.
“I know there are thousands who left not of their own accord. I want to build and rebuild links with them to make them feel they're still a part of us still a part of our people,” Gallagher said.
“If I am elected I will do everything in my power to make sure that we shine the light on them and offer them support
“Nobody should feel they are not still part of the greater Irish country.”
Gallagher is critical of those who made an issue of presidential candidate Dana holding an American passport.
“Somebody is no less Irish if they have come to America and became citizens but still feel in their heart they are Irish,” he says.
Gallagher also believes that members of the diaspora who are less than five years or so away should have a vote in presidential elections.
If elected Gallagher says he will soon be on the plane to America. He points to the 600 companies in Ireland from America and the 100,000 jobs they have created.
Gallagher wants to be a jobs ambassador. “Nothing will be beneath me in terms of seeking to bring jobs to our people,” he says.
The U.S. is a country he is very familiar with. His successful company smarthomes.ie was first created during a conversation in an Irish bar in Chicago and is based on an American prototype.
Gallagher has led trade missions to the U.S. and is very familiar with how the country works and thinks.
In his travels here he has marveled at the work ethic and commitment locals have and the American vision of a rising tide raising all boats.
He wants to be the Irish president to bring back a sense of optimism and dynamism to Ireland.
Given the setbacks he overcame and his amazing race for the presidency so far who could doubt him?
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