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Debating with the stars - candidates for president put to the test

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Irish presidential candidates
We’re up to our eyes in Presidential al debates at the minute. First Sean O’Rourke took the magnificent seven into RTE’s far-from spacious radio studios for a ferocious grilling, followed by Ryan Tubridy’s parboil on the Late Late. But on Tuesday night, TV3’s Vincent Browne lobbed them all in a microwave and set it to high for 90 minutes. 

Vincent Browne’s interviewing style can easily be summed up in one phrase – “Why aren’t you crying yet?” – and therefore the debate, while compelling TV, generated more heat than light as it highlighted Vincent’s ability to be a relentless badass above pretty much everything else. 

So in view of the showmanship that has become a prerequisite of the campaign, and given the fact Dancing With The Stars is concurrently cutting a swathe/rug Stateside at the minute, I figured the only way to assess the Presidential candidates was Len Goodman-stylee:

Martin McGuinness
Vincent’s interrogation style was water off this duck’s back and he came across very composed, as Gay Mitchell’s insistence on throwing epithets at him just gave him a chance to look more Presidential. 

Vincent pulling out a range of books alleging he was in the IRA was a sensational stunt, but the thud of a library on his desk drowned out some pretty ground-breaking things said by McGuinness, including referencing the Somme and Ulster Solemn League and Covenant in relation to centenary commemoration. His insistence on telling us he only wants to be paid in tea and biscuits is getting a bit repetitive, but his steady performance combined with the hysterical bleating his candidacy is causing is making him a contender. Score: 8/10

Mary Davis
Even with the strutting in neon suits on her posters, there’s something oddly staid about Davis. Her attempts at positioning herself as Mary III aren’t working, and it’s hard to even recall any great zinger she came out with during the night beyond the usual gubbins about her board appointments. This was borne out on the TV3 website, the viewers of which deemed her to have placed joint dead last. On the face of it, someone with her experience and background should be a much more appealing candidate, but something is missing. Rating: 5/10

Michael D Higgins

Ireland’s own wizard poet took an economical approach to speaking during the debate, backing away from the contentious scraps and speaking in measured, statesmanlike tones. He probably demonstrated that he gets the role best of all the candidates, quoting articles of the constitution left, right and centre. The only one sticky issue was when Vincent attacked his role in government being at variance with being an independent thinker, particularly in relation to the tax amnesty of ’93. Michael D responded with rare straightforward honesty: he wasn’t proud of it but used the money to buy Collins Barracks military museum. Score: 9/10

Dana

Disaster. No matter what the topic, she brought it back to her central point: that the President is the only person that can stop the EU from plying the constitution with sweeties and bundling it into a van. More suited to running for Mayor of Wasilla than President of Ireland. Score: 1/10

Sean Gallagher

The country version of 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy has gone up in a lot of people’s estimation since the campaign, even coming second in a recent poll. He did however get a hammering about his Fianna Fáil past. He talked with clarity and confidence, but I can’t really remember what he was saying while being clear and confident. Score: 6/10

Gay Mitchell 

Somebody needs to have a word. There may be a parallel dimension in which Gay Mitchell constantly going after Martin McGuinness is working, but it’s not this one. He spoke well at points but ultimately comes off too tetchy and obsessed to make any real impression. Call off your goons, Gay! Score: 5/10

David Norris

His penchant for pressing the big red button strikes again. Most commentators compared his inability to answer the legal questions surrounding his letters to Israel to Brian Lenihan’s “mature Recollection” meltdown on the RTE news 21 years ago. The sad part is that when he spoke well he was excellent, on mental health issues and his fight to get homosexuality decriminalised for instance, but his cumulative performance did him no favours. Score: 6/10

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