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Race for Irish Presidency - possible candidates begin to emerge

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I have to hand it to you Americans: you’re very early starters.

About a year and a half to go before Obama attempts to get re-elected and already high-profile Republicans are queuing up to get on the good ship More Heat Than Light. We’re not nearly as organised here.

Which is strange, considering our race for the Presidency is a lot more open than the one you’ll be having next year. No incumbent, a range of quality candidates either in the ring or loitering with intent around the ring, but with a couple of months to go the race for the Presidency is still very much in the blocks.

General Election fatigue and bewilderment may have a hand in it (“Did Dick Roche really get such few votes?” a friend of mine is still moved to ask even now) though slowly but surely candidates are getting ready to charge.

David Norris was the first to do so, though he has also been the first embroiled in a scandal, such as it is. In an interview nearly a decade ago, Norris discussed the ancient Greek concept of pederasty, and claimed he might have rather enjoyed an older man mentoring him in the facts of life, as it were.

It of course being impossible to discuss an idea without going along with it, the article kicked up a bit of a fuss, though probably not enough to damage Norris too much. That said, if anyone is going to come out with a statement that becomes the talk of the campaign proper, it’ll be Norris.

Even though Norris is as it stands the hot favourite he still may not yet be allowed to run, as he needs the backing of at least 20 Oireachtas members or four county councils, a bemusing and unnecessary obstacle for independent candidates. But within the bigger parties the state of play is no less clear.

Labour will have to choose between Michael D Higgins, charity CEO Fergus Finlay and health campaigner Kathleen O’Meara, with former Minister Higgins the popular favourite to emerge. In Fine Gael, MEP and ex-TV presenter Mairead McGuinness is seeking nomination as is her colleague in Brussels, the tempestuous Gay Mitchell, but by far their most intriguing candidate is someone who isn’t even a member of the party.

Former European Parliament President and PD representative for Cork Pat Cox is now in the running for the nomination of the biggest party in the Oireachtas following the drop put of big hitters Sean Kelly and John Bruton. He may just win it and he’d be a formidable candidate if he did, but it’ll do nothing to refute his detractors’ impression of him as a vain opportunist.

Meanwhile the shattered remains of Fianna Fáil may not even run a candidate at all. Genial MEP Brian Crowley, who has long held ambitions of a Presidential run, stands the best hope of being an internal candidate who wouldn’t be annihilated, but as it stands the bandwagon is getting behind TV businessman Sean Gallagher, the type of dull bottom line hunter that seems to appeal to people but not to anyone I know.

As usual though, it’s the independents that make races like this. Norris aside Special Olympics head honcho Mary Davis will be a strong candidate and already has a bit of Presidential experience, having sat on Mary McAleese’s Council of State. And then there’s Niall O’Dowd, who I understand is a publisher of some sort.

His entry into the race, while probably leading to manys a Trump-esque column inch, would certainly alter the axes of the race beyond all recognition, as the diaspora is generally an issue where the only action ever committed is raising a glass in their memory.

Our candidates may not be as well-prepared as yours, but I know which one I’m looking forward to more.

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