TODAY MARKS A year since the presidential election that followed a turbulent and bruising campaign, the likes of which had never been seen before in Ireland’s brief experience of presidential politics.
Seven candidates battled it out in the ‘Race for the Áras’ with the winner far from certain going into the final week before the game-changing RTÉ Frontline debate and the infamous ‘tweegate’ changed the course of the election and swung the result in the favour of the current incumbent Michael D Higgins.
Up until that TV debate polls indicated that it was independent Seán Gallagher who was on course to succeed Mary McAleese in the Áras after a strong campaign in which jobs and the creation of them appeared to be his main message. But along the way and ultimately to his downfall Gallagher had to deal with questions about his business interests and Fianna Fáil connections.
It was no different for the other candidates from Mary Davis and her State boards, Martin McGuinness and his IRA past, Gay Mitchell and his controversial remarks on suicide and views on abortion, David Norris and his views on paedophilia and Dana and the controversial allegations surrounding her family.
One year later the candidates are reluctant to go over old ground. We asked all six of the failed candidates for an interview but either received no response or we were told they were not interested in speaking to us. Nonetheless we’ve been looking at what they’ve been doing since last year.
In the case of Seán Gallagher – who picked up 28.5 per cent or nearly 505,000 first preference votes – he was travelling in the United States when contacted by TheJournal.ie and asked that we correspond via email. Further correspondence however did not yield any interview.
The former Dragon’ Den star did speak to RTÉ’s Gay Byrne recently in which he didn’t rule out another presidential bid in 2018 and spoke about how he retreated to a monastery in Sligo in the wake of the election: “We meditated, prayed and went for walks,” he said of his experience there.
He said that he was more focussed now on beginning a family with his wife Trish expecting their first baby in March.
“I had a wonderful experience,” Gallagher said of his insurgent campaign. “I met some of the most amazing people. Two-thousand, five hundred people joined my campaign and campaigned every night for me.”
Since then Gallagher has been touting himself as ‘speaker, trainer and entrepreneur’ with his website offering him up as a speaker on issues such as ‘Leadership’, ‘Personal Growth’ and ‘Business Development’. Of his presidential campaign, his website notes: “While ultimately coming second, he is credited with having run one of the most positive, dynamic, innovative and effective campaigns in Irish political history.”
Gallagher also writes for the Sunday Independent business section where he talks about meeting small Irish businesses that are enjoying success.
For third-placed Martin McGuinness – who picked up 13.7 per cent or just over 243,000 votes – it was back to the grind of being the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland following his election defeat. He declared himself “over the moon” with the support he had received through a turbulent campaign.
We asked McGuinness for an interview but our request was referred to the Stormont press office and we did not hear back. Since returning to Belfast the Sinn Féin MLA has been dealing with domestic matters including the recent and controversial opening of a private abortion clinic – which led to his restatement of his party’s opposition to the liberalisation of abortion laws in the North.
More broadly, McGuinness must deal with tensions between the parties in the power-sharing administration in the North, most recently over wide-ranging welfare reforms and claims by the DUP leader and McGuinness’ more senior partner in the executive, Peter Robinson, that Sinn Féin was operating in fear of the SDLP over areas like welfare and pension reforms and parades.
Oh, and McGuinness has also had the small matter of meeting Queen Elizabeth II and shaking her hand – a historic moment in Anglo-Irish relations.
Fine Gael’s candidate Gay Mitchell – who picked up 6.4 per cent of the vote or just over 113,000 votes – also returned to the job he had before the presidential race as a member of the European Parliament for Dublin. It followed a hugely disappointing campaign for him and the party with one insider claiming “there was no craic with Gay” on the campaign trail, though this was later denied.
Mitchell also declined an interview request and has remained largely silent on his own views of how the campaign went, instead keeping himself busy in his parliamentary role in Strasbourg where he earns over €90,000 a year.
Though he declined an interview with us we have been taking a look at the questions he’s been putting forward in the European Parliament including one about the airplay of local and national music on national radio stations, and standardising the days on which Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are celebrated in Europe.
Fifth-placed David Norris – who picked up 6.2 per cent and over 109,000 votes – was another to return to the day job, that being the Seanad where he has served for the last 25 years. His campaign was, as you may remember, a turbulent one which he exited before re-entering, a move which landed him in heavy debt.
He also declined an interview with us having decided instead to let his recently published book – A Kick Against the Pricks – “tell the tale” of the campaign and his life.
In that books he criticises the an unnamed journalist who he said had falsely claimed a letter of clemency he wrote for his former partner was about be published. The over-reaction of his staff to revelations about Ezra Nawi, the politicians who had supported his initial bid and then withdrew this support as well as the journalist Helen Lucy Burke are also criticised.
Dana Rosemary Scallon surprised people be entering the race just before the deadline for nominations and came second last with 2.9 per cent of the vote or just over 51,000 first preference ballots. Her campaign was perhaps the most turbulent of all as she used one debate to read a statement regarding allegations about some family members.
She also declined an interview request, citing legal reasons when contacted by TheJournal.ie about doing an in-depth interview about her campaign. As part of her current role in The Best of Eurovision Tour – a show involving some of Ireland’s Eurovision winners including Dana herself, Johnny Logan, Linda Martin and Charlie McGettigan – she did speak to Newstalk this week.
When asked by George Hook to reflect on her failed presidential bid, she said: “Generally it would be considered one of the roughest campaigns that Ireland has had for almost all of those who took part, a kind of a move towards an American style, very much attacking, very much on a personal level.”
Scallon said she did not regret running because “you have to stand up for what you believe is right” and also raised questions about voting Yes in the upcoming children’s referendum. Asked if she would run again she said she hoped not because of the “toll” it took.
“I have never stood up or put my name forward because I wanted a seat or a position, I always stood for it because I felt I had to speak out,” she said.
Last but not least, the independent candidate Mary Davis – who got 2.7 per cent of the vote or just over 48,500 seats – has returned to her role as regional president and managing director of the Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia office where she earns about €165,000 annually. The role involves overseeing the growth of the Special Olympics across the nearly 60 countries that participate. She also continues to be the chair of Special Olympics Ireland.
We asked Davis for an interview but she has, according to a spokesperson, been travelling extensively recently and was not keen to go back over her disappointing campaign in which she spent over €400,000 – the second highest amount behind Gay Mitchell. As well as her Special Olympics work, the former candidate continues to enjoy running and mountain climbing, according to her spokesperson.
(All pictures: Photocall Ireland)