We are now a few weeks into an election campaign that is, to put it mildly, all rather dull. Nothing has occurred or been said that seems to indicate anything other than a resounding victory for the incumbent, with the only real question, at this stage, being whether Michael D. Higgins will be elected on a first count or not.
The questions I sent to all candidates two weeks ago have gone largely unanswered, save Senator Joan Freeman’s office, a member of which politely informed me she would bring my message to the Senator’s attention. From everyone else, nothing. I am not so arrogant as to assume someone running for national office would have a large amount of time to answer e-mails from prospective constituents, but I must admit my surprise and disappointment that not one candidate, assistant or intern could bother with a even somewhat substantive reply.
The questions I posited have gone mostly unasked by the media, and the candidates themselves do not seem eager to offer their positions, instead preferring the familiar platitudes. Perhaps this will change once the debates get going (and if our First Citizen deigns to show up), and we will have something of more substance to judge the candidates on.
In the meantime, RTE gave all six the opportunity for a one minute video pitch to the nation last weekend, and I wanted to offer a few thoughts on what they said. In alphabetical order:
It takes Peter Casey 33 seconds to actually say something that you would describe as an actual message to the electorate, as opposed to a formless speech where he checks off basic information about himself, that is rather immaterial to the matter at hand. In the rest, Casey hammers down hard on the idea of him being some manner of diaspora candidate, but even that is ridiculously vague, with the candidate describing his platform as “using technology to enable us to connect with our loved ones overseas in a meaningful way”. Why is this the platform of a man running for President? He mentions nothing about his own beliefs, the powers of the Presidency or anything else. Poor.
Mr Duffy wants to mentor, motivate and mobilise you and your family, in an opening sentence that seems something better suited to a personal trainer advertisement than someone running for the Presidency. From there, he moves onto what has apparently become his key issue to repeat, namely Brexit and how he will be better placed than other candidates to…do something about it. Maybe. Duffy takes the proverbial when namedropping trade issues as something the next President should be concerned with, and only comes back to reality when mentioning the importance of future diplomatic relations with the UK. Why he should be involved in them is something he did not answer. Bland.
My fun game for this election is seeing, like Mary Davis and the Special Olympics in 2011, how long it takes Senator Freeman to mention Pieta House in every interview, debate or other public appearance she makes. It was 44 seconds here. While I wouldn’t begrudge Freeman the right to expound upon her proudest achievements, the 20th time she repeats herself it gets a bit tired. She attempts to frame this pitch as a job application, but fails to expand on why the President of Ireland needs “grit” as a quality, or why she really stands out from the pack. One-note and lacking substance, Freeman’s candidacy already looks sunk. Unexceptional.
Oh boy, this patronising piece of claptrap. It took four seconds for Sean Gallagher to make me snort in derision, as he nods at Italia 90, Riverdance and the GAA in a manner that makes him sound more like a shop assistant at Carrolls than a man running for President. In what sounds like a terrible attempt at poetry, Gallagher waffles on for nearly the entire time he has about how grand Ireland and the Irish are, how Ireland can be great in the future, before deigning to mention he thinks he could be first citizen in the country. Absolutely nothing of anything even approaching substance. Terrible.
The fact that the President is the only candidate who clearly needs to read from notes is immediately off-putting. Describing this election as being about “the future of our people” is also a bit much. Aside from that, Higgins is predictably vague, but in a manner that sounds better than the others, using words like “community” as a positive touchstone, and stealing Casey and Duffy’s thunder with unsubtle nods to Brexit and the diaspora. In the end, he devotes little of his limited time to defending his first term record or offering reasons why he deserves another. Unimpressive.
The only candidate with the cupla focal, but as with most politicians, just enough to seem like she’s proper Irish, but not enough to scare the majority off. She’s the only candidate to actually mention a Presidential power as something she would invoke – the power to address the Oireachtas – but she fails to adequately explain why that avenue would be better than any other to tongue-lash legislators on homelessness. She hilariously claims that her Presidency would start the conversation on a United Ireland – because we’ve never talked about that before – and in the end it’s the usual Sinn Fein pitch: critical of others and little to offer in exchange. Predictable.
Perhaps I should be less critical, since there is only so much a candidate can say in 60 seconds. But I feel that this is a bad crop of candidates and no mistake. Watching these six pitches, I couldn’t help but wonder where the surprise seventh candidate was, the one who would be specific, substantial, varied. But they don’t exist, not in this race. Higgins is going to walk this as it stands, and I don’t think the other five will get 50% between them. At some point in the next two weeks I will offer some additional thoughts as they occur, and maybe have a word or two on the debates, and will not forget the little noted referendum that is also taking place.