Well, the race is done and dusted and while elements of the final result surprised some, the winner certainly didn’t. Let’s look at the candidates one by one, in reverse order of final vote.
Gavin Duffy, wow. 2.2% is a fair result for a man whose various utterances in the course of the campaign were as rote and bland as they came. Lacking any semblance of a personality, Duffy had it right when he described the race as applying for a job that wasn’t actually available. At no point did Duffy differentiate himself from the others in a positive fashion, and by the last few days of the campaign he seemed like a man who regretted running in the first place, whining about the audacity of other candidates to run. You would presume that this is the end of any semblance of a political career for him.
Senator Joan Freeman very obviously wished she hadn’t bothered before the campaign was over. The questioning about the Des Walsh loan had clearly started to irritate her in the final straight, and her body language/speech throughout the campaign indicated someone who had serious regrets before things ever really got going properly. The fact that she has already indicated that her political career is finished (despite her being a sitting Senator) is proof of that. It was a cruel result for a woman who felt she has contributed significantly to Ireland in the course of her career, but Freeman very obviously was not cut out for this kind of politics.
What a poor showing for Liadh Ni Riada, MEP. The campaign had the feel of a publicity exercise for Sinn Fein, and I suppose they got lots of airtime and the excuse to put up posters. But for Ni Riada to poll as poorly as she did indicates that a large section of the Sinn Fein base wasn’t interested in voting for her, which is rather eye-raising. But I wouldn’t weep too much: Ni Riada was a poor candidate who repeated herself so much by the end I was thinking Sinn Fein could have had the same result running a tape recorder. Misunderstanding constitutional powers, endlessly criticising while offering little herself, Ni Riada just appeared very unsuited to the campaign and the role. She may have done her future aspirations, be they a Dail run or even the Presidency again in seven years, a good bit of harm with this lacklustre result.
Sean Gallagher should not be here, and you cannot consider this result anything less than a total humiliation. From over half a million votes in 2011, Gallagher fell to less than 95K, and that was just desserts for a worthless campaign, full of empty slogans, non-appearances at debates and a frequent sense that Gallagher considers himself a frontrunner when he was anything but. Every time he opened his mouth, be it his bad attempts at poetry or in the endless swipes at Higgins, he was losing votes. Hopefully Gallagher has not gotten the message: 2011 was cruel to him, but he was not President-elect then, and he never ever will be.
Peter Casey obviously wants to be an Irish Trump, and this result bears some scrutiny. He attracted a wide range of dissatisfied voters, from the Iona/Love Both crowd, to the good old fashioned racists, without ever having anything close to a tangible political philosophy. He’s proof that notoriety is better than blandness in these campaigns, and that outright lies, repeatedly, are better at getting votes than any kind of reasoned debate. Still, 75% of those who voted didn’t vote for him, which is important to remember: so much of the talk was about Casey that he was practically being treated as a close-run thing when he was anything but. Let’s not forget that it has now been 14 years since the Irish people endorsed any kind of populist, conservative right-wing position. What comes next is hard to call: his every utterance since the vote seems like a wind-up, but you could foresee him being a vote getter if a General Election is held shortly. Or he could just be another Renua in the making, soon to vanish into the political ether.
President Michael D. Higgins is not the saint he appears to be, or that so much of the public make him out to be, but one cannot but be impressed by the scale of his achievement here. His percentage of the vote was so utterly gigantic, and it was with a low turnout and against five opponents. The election was a massacre, a walkover, from a candidate who, while he frequently underperformed or behaved abominably during the campaign, was never going to lose. All he basically had to do was nothing, letting the other candidates do all the work for him. The criticisms got them nowhere. He’ll do fine for the next seven years I’m sure, now to rise above the petty point-scoring and squabbles for another huge approval rating and an eventual praising send-off to retirement.
It was a bad campaign, and the way Casey gained votes from the “He says what we’re all thinking” crowd is obviously a bit of a concern. But I don’t think we need to be too worried. We must remember the freakish nature of this content, one with no candidates from the two largest political parties, a placeholder from the third largest, three candidates from one TV show, a media desperate for anything to make it appear anything other than the foregone conclusion that it turned out to be and an incumbent with a monstrous advantage in support before things ever really got started. A Dail run or the next Presidential will have very different parameters.
But for now lets just remember that a progressive social democratic candidate got more votes than every other candidate combined, the same day that the Irish people removed blasphemy from the constitution by a gigantic majority. The country is on the right path and let’s not imagine the 23% Casey won (less than the “No” votes in recent referenda) is some major defeat. Let’s focus instead on the 56%, and the fact that the electorate rejected racist untruths and negative campaigning.