The sense of relief is palpable this week as the October Bank Holiday rolls in and finally, the 2011 Irish presidential election campaign comes to a close. For better or worse we have now elected our new president and whatever political elections, by-elections, local or national arise in the next seven years, all going well, we won't have to worry about who will occupy the Áras for that period at least.
For some the campaign proved a dreary affair whose powers of fascination over others seemed totally inexplicable. For the politically minded conversely, and more particulary the so-dubbed 'political anoraks', it is with a sense of grief, rather than relief, that the end of 'The Race' must be ushered in.
For a time there the spectre of seven contestants lined up at their lecterns speaking out of turn to various television show hosts on an ongoing basis presented the highest form of entertainment on offer. Ratings for the TV debates rose exponentially at every showing, with Pat Kenny hauling in the biggest viewer catch — and deservedly so. Of all the debates, the Frontline show provided the whopper punch we had waited for with nothing short of agitation.
Martin McGuinness, all sweetness and light in section one, suddenly lobbed a figurative pot of boiling water right into the lap of Sean Gallagher. The Dragon's Den celebrity panelist and self-proclaimed business guru, whose manifesto turned on generating jobs and enterprise in his native land, recoiled in horror. He would not stand for accusations that his association with Fianna Fáil was that of a hardened political activist whose forays into fundraising saw him demanding large sums of money from corporate chiefs. It was not so. He could not 'recollect' any such instance.
But then the follow-up attack ensued, reducing the flailing Mr Gallagher to mention 'envelopes' in terms horribly reminiscent of previous 'brown envelope' political scandals. The audience’s guffawed response spoke volumes. With the struggle continuing, political punditry went viral as arguments raged over whether McGuinness had delivered the knock-out blow. Amidst such chaos, the beatific Labour candidate stood straight and almost tall at his box-free podium. All hail the mighty Michael D. Your guaranteed safe pair of hands.
No matter how disinterested a body may profess to be in politics, it cannot be denied that the above exchanges and the subsequent Pat Kenny/Gay Mitchell spat on the show epitomised classic entertainment. They also provided the much anticipated climax to a long-drawn out and difficult presidential election campaign that saw seven candidates endure some of the most intrusive scrutiny of their professional, personal, and private lives.
For that reason it is only fitting to salute all seven for their sheer tenacity throughout the campaign. While only one could ultimately be elected our new president, tributes must equally be paid to the enduring powers of Mayo woman Mary Davis, Sean Gallagher, Michael D Higgins, Martin McGuinness, Gay Mitchell, David Norris, and Dana Rosemary Scallon, whose ubiquity we had become so accustomed to, it will almost be missed.
Back to reality
With the dust finally settled on the presidential election, the Dublin West by-election for the seat of the late Brian Lenihan over and the two referenda on judge's pay and Oireachtas tribunals also decided, attention can once again, at last, be directed at the real issues of the day. With everything from our personal homes to the nation's sovereignty under threat, there are myriad matters requiring urgent political intervention and support, much bigger than any of the Halloween bangers and firecrackers that may explode over this weekend.