- 22 Oct 18
I remember the countdown to the Presidential election seven years ago with almost graphic clarity. In many ways, the field on that occasion was a very strong one, with a number of individuals of real substance, who had contributed in a hugely important way to Irish society, doing battle. However you viewed his past as a member of the IRA, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness was a formidable candidate, with a track record of having contributed in a powerfully influential way to delivering the peace process – and ultimately the Belfast Agreement and the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland – to his credit.
David Norris had led the campaign for gay rights in Ireland from the front, taking enormous personal risks along the way. Having had his case rejected by the High Court and the Supreme Court here in Ireland, he finally won an extraordinary victory in the European Court of Human Rights – effectively changing the subsequent course of Irish history in the process. He also happened to be a brilliant Joycean scholar, an active Senator and a man of considerable wit.
In Gay Mitchell, Fine Gael put forward what might be described as a Marmite candidate. A lot of people wouldn’t ever warm to him, me among them. And he could not unfairly be dismissed as an intellectual lightweight. But you couldn’t gainsay the fact that he had devoted his life to public service and to the vicissitudes of democratic politics. He had served in the Dáil. He had been a Minister in Government. He had been an MEP. It was, at the very least, a decent-looking CV. If he could motivate the FG vote, in theory at least, he was a potential winner.