Reality is us northerners are not liked down here


The shocked faces of Dana and McGuinness over southern partitionism has been something to behold, writes DAVID ADAMS

WHATEVER ELSE it has been lacking, no one can argue that the presidential race has not been entertaining. It has produced more memorable televisual moments than could a raft of general election campaigns.

For tragicomic value, David Norris just edges it from Dana. Norris should have realised that his support went relatively stratospheric during the wilderness weeks only because he had withdrawn from the contest. If Norris had remained outside, he could have spent the rest of his life luxuriating in victimhood (“the best president Ireland never had, cruelly denied by narrow minds”). Instead, he re-entered, whereupon a closer inspection of the victim ensued, and sympathy vanished like snow off a ditch.

Now, the abiding public image of Norris is that of a Bertie Wooster-sounding character, either interjecting hysterically whenever he thought he was being ignored, or obfuscating frantically from behind a half-smile/half-snarl if he felt he was receiving too much attention. Dana, another late entry, would likewise have been better off staying at home. Remember her theatrics with a copy of the European constitution, talking wildly about how big a threat it poses to Ireland’s sovereignty: until Michael D pointed out, ever-so-politely, that actually the offending document has long-since been abandoned.

For me, when she brandished the Irish Constitution on another TV outing, making clear that a President Dana wouldn’t sign off on any Bill that didn’t fit with her somewhat narrow constitutional interpretations, Dana morphed from a seemingly harmless, self-imagined Joan of Arc figure into someone uncomfortably reminiscent of Sarah Palin. If she was riding higher than rock-bottom in the opinion polls, this wouldn’t seem quite so amusing. Imagine the prospect of a John Charles McQuaid think-alike in the Áras, parsing every piece of legislation for deviation from the Old Testament line.

For pure theatrics none of the candidates has come anywhere near Vincent Browne. As Martin McGuinness was trying manfully to convince Browne that the authors of a virtual library of books were all mistaken on the finer details of his IRA career, the other candidates must have been thinking they had been let off lightly. If so, they were sadly mistaken.

After mauling McGuinness, Browne turned to them and embarked on an evenly-spread bout of forensic savaging that subsequently had the odds lengthening considerably on the chances of there being a third consecutive Mary in the Áras; Sean Gallagher denying Fianna Fáil so often I was half-expecting to hear a cock crow thrice; Dana claiming she was being victimised for being a Catholic; and Norris, with wild-eyed smile/snarl stoically welded to sweat-streaked face, failing miserably to navigate his way around the considered opinion of a law professor from Tel Aviv that was entirely at odds with the legal advice he claimed to have received.

Browne set the standard for how aspirants to public office should be interrogated by a broadcast journalist. For us northerners, the presidential race has been instructive, as well as entertaining. This has been particularly true, I suspect, for our two entrants.

That neither of them need bother thinking about how to redirect their mail to the Áras hardly requires stating. This is no slight on the candidates; the same would apply to any other northerner foolish enough to enter a future presidential race. The election of Mary II can only be put down to some political aberration on the part of the southern electorate (probably due to an extreme strain of Peace Process/Celtic Tiger-induced bonhomie).

Whatever the cause, the like of it will not be repeated. It has become crystal clear during this campaign that people “down here” don’t like us northerners very much. Not in any individual sense – I’m sure lots of southerners could think of a likeable person from the North, if they tried hard enough – but in an abstract way. To the southern mind, we’re too abrasive, overly aggressive and, when it suits us, pigheadedly literal (the grating accent doesn’t help much, either). And that’s not the half of it. Ultimately, we’re seen as outsiders – if not quite foreigners – poking our noses into a polity that’s none of our business.

The shock on the faces of Dana and Martin as the harsh reality of southern partitionism sank in has been something to behold. Dana’s previous outings coincided with the tide of goodwill that swept Mary II into the Áras and, a couple of years later, herself briefly into the European parliament. Dana must feel like she’s landed on a different planet from 2004 Ireland. As for Martin (who can only be cursing himself for not being more suspicious of Gerry opting to stand in a Border county, rather than run for president), his taken-aback demeanour has, to me at least, often suggested the previously unimaginable: “Good God, these people make even the unionists seem friendly.”

So along with everything else, and contrary to some gloomy predictions, the presidential election has, in its own fashion, even helped with mutual understanding in Northern Ireland. Pity there couldn’t be one every year.

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