Byrne tops poll for presidency


Potential presidential candidate Gay Byrne is the most popular choice to become the next president of Ireland, according to a new opinion poll out today.

The Red C poll for Paddy Power bookmakers found the veteran broadcaster would get 28 per cent of first preference votes. The former Late Late Show host last night expressed concerns about the development of the European Union, saying Ireland was being “run by mad people in Brussels”.

Earlier this week Mr Byrne revealed that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin phoned him last weekend to say Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members could facilitate his nomination as an Independent candidate. He is due to announce his intentions within days.

The poll puts the Labour Party’s declared candidate Michael D Higgins in second place with 21 per cent, while Fine Gael’s declared candidate Gay Mitchell scored 13 per cent.

Level with Mr Mitchell in the poll is Fianna Fáil MEP for Ireland South Brian Crowley, who last month wrote to party colleagues confirming his intention to seek the party’s nomination. He benefits from strong support in Munster.

Independent Sean Gallagher secured 12 per cent in the poll, while another Independent Mary Davis was at seven per cent. Potential candidates for the presidency require the support of 20 TDs and/or Senators or the backing of four county councils. Mr Gallagher and Mr Davis are confident of formally securing council support. Dana Rosemary Scallon, who is rumoured to be considering entering the race, stands at six per cent.

The poll also found that almost 40 per cent of people would have given Senator David Norris their first preference, and half of all respondents would have given him a vote. A total of 1,000 people were questioned between Monday and Wednesday of this week.

Last night Mr Byrne said he had always remained “absolutely unpolitical” and had never disclosed any political feelings, “and that is why people love me”. He insisted he would not be a party candidate if he decided to contest the election. “Fianna Fáil have very little to do with it. I would be an Independent runner if it comes to that and they’ve assured me of that.”

Mr Byrne was accompanied to the opening night of the musical Grease in Dublin last night by his wife Kathleen Watkins. “She is a Fianna Fáil person. It comes up through the soles of her feet and she drank it in with her mother’s milk. Does that make me a bad person?”

He also outlined his worries about the development of the EU while speaking to reporters. “Those concerns are that I think it’s a crazy notion from the very beginning. We crossed the Rubicon when we joined the single currency. I think there’s no backing out now but it’s a mad, mad world and we are being run by mad people in Brussels,” Mr Byrne said.

He was responding to a question about his previous criticism of the EU and the Lisbon Treaty, and whether it might become an issue in a presidential campaign. Byrne replied that it might but he had not changed his mind.

The new poll shows Mr Byrne’s support is cross-party and strong among women young people, according to Paddy Power. Mr Higgins’ appeal is strongest in mid to older age groups and he does best at securing his own parties support. Mr Mitchell secured just 24 per cent of those who voted 24 per cent in the last election, although he does well in Dublin. Mr Gallagher has a good second preference appeal.