Brave effort by Freeman hampered by lack of experience

Taoiseach’s nominee to Seanad says she will not run for political office again

Joan Freeman arrives at Dublin Castle to attend the count. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Joan Freeman arrives at Dublin Castle to attend the count. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

Presidential candidate Joan Freeman had hoped she could effect a modern-day Peasant’s Revolt by taking on the establishment contenders and their well-resourced rivals.

It was not to be. Without the resources, without sufficient political experience, without a broad-based message and without hard-edged debating skills, her campaign faltered.

Ms Freeman had great credentials and a fine track record, having been the driving force behind suicide-prevention charity Pieta House and the associated Darkness into Light walks.

But like other activists-turned-candidates in the past – Adi Roche in 1997 and Mary Davis in 2011 come to mind – she was found wanting when it came to the bear pit that is a presidential election campaign.

She found herself criticised for being right-wing and conservative, on the basis that she voted No in the referendum on abortion in May. She faced tough questioning after taking a loan from a US businessman whose company had been investigated for pyramid selling.

She did manage to put both those issues behind her.

She argued she was the only “ordinary” candidate among four millionaires, among whom she included Michael D Higgins, and a party-backed candidate (Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada). It was her most successful line.

Where she struggled was when asked about areas outside her own interests of mental health and wellness. She was particularly weak on the constitutional role of the president, a crucial must-know for any aspirant.

She had a small team, a hired car and a shoestring budget compared to the others, but she did have the assistance of experienced PR adviser Natasha Fennell.

During the debates, she refused to get drawn into prolonged discussions on presidential expenses and transparency, and tried (without much success) to move the agenda on to her strongest issues and the plans of the candidates.

It was a brave move by Ms Freeman to throw her hat into the ring in the first instance. She was a different kind of candidate, with an admirable track record, who might have made a dark horse in the race.

But her lack of experience in this situation told against her, in addition to gaps in her knowledge of the president’s role and obligations.

At the very least, she now has a national profile. She remains a Senator, having been nominated to the Upper House by the Taoiseach, and it will be interesting to see how she will use the experience of the campaign as she continues in her relatively new political career.

However, when asked on Saturday night if she would run for political office of any description again, she emphatically replied: “No, I don’t know think so, no.”

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