Miriam Lord: Gavin Duffy launches himself as a Brexit secret weapon

The candidate has dramatically unveiled himself as the country’s nuclear option

At the official launch of his campaign for the presidential election in Dublin, Dragons' Den panellist and businessman Gavin Duffy pitched himself as the candidate who would be best equipped to face the challenge of Brexit.

 

Government Buildings, some time in the near future.

Brexit has turned bad. The Cabinet sits in emergency session.

An angry Leo Varadkar paces the room. Simon Coveney eyes him nervously. Paschal Donohoe sobs quietly in the corner. Winston Churchtown, tunelessly humming, head held low, toys with a little red Dinky bus, moving it back and forth, back and forth, on the varnished wood.

The only other sound is the clickety-click of Josepha Madigan’s rosary beads.

Ministers surreptitiously check their mobile phones. The headlines are bleak. The country is set on a downward economic spiral. Our erstwhile Brexit supporters – 26 other EU countries – have abandoned us to bilateral discussion hell with the no-deal British.

Regina Doherty and Katherine Zappone exchange worried glances. The Attorney General rifles grimly through the Constitution.

Suddenly, Leo stops in his tracks. He turns, gaze falling on a large red button in the middle of the cabinet table.

Heather Humphrey’s hand flies to her throat, clutching her pearls. Charlie Flanagan and Denis Naughten visibly blanch.

The Taoiseach strides towards the table.

“Oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” bellows Michael Ring.

“Let me through! “ cries the Taoiseach.

Eoghan Murphy pushes his chair back. “Dude, no!”

Varadkar looks to the skies and then, in one sweeping motion, he slams the palm of his hand down on the big red button.

“Deploy the President!”

And Gavin Duffy is launched from the Phoenix Park.

Boom!

The nuclear option. Ireland’s Brexit secret weapon has been deployed.

We are saved.

Secret weapon

If the above sounds far-fetched then you weren’t following Gavin Duffy’s presidential campaign opener on Tuesday, when the candidate dramatically unveiled himself as the country’s Brexit secret weapon.

Revealing his “particular skill set” and “in-depth knowledge and comprehensive understanding of the major issues”, the businessman declared to a packed room of family, friends and media: “I am offering myself into public life.”

Duffy is a member of the Light (Entertainment) Dragoons, an elite regiment of businessmen who came to national prominence on a business-themed television show that has now yielded three presidential candidates from its ranks.

Of the three – the others being Peter Casey and Seán Gallagher – Duffy seems to be putting in the strongest early performance. However, like the rest of the field, his promises are pitched somewhat higher than his campaign slogan: “Gavin Duffy: Ambitious for Ireland.”

His presidential prospectus is over-ambitious, to put it mildly.

If Gavin is elected to the Áras, he thinks he will be perfectly placed to spearhead Team Ireland’s effort to negotiate the international issues surrounding Irish trade and tariff negotiations in the delicate post-Brexit era.

While the Government has “done very, very well” so far, he feels that after the UK leaves the EU, it would be beneficial to Ireland to have a president “who has walked the walk and has talked the talk”. He said this as “a founder member of the British Irish Business Association”.

Grateful ears must have been burning in Government Buildings and Iveagh House. “I think I’m somebody who has something to contribute if the Government would like to deploy a president with that type of knowledge, etc. We will have to go into a major diplomatic offensive in April,” said Gavin. “I feel I have the particular skill set that would help in these situations.”

He must make a lovely cup of tea.

Polished performance

For all this daft talk of the Government beating a path to his door because of this hitherto unheralded expertise in “international relations”, the media consultant produced a very sure-footed and polished performance at the mid-morning launch in Bow Street in the middle of Dublin’s legal ghetto.

He brought a lot of supporters from his Louth-Meath heartland along with family from all around the country. His wife, Orlaith, his business partner, did the introductions in their Smithfield headquarters.

As seems to be the fashion in this campaign, the Duffy press conference was held in a small, overheated room. The green pleated cloth backdrop on a folding frame behind the candidate resembled a hospital screen, which didn’t augur well.

But Gavin Duffy – as one might expect for a professional communicator – got his message out well. He also fielded questions from the media with good humour and patience, never displaying a hint of annoyance even when some questions seemed overly confrontational and one of them downright bizarre: what side did his family take in the Civil War?

He had an answer, and a policy nod, for everything. His five domestic pillars took in the old and the young, diversity and inclusion and working together. He will also major on childhood obesity and the problems posed to young people by unscrupulous people on social media.

There was also a rather baffling discourse on how people shouldn’t worry about immigrants taking their jobs. Robots will do that. In the coming years, a president must be aware of how society might suffer when the State is taking in far less tax, because robots pay no tax.

While the candidate didn’t want to be defined by his status as a businessman, he was also clear that somebody like him, who has “worked in the real world”, should not be discounted as a potential president.

Among the audience was Alison Cowzer, another of the Dragons’ Den dragoons. She hasn’t put herself forward and was supporting her TV colleague.

Pig farmer

Apart from business, Gavin was asked what he contributed to public life. He said he wasn’t going to start going on with “I did this for charity, I did that for charity and so on”. He added “but all my life has been trying to help people and trying to give them a direction and a steer, and it was not always invoiced ... ”

It is difficult for a candidate to fill time talking about how they fill the role of president when the job doesn’t really allow them do very much. Gavin “I’m somebody who was born on a pig farm” Duffy manages to do that well.

He could emerge as a middle-of-the-road candidate – he certainly tries to appeal to all shades of Irish society. To this end, he astutely expressed a view about the recent abortion referendum, which will find favour with many citizens.

Addressing No voters, he told them “I respect your vote, your opinion. I’ve no doubt that you gave as much consideration to casting your No vote as I did for my Yes vote”. And while “the compass is set now” this didn’t mean that all views should not be respected.

A short exchange with a journalist about “controversial” Denis O’Brien (Duffy, in the course of his work, briefly gave him some communications advice) elicited an odd query from the candidate. “Eh, what do you mean by controversial?”

There were a few hacking jackets on show among his supporters, perhaps devotees of field sports, as is the candidate. We were reminded of this when somebody’s phone bleeped a message alert in the sound of a hunting horn.

There was no question for Duffy on blood sports such as hare coursing and field pursuits such as stag hunting. Doubtless, they’ll surface before the campaign is out.

In the meantime, the mandarins in Dublin, London and Brussels will be hoping Gavin wins so Ireland’s Brexit secret weapon can win the trade wars and the diplomatic day.

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