Miriam Lord: Presidential hopefuls take a dander down Daft Avenue
Councillors driven round the bend as candidate selection process goes off the rails
Norma Burke aka Bunty Twuntingdon McFluff at City Hall. “I did this because I got so angry listening to people who want to be candidates but haven’t read the constitutional requirements for the job,” she said. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times
If you think things are daft now, imagine how completely bonkers the presidential candidate selection process is going to be in seven years’ time.
An unknown quantity (Seán Gallagher) almost got himself elected last time out by taking the council route to getting a place on the ballot paper.
This didn’t go unnoticed by the wider world of notions and notice boxes. If this man can come from nowhere, what’s stopping us? There are no minimum entry requirements. The right person, at the right time, can talk themselves into contention.
And there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Hence this year’s mind-boggling collection of budding candidates doing the council circuit in the hope of bagging a place on the ticket. The fact that they are being entertained and getting media attention will only embolden the next batch.
To say some of their nomination pitches are off the wall would be an understatement.
Furniture tips from the Amish community in America?
Tearing down Ireland’s corrupt political and media elite from within the walls of Áras an Uachtaráin?
Why can’t we be nicer to Donald Trump?
What about encouraging – at a hefty price – the progeny of Irish-America to go on trips of discovery to the aul’ sod “so they can absorb how amazing Ireland is”?
And not forgetting “Bunty Twuntingdon-McFuff”, who both insulted and enraged members of Dublin City Council on Thursday with her less-than-subtle send-up of the entire ludicrous enterprise that this nomination process has now become.
Councillors, by the way, having entertained pitches from six hopefuls, drew a swift veil across the proceedings by voting not to endorse the campaigns of any of the candidates.
Bunty, as it turned out, was the only one to leave the chamber with what she wanted: to call out the absurdity of this business and puncture the presumptuousness of candidates who appear to have little awareness of the constitutional requirements of the office of president.
It was clear even before the “nominations special meeting” began in City Hall that the majority of councillors had already decided to give their guests the bum’s rush after the formality of the speeches was over.
But before the vote was taken to abandon ship, there was time for a short dander along Daft Alley with the aspiring presidents.
My parents were both alcoholics. Sorry, workaholics
Cllr Mannix Flynn, sitting next to the press box, supplied a steady stream of noises off as the speeches progressed.
“She’s out having her photo taken,” came a voice from the back of the hall.
Mulligan, when she eventually arrived, was “going to speak about things I am passionate about”.
Child abuse, domestic abuse, suicide, elder abuse, pro-life issues, the setting-up of crisis pregnancy centres, “entrepreneurism, homelessness . . .” She paused for effect before rounding off her list with a happy flourish, “and, of course, PRESIDENT TRUMP!”
She launched into her address. As she was explaining her various passions, something knocked her off her stride. She stopped dead and looked up.
“Sorry, I can hear a lot of whispering and it’s reeeeally putting me off. Can we control that for a little bit?”
The councillors, unusually quiet it seemed to us, were gobsmacked. Mannix let out a very loud “shhhh”.
Sarah-Louise shrugged. “It must be my imagination, so.”
She ran out of time before she could talk about president Trump.
On so to Peter Casey, the third of three businessmen who were big cheeses on RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den reality show and now fancy themselves as president. Of the other two, Seán Gallagher has his four nominations in the bag and Gavin Duffy will clinch his last one next week. Peter has none. On the strength of his diaspora-themed talk, he’ll have difficulty improving on that score.
He described his humble beginnings in Derry, growing up in a large family in a house with an outside toilet.
“My parents were both alcoholics,” he declared, as his audience pricked up their ears.
“Same thing,” murmured Mannix. “You couldn’t make this up.”
Marie Goretti Moylan has done a few pitches to councils at this stage. On Thursday, besides talking about how she will help victims of all kinds of abuse if she becomes president, she made a heartfelt plea for the return of Ireland’s dinosaur skeleton to its rightful home in the National History Museum. Apparently, it’s languishing in the basement in boxes and the museum shop has to be closed to accommodate it.
“We have dinosaurs in America. We have dinosaurs in Europe,” quivered Marie Goretti.
“We have dinosaurs here,” snorted Mannix, looking at his fellow councillors.
“And we should be able to show off our Irish dinosaur,” insisted the potential president.
John Groarke, a smiley, elderly gent with a grey beard and Michael D white hair, said he is a second-class citizen and he wants a more equal society.
“As regards the housing thing,” he thinks we should consult the Amish people in America who build beautiful homes for themselves and have the most lovely furniture.
Former INM journalist Gemma O’Doherty, who has earned a reputation for herself as something of a conspiracy theorist (her recent declaration that there was state involvement in the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin being a case in point) said she will serve the cause of “truth, justice and integrity” for the Irish people if elected president.
As PR queen Bunty, she will open up the Áras as an upmarket spa and hunting lodge
She paid tribute to the young people occupying vacant properties in the city and was “profoundly disturbed” by the sight of men in balaclavas “guarded by our police force” removing the protesters from the properties.
Of the six speakers, O’Doherty came across as the most reasoned over the short time allotted.
And so to Bunty. Or Norma Burke, which is her real name and the one she had to supply to get a chance to make a pitch. She is a comedy film director, actor, journalist and community activist, and performed her speech “in character”, as she told us later.
As PR queen Bunty, she will open up the Áras as an upmarket spa and hunting lodge. Guests will be able to shoot the deer, and, as an added bonus, they will be able to hunt the homeless who also live in the park.
There were sharp intakes off breath as the “spoof candidate”, wearing a pink cardigan, pearls and a blonde wig, made a complete mockery of the process.
Mannix was incensed. “Outrageous,” he roared. “It’s an absolute insult to the office of president!” Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre Heney, looking appalled, tried to attract the mayor’s attention. “Deeply, deeply offensive,” bellowed Labour’s Dermot Lacey, as Bunty talked about culling “feral” inhabitants and using the bodies for fossil fuel.
None of it mattered. Which was Bunty/Norma’s point.
The councillors voted not to endorse anyone.
“I did this because I got so angry listening to people who want to be candidates but haven’t read the constitutional requirements for the job. I just took that to the nth degree. It’s absurd, what’s going on.”
She says she broke no rules. She applied to speak, sent her request by email and was asked to present herself to be nominated.
“I had five minutes to make my point. I took them.”