The Irish Times view on the presidential campaign

The problem with this election is that no candidate has emerged from the pack to offer a credible alternative to Higgins

It appears likely that voters will have six candidates to choose from on October 26th. Political correspondent Harry McGee reports.

 

The Presidential election is now in its final days and the incumbent Michael D Higgins remains the overwhelming favourite to win a second term. Still, it is worth recalling that there was a big turn-around at the end of the last presidential election campaign seven years ago with the front runner Sean Gallagher being overtaken by Higgins after a dramatic television debate.

This time around the front runner is so far ahead of the field that it is difficult to see any of the other candidates coming close to him on the first count but the huge lead he had in last week’s Ipsos/MRBI Irish Times opinion poll may be trimmed back. The question is by how much.

There is no disputing that [Michael D Higgins] has done a good job as President and has represented the State with considerable style

Since that poll Higgins has come under pressure to account in detail for how he has spent presidential finances and to explain his use of the Government jet for an official visit to Northern Ireland. Some of his answers have been unconvincing and self-serving. He has been bedevilled since the start of the campaign by the commitment he gave seven years ago that he would not seek a second term. He also gave a commitment that he would not use his office for campaigning purposes, but has clearly done so.

Gavin Duffy; Joan Freeman; Liadh Ní Riada; Peter Casey; Sean Gallagher; President Michael D Higgins.
Presidential candidates: Gavin Duffy; Joan Freeman; Liadh Ní Riada; Peter Casey; Sean Gallagher; President Michael D Higgins.

There is no disputing, though, that he has done a good job as President and has represented the State with considerable style while cleverly negotiating the constitutional limitations placed on the role.

The provocative remarks by Peter Casey have demonstrated his unfitness for the highest office in the land. He was bottom of the field on a meagre 2 per cent in The Irish Times poll before he delivered his divisive broadside about Travellers and the impact of that intervention will say a thing or two about the reality of public opinion on the issue.

While his comments have been condemned by all of the other candidates, they have generated a huge wave of publicity for Casey and could propel him up a lacklustre field.

Sadly, none of the challengers to Higgins have been able to capture the public imagination

The problem with this election is that no candidate has emerged from the pack to offer a credible alternative to Higgins.

The performance of the other candidates won’t tell us all that much about the state of party politics, given the absence of a candidate from either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, but the vote obtained by Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada will show if there is still a serious gap between the party’s performance in opinion polls and its election results.

The other three candidates, Seán Gallagher, Gavin Duffy and Joan Freeman have struggled to make any impact on the campaign.

Sadly, none of the challengers to Higgins have been able to capture the public imagination or exhibit the kind of credible alternative vision that is required to overcome the formidable obstacle of competing with a popular incumbent.

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