Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Economy with facts will quench the Dragon's fire

Sean Gallagher's picture of himself and Fianna Fail is now being amended in the light of facts previously muddied. He says on his campaign website -- or did until this weekend -- that he was 'a sporadic' party member.

Sporadic means 'occurring only here and there, separate, scattered'. Yet his Fianna Fail career was full-on and privileged. It lasted much longer than he says; it was anything but sporadic.

He says he "got involved in the 1980s". This was with Ogra Fianna Fail, which he headed, in Cavan, "for a year". This would be difficult without becoming a party member. He does not tell us about that or when it happened. He gives the impression that he drifted away, coming back to help in the government's 'alcohol education programme' and to work with Rory O'Hanlon and Seamus Kirk.

He claims he left Fianna Fail "in terms of being a member of the party, or being active, back in 2009". And he gives the reason: "The party had moved away from its grassroots, the ordinary people who were struggling."

Yet in January 2011, he was still a member of its National Executive, which is not possible without being a party member. When he 'resigned', on January 5, 2011, by letter to the Fianna Fail Party Secretary Sean Dorgan, it was simply as "a constituency delegate" to the National Executive.

He concluded: "I want, however, to express my continued support to you and your colleagues in this challenging period for the party."

Fianna Fail was then in political freefall, facing an annihilation it richly deserved and got. Yet Gallagher remained a member, sympathetic to the senior leadership. He helped senior figures in the following general election.

His campaign team has so far been unable to establish whether he has resigned from the party, and if so, when. None of the above has anything whatsoever to do with the reasons he gave on October 3 for the parting of the ways in 2009. What he said about that did not in fact happen.

Moreover, he has rejected all political parties because their fight is "about who was going to be in power". Yet he went on being heavily involved for a further two years in Fianna Fail -- both as a National Executive member and still longer as a party member.

In July of this year, his presidential rating standing at 13pc, he told Pat Kenny yet another, quite different, story about his Fianna Fail membership.

He joined "to advance the introduction of important legislation". So there were now two completely different and distinct reasons, the first being the legislation, the second representing Louth.

"Let me explain about Fianna Fail," he told Kenny. He then gave yet another reason for his Fianna Fail membership: the need for youth services.

What he did not tell Kenny was the story of his close and continuing relationship with Fianna Fail throughout the whole period of his presidential challenge.

This was because the party held the key to his gaining the councils on which his nomination depended. In some of them, the Fianna Fail party whip was imposed in his favour. It failed in riotous circumstances in his home county of Cavan, but it succeeded elsewhere sufficiently to get him nominated.

It is not unreasonable to suppose that the recent jump in his opinion poll standing may have been influenced by Fianna Fail realising that it had a better candidate than it thought and expressing this by every means possible, including the answers given to pollsters.

If that is fanciful, then Gallagher's statement, in an interview with a journalist, is not.

Asked the question, "Why not run for a party?" Gallagher replied: "The president, once elected, is above politics. And I fundamentally disagree with the fact that the office of president is really the gift of the political parties.

"It shouldn't be about what political party you belong to. I think that's a fundamental flaw. I want to be above politics because as soon as you get elected you must represent people from all political parties and none."

Yet he did not want to be above Fianna Fail politics.

Gallagher represents Fianna Fail. He is their default candidate. He has made little of close ties with the party.

He cannot tell us, through his campaign team, when he left Fianna Fail, suggesting he has not left.

Fianna Fail is also being coy. Last Saturday night, the party said it would not comment on whether Gallagher was still a member of the party, saying it was up to him and his campaign team to deal with this issue.

The team is silent on this. It cannot find the relevant letter or the date. This is mystifying. One does, after all, remember that sort of thing, keep a copy of the letter, treat it as a reasonably important milestone.

Gallagher's distance from Fianna Fail has been a plank in his presidential campaign, but in the wrong ways. Links have been represented as slight, sporadic, arm's length, and terminated nearly three years ago when in fact they were not terminated at all.

Remaining questions should be directed at Fianna Fail. The party turned down the honest, straightforward and potentially good candidate, Brian Crowley, who would have been exactly what he said he was.

The party turned down Eamon O Cuiv's arguments in favour of running because of a cash shortage. Having bankrupted the country, Fianna Fail could not face the true challenge of a public campaign.

The party has taken the wrong course. Again. It is a position that does not stand up. And time is running out for its members to salvage any credibility.

FIAnna Fail faces major challenges, notably over the Sinn Fein choice of Martin McGuinness. This affects Fianna Fail's future.

The party knows more about McGuinness than any other party except Sinn Fein, but is silent on this and other questions. All of this is characteristic of the present party leader, Micheal Martin.

Gallagher's campaign is without credibility.

Opening his mouth from now on will invite doubt, scepticism and disbelief.

He claims that his desire to be president was "accumulated over the last three years based on the profile of being on TV and RTE's Dragon's Den". He should resign the campaign, return to the 'Den' and revise his conflicting views and statements.

Then start all over again.