Here’s the latest from the #Aras11 horse race. It seems the, erm, Independent candidate for Sinn Fein (aka, the firmly established once and future Deputy First Minister), is accusing another Independent candidate of, erm, not being Independent.
There is some grist to that mill, of course… Thanks to Suzy for this clip of Gallagher speaking at a meeting of Fianna Fail Ogra at Queens in Belfast (along with, it has to be said, with the likes of Elaine Byrne, who is not suspected of links – either current or past – with the former party of government):
Nothing makes Fianna Failer’s more nervous than a too insistent assertion that Gallagher is their ‘dog without a collar’. And in part they are right to protest. His surge in the polls is not a reconstitution of the Fianna Fail vote. He’s pulling people in from all over the place, Fine Gaelers included.
One lesson we might take from all of this, is that it was Fianna Fail voters who put the Fianna Fail parliamentary dog out in the cold, with the reverberative instruction not to come back in until it learns not to soil its own bed.
A old fashioned form of tough rural love, you might say.
That Higgins (and Mitchell) have now been forced onto the attack shows how seriously they now take Gallagher’s bid. His ‘rookie’s mistake’ of not putting posters up all over the shop may not have worked for a conventional politician. But Gallagher, however closely associated with FF he might be, is not seen by the public as a politician.
And that begins to look like his primary card in the next two weeks. His refusal of a deal from Michael D over the next political debate, will help cement his non politician credentials in the Irish public mind.
Fundamentally though, it shows not only is there life in the FF gene pool, but that that FF gene pool has not been significantly tempted by the siren songs of Fianna Fail’s political rivals.
That’s bad news for Sinn Fein’s kitchen sink strategy, and Fine Gael, who should have been walking home to their first ever term in the Aras in this election.
Returning briefly to the problem we started with, ie that of independents who aren’t, there is just no doubt Gallagher is gene pool Fianna Fail. You don’t even need to know he was on the national executive until recently to believe that.
But structurally, it is much less difficult to imagine that Gallagher’s machine is substantially his own asset, run and paid for by his own campaign, than it is to believe that Martin’s entourage is any different to those who remain constantly at his side in what ever election, in whichever jurisdiction he choses to run.
Higgins’ problem is that he’s maxed out on the urban Labour vote. And he’s not likely to get much more help from a FG base that’s spent most of this campaign grazing on other non party pastures. Making Gallagher’s youth/inexperience an issue is also something of a chancey game of Russian roulette for him and Mitchell.
McGuinness’ problem is the same one he came in with: what’s his relevance in a polity who’s preoccupations could not be more different from the one he clearly feels at home with back in Ulster?
And someone should have warned him that the Dublin Press’s favourite diet is politician on toast (just ask former Tanaiste Mary Coughlan for an unbiased view on that matter). Killing a Deputy First Minister over his unwillingness to level with the Irish people about the true nature of his past sells newspapers, and stacks up the listeners and viewers in their tens of thousands.
And contrary to the common wisdom in Northern Ireland, developing such aggressive and dysfunctional relationship with the Irish media is unlikely to do the party any favours when the presidential ballots are counted.
This, in my view, is less to do with a media as yet unreconciled to the historical determinism of the Belfast Agreement, so much as business as it is normally conducted within the democratic space.
Peace process based strategies apply only to Northern Ireland. The IRA’s campaign had little purchase south of the border. The state’s joint bulwark was An Garda Siochana and Oglaigh na hEireann.
That may be why last week McGuinness’s confrontation with the soldier’s son may have had a disproportionately negative effect on his campaign over and above the sheer weight of numbers of victims (living as well as dead) from thirty years of trouble in Northern Ireland.
Whether he makes the 12.5% needed to save his deposit or even substantially better than that, Mr McGuinness will have a lot more to consider other than the tell tale trails of sympathy found in a depth analysis of individual ballot boxes.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty