About last night’s presidential debate

Did you stay up to watch it? No? Probably a wise decision. I did and didn’t get into the scratcher until near midnight. I won’t say watching the presidential debate on RTÉ was a bloody waste of time but it wasn’t an intellectual and/or emotional feast either.

It started off promisingly. Within seconds of the come-out-fighting gong,  the Derry millionaire/TV Dragon Peter Casey had called Michael D Higgins a liar. This caused the presenter David McCullagh some agitation, as he told Casey he would not allow people to be called liars on his show. I suppose it depends on your interpretation of liar. If it means one who habitually tells lies, Michael D was unfairly charged: he told only one lie, about not running for a second term of office and then doing the exact opposite. No one thought of asking him to explain this gymnastic flip.

Instead all of the five other candidates got stuck into Michael D for taking a Lear jet from Dublin to Belfast, where he linked up with his car which had been driven from Dublin to Belfast. Michael D did his best to stress what Queen’s University would have missed if he hadn’t delivered that lecture, but none of his opponents got sufficiently stuck in to point out that the lecture wasn’t the point, the Lear jet was. Somebody did ask him if there were security problems in Kerry, that he took the Lear jet there as well, but it got lost in the melee. Peter Casey said Michael D had told another lie when he said the Belfast and the Kerry trips were the only ones he’d taken this year; it seems it was actually four times, but Michael D wasn’t including two other flights outside of Ireland. Sure a bishop could make that mistake.

It was a good debate but not a great one. Oscar Wilde said you’d have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell; you’d have had to have a heart of brass not to laugh at a presidential election where three of the candidates were best-known for being in a TV show called Dragon’s Den. Liadh Ní Riada and Joan Freeman were firmly cast in the secondary roles of females-who-patiently-wait-to-speak: this was strictly a boys’ night out. Ní Riada was criticized for not taking the average industrial wage on her MEP salary and on her words about a vaccine for children, and she accepted the charge on both counts. Joan Freeman was charged with having got a big loan from somebody, but the point never really got anywhere. The three dragons – all millionaires –  were asked how much they earned. Forget it. None would say, except to insist they paid their taxes, as if that were some sort of virtue. More alarming was the fact that Joan Freeman described all four men, including Michael D, as millionaires, and Michael D didn’t correct her. I’m going to have to investigate this socialism thing more closely.

Oddly, the candidate I found myself liking most was Peter Casey. He’s  big but not overbearing, and he has that air of being a bit of a smiling chancer as well as someone who would, as he put it himself, make one of the more interesting presidents Ireland has had. The candidate I liked least was the man Miriam Lord in the Irish Times this morning referred unkindly to as the Talking Tea-Cosy: Michael D Higgins.

Yes, I know the present President speaks lovely Irish, and I know size doesn’t matter; but Michae D  exuded an air of self-importance, not to say vanity, that left me shouting at the screen. My idea of hell? Being trapped in a lift with Michael D while he quotes from the many books he’s read and uses his entire vocabulary of long vague words to describe the kind of Ireland he believes in. There’s no other way of putting it:  Michael D is a  bore, and a self-regarding one at that. What’s more, Ireland is going to be stuck with him for another seven years.

Sometimes I’m glad we in the north don’t have a vote, or we might be declared complicit in this election crime.

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