Cynical outrage over self-promoter Duffy seeking to challenge for Áras

The double standards and discomfort of Michael D Higgins’ self-appointed adherents is comedy gold, writes Gerard Howlin

Cynical outrage over self-promoter Duffy seeking to challenge for Áras

The hissy fit of the politically correct at the entry of Dragons’ Den star, entrepreneur, and self- promotion expert Gavin Duffy is wonderful to behold.

I am doubtful about Duffy myself, but the double standards and discomfort of Michael D Higgins’ self-appointed adherents is comedy gold. If you follow the groupies on social media, and simply sniff for smugness to seek them out, you will find them basting in humbug on the barbecue. For that alone Duffy is worth it, at least for now.

A few weeks ago, you may remember, but then again you may have had something better to do, an awful brouhaha arose about the lack of women speakers at the MacGill Summer School.

There was a great stalking off by the indignant into the chasm of righteousness. Screams, shouts, and roars ensured. Tellingly, much of the noise was from men who regularly brought their linen jackets out from the back of the wardrobe to rush up to Glenties annually and opine. A relative lack of ladies, except to listen, didn’t seem to bother them.

That’s the thing about sensitivity and sincerity. It’s seasonal. It is especially prone to break out in a crowd. Noise can spread it to pandemic levels.

I have always been fascinated by the close connection between cynicism, self-righteousness, and sincerity. True sincerity seldom leads, I suspect, to the others, but paradoxically, most forms of self- interest rapidly lead on to strong sincerity.

Sometimes it is of the sort, supported by indignation, that rises to righteous anger. Reflective quiet might allow room for self-examination of conscience or worse a revision of opinion. Best to hammer on regardless.

There was a real issue at MacGill, notwithstanding that there were even more women speakers originally than we, the people, elected as TDs. But no matter.

Don’t do as I do, do as I say. It was a credit to the work of Joe Mulholland and those who stepped in to help him that really good women were readily found, and a more interesting, better attended MacGill ensued. But back to the brouhaha.

In the name of equality, there was an onslaught of abuse of Mulholland and his originally largely male group of speakers as old. It’s the stale part of ‘male, stale, and beyond the pale’.

How ageism sits with equality is an unrevealed mystery to me, but there you are. The brute politics of the things are seemingly less refined than the ideal itself.

Fast-forward to the hiring fair that is the presidential election. The instant array of double standards on display was stunning. Questioning of the president on the grounds of his age was, yes, you guessed it, ageist.

Unlike the requirements of giving a speech for 20 minutes in Glenties, another seven years as president is an onerous undertaking and one that is mission critical for our democracy.

The president’s powers are relatively few, but they are essential and absolutely so in a crisis.

Were government or Oireachtas to overreach legislatively or a taoiseach seek to undermine the will of the Dáil by bolting for an election, when the will of the House is to reconfigure government without him the president would be our essential safeguard.

That political crisis unfolded without a constitutional crisis in December 1994. Albert Reynolds went out, John Bruton came in, and Reynolds, to his credit, never thought to seek a dissolution.

But these are the scenarios when the competence and judgment of the president are essential. The chance for us, the people, to make our judgement is in the heat of an election campaign. It tests mettle.

There is umbrage about the fact of a contest when it is absolutely clear there was always going to be one. That itself is instructive about the self-regard of a certain sort who like campaigns, like their claret, served at room temperature.

There is a selective deployment of ageism to firstly denigrate some who don’t suit and then to insist that Michael D’s age is beyond the pale for public comment: “He isn’t stale because he is one of us.”

There is a denigration of Duffy because he is a businessman who has promoted products in tawdry ads to sell sun lotion. It’s called TanOrganic. My only regret is that I haven’t made a few bob from my own suntan lotion. But who knows what the future holds?

If those ads aren’t at the upper end of elegance, well, who goes through life, vetting every day against the day when you might run for president? It will all be unveiled now, and so be it. We can make up our minds in time.

But I will make up my own mind, thank you, and you should do the same. There is the making of a cloying, suffocating consensus, I don’t like. That’s not to mention the silence of the same, over Michael D’s adulation of regimes like Castro’s in Cuba, and apparent affinity for Chavez in Venezuela.

We all make mistakes, and the tone and content of the president’s statement on the death of Fidel Castro was a singular mistake.

I am prepared to give a Duffy campaign a hearing. The thought has crossed my mind that he is only in it for now, as a brand promotion exercise.

If he fails to secure four council nominations, his enhanced brand, or at least larger profile, can resume its day job of self-promotion. Self-promotion, by the way, is an entirely honourable pursuit. It’s just that different folks do it in different ways.

Sinn Féin is certainly doing it differently and, the more I think about it, perhaps cleverly. By putting different putative candidates on show, but for peeping only, it saves them from the inevitable onslaught. Its campaign is not about the presidency. It is about the party and an opportunity to promote it.

It is its showboating that is driving some on the edges of Fianna Fáil mad. Councillor Ollie Crowe has hoisted Éamon Ó Cuív’s standard up the pole but that fluent, loquacious politician is, at the time of writing, neither to be seen nor heard.

Crowe says Ó Cuív hasn’t put him up to it. But silence is the very speech that has allowed this take legs. Whatever about complicity, the degree of omission is a sort of collusion by default.

I suspect there will be several false starts in this campaign. Those who back off by design may well congratulate themselves on their foresight.

It will be a test of the public conversation, not least of the media, as to whether they are capable of testing every candidate equally rigorously. The very early signs are not promising. But let’s see. In the end, the decision will be ours, and we should bide our time.

Look over every candidate carefully for ourselves and only decide finally at the very end.

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