Good morning. I would like to take the opportunity of this column to announce that I will not be running for the office of the presidency.
I have come to this position with a heavy heart. My distress is not for myself but for the country and how the future could have been so different.
However, having consulted my circle of advisers, my family, and my ego, I have arrived at the conclusion that it would be in the best interests of the country if I bowed out gracelessly at this point.
There had been a plan to announce the termination of my candidacy on a prominent RTÉ current affairs programme.
But when my people rang RTÉ with the offer, they were told that the station had had enough of that kind of stuff this silly season.
A counter offer of five minutes on Ceili House was all that was on the table, but my ego wouldn’t countenance that.
This journey began about six months ago when those around me began to urge me to run. Needless to say I was flattered.
Why me? The advisers advised that I’d make a great president, which is exactly what I wanted to hear. One of the team put it thus: “You have a pulse. Why not you?”
After all, what is the presidency but, as a fellow former candidate stated, “a meet and greet job”? Load me up with Valium and I could meet and greet for Ireland.
The other incentive for a shot at the job was, with the greatest respect to my fellow candidates, the paucity of the field.
Once it was known from far out that Miriam wasn’t going to take the leap, what was left?
Fianna Fáil isn’t going to run anybody, apart from Éamon Ó Cuív. Fine Gael, in all likelihood, will never run a candidate again on the basis of the disaster every presidential election has been for their people.
Sinn Féin is up for it, but the apparent criteria is somebody who is young, female, photogenic, and in a fierce hurry for a united Ireland. And then there are those who plough the field as Independents.
Joan Freeman has done worthy work on suicide prevention, but she’s yet to be tested on meeting and greeting.
Gavin Duffy made for a suitably brooding dragon in the Den, but does the world need another reality TV show personality as a president?
How about Kevin Sharkey? He was also on TV once upon a time and he is an artist. But would he be the first man you’d think of ringing if a constitutional crisis took fire?
Of late, we’ve had the spectre of Seán Gallagher winding up for another tilt at it. Where has he been for the last seven years? Surely he has something better to be doing with himself at this stage of his life?
The dark horse among those would have to be Ó Cuív, affectionately known as Dev Beag.
Just as Grandpops’ buddy Mick Collins had his intelligence gathering and propaganda machines, so Dev Beag has a squad of councillors to fly kites for the media and throw darts at Micheál Martin.
Keep an eye on him running on the anti-Fianna Fáil ticket. The smart money says he will campaign on a platform of broadband for rural Ireland so comely millennials can play the Xbox at the crossroads.
So the field was enticing. After that it was just a matter of assembling a vision.
Mine was one that was bursting with reach and ambition. It was to be an inclusive Ireland for the 21st century.
An open, transparent Ireland, combining the usual nod to Ireland of the welcomes with some new-age shite about an Ireland for tomorrow and the day after.
And as its titular head I would solemnly lie back and think of the two fifty big ones and getting the dinner served up to me every day for the next seven years.
Could I have been a contender? Stranger things have happened. But the great outcome from a presidential race is that even the loser is a winner. For ever more, the vanquished is known as a “former presidential candidate”.
This would surely open doors and add up to celebrity wattage. With any bit of luck, it might even attract an honorary doctorate from some university.
If I had a business it could be monetised, as they call it these days. Above all else, I would emerge from the process a stronger person, grateful, humbled, and confident I’d never again be given the restaurant seat beside the toilets.
So why did I chicken out?
The future opened up dark and foreboding last Wednesday when the early runners appeared before Carlow County Council.
The process of buttering up councillors around the country is probably the most humiliating and ludicrous aspect to the presidential race. Councillors are potential kingmakers for a day and they milk it like the cows are never going to come home.
The performance that left me flummoxed and feeling entirely inadequate was that from candidate Kevin Sharkey.
He expressed his admiration for the president that really defines the times we live in. “I won fifty quid on Donald Trump,” he told the stunned councillors.
The candidate went on to remind the councillors of who John Wayne was, recalling him as the guy who used to arrive in town and ask, “Where are the broads at?” (Me Too, Kev, Me Too).
Then he showed some serious cojones by driving home his point about the virtues displayed by the American president.
“He was elected president and we need to get over it,” said Sharkey, sounding like a man who’d managed to get over it himself and wanted to drag the nation with him.
He said Trump should be given plaudits for “giving up that beautiful wife and all that golf at his age”.
It was unclear whether the plaudits were due for giving up the beautiful wife and golf at his advanced age, perhaps because he was played out, or for saving the country at an age when he could have been holding onto his beautiful wife and the game of golf. One way or the other, it was an amazing performance from a presidential candidate.
That was the moment when I realised my goose was cooked. How do you compete with that kind of box office material?
What would I ever have to say, even with the firmest, warmest handshake available to me, that could top that?
So I leave the stage stronger, wiser, and relieved that the democratic process is in soft hands at this time of global turbulence.
The only regret I harbour is that I will never now be known as “former presidential candidate, Dr Michael Clifford”. But, as Gallagher could tell you, there’s always the next time.
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