The families of IRA victims must give all of us pause for thought

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By this day next week we will know who our next President is. Despite the polls in recent days, I remain convinced that the outcome is still uncertain.

There has been considerable volatility in the polls in recent weeks, with voters seriously considering almost all the contenders at various points.

It is as if Newton’s Third Law of Motion applied to Irish presidential campaigns. No sooner does a candidate move ahead in the polls than they are dragged back with attacks and smears by media and opponents.

It happened to Mary Davis in the first full week of campaigning. Her poll figures rose and suddenly rumours and innuendo about her appeared.

If they were so pertinent and relevant, why hadn’t these emerged during the months when she was seeking the council nominations?

The reason is straightforward. She was not then perceived as a threat to other’s ambitions. Once the polls showed her as having a chance, out came the dark propaganda.

Such is the frenzy and the competition that others, who were not involved in starting the feeding frenzy, join in and give the whole scenario such an intensity and fervour that fairly innocuous material can be hyped, spun and portrayed as deeply venal.

The same has happened to Sean Gallagher in recent days. His poll numbers soared and juicy snippets of old gossip and supposedly new information suddenly make it into print and online chat paints him in a less than flattering light.

The tactic has been employed in previous presidential elections, though with varying effects. It was used against Mary McAleese in 1997 but backfired badly. That is because it has two elements. Not only is it designed to harm one candidate, it is also intended to benefit another. Within the week, we will know if it has worked and if that was on one or indeed both levels.

Not all the exchanges in the campaign have been so politically motivated.

Last week, I wrote of David Kelly’s forthright challenge to Martin McGuinness. Last Wednesday night, Ann McCabe and her family broke their self-imposed silence and echoed both David’s challenge and the ones posed by the Hand, Stack and Clerkin families.

All had suffered at the hands of the Provos.

Ann posed specific questions to McGuinness on his reported meeting with one of Det Jerry McCabe’s killers while he was hiding in a safe house in Co Cavan and on the whereabouts of the two alleged members of the gang still sought for Det McCabe’s death.

The fact that these questions can be justifiably asked, by the families of those who have loyally served this State, of a candidate for the most senior office in the land must give everyone pause for thought.

While I have been watching the presidential election from a bit of a distance, the same is not true of the Dublin West by-election. As a consequence I have, over the past few weeks, encountered a feeling I had not experienced in a few years — enjoying a night’s canvassing.

Last week I was out campaigning with our hard-working and young Fianna Fail candidate, David McGuinness. For the first time since before the 2009 local elections I found myself going to the doors without a deep sense of trepidation.

It is not that the people of Ongar, Mulhuddart, Clonsilla or the other places I visited were thrilled and delighted to see Fianna Fail on their doorsteps, but that they were prepared to engage and talk with us.

I have encountered the same feeling in my patch in Limerick too, but people will respond differently when you are just calling around to see how things are, compared to when you are there with a canvas card looking for their number one vote.

Without a doubt, I met many people who told me firmly but calmly that they had no time for Fianna Fail. The rest were ready to hear what we had to say. This may be due in large part to the deep regard and affection they had for the late Brian Lenihan Jr and the good reputation David McGuinness has built up as a dedicated local councillor.

It could also be down to the fact that they have seen and heard the Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein candidates in the media in recent weeks and been seriously underwhelmed by what they have to offer.

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