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Friday, August 12, 2011

Will Ireland have a eurosceptic President?

Things are hotting up in the Irish presidential race. After the previous favourite, David Norris, and his ill-fated campaign came to an abrupt end following revelations about his private life - step into the ring namesakes Gay Mitchell and Gay Byrne (pictured) to slug it out.

The former - the Fine Gael party’s official nomination - is staunchly pro-EU and has been a serving MEP since 2004. During the 2008 referendum on the Lisbon Treaty he acted as Fine Gael’s director of elections. However, since David Norris ditched his campaign, Mitchell has been somewhat the frontrunner as other candidates ponder their chances.

But rumour is rife that Byrne will lead a charge for office as an independent candidate (he has never been linked to a political party). ‘Gaybo’ as the veteran broadcasting legend is famously referred to on the emerald isle, would be a highly popular candidate and is largely seen as Mitchell’s greatest contender. In fact, a poll in this morning puts him 20 points ahead Mitchell. He is though, judging by his latest remarks on the European Union, politically-speaking, the polar opposite of Mitchell. Responding yesterday to a question on how his eurosceptic sentiments might affect his presidential bid, he said:
“What we’re seeing now in Europe as far as I’m concerned, is a culmination of all my concerns about it down through the years. I never thought we would reach the disastrous stage we are at at the moment in Europe in my lifetime. I thought that it would eventually come in my grandchildren’s time but it’s come much much quicker than even I visualised and it’s happening even as we speak.”
He added that Ireland was “being run by mad people in Brussels” while arguing that the euro was a “crazy notion from the beginning. We crossed the Rubicon when we joined the single currency. I think there is no backing out now but it is a mad mad world.”

Strong words from the 77 year-old but perhaps not that surprising. He is not a man to shy away from incendiary remarks, especially those directed at the EU. He was vehemently opposed to the Lisbon Treaty during both referendums and called the Treaty “unintelligible bile.” For the minute, it’s unclear as to whether his country or even his most ardent of supporters agree with him on these matters.

But it’s striking to note that the strongly pro-EU main opposition party in Ireland, Fianna Fail, is considering standing aside and offering its support to Byrne, which says a lot about his appeal. FF TDs have said that Byrne's eurosceptic credentials may in fact be an asset with the public. TD Seán Fleming said, “He’s a man who’s always had his finger on the pulse in Ireland and he’s well on the pulse on this one.”

Very interesting.

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