Duffy’s cir­cus: The power cou­ple with eyes on the prize

With their con­sid­er­able com­mu­ni­ca­tions savvy, Drag­ons’ Den star Gavin Duffy and his wife Or­laith Car­mody are sure to de­liver a slick cam­paign to de­throne Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins. JOHN MEAGHER con­sid­ers their chances

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - AGENDA - NASTY CAM­PAIGN

On Mon­day, shortly af­ter Gavin Duffy ap­peared on Morn­ing Ire­land to talk about his am­bi­tions to be the next Pres­i­dent of Ire­land, the Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor Lenny Abra­ham­son took to so­cial me­dia to have his say on the mat­ter. “Ap­par­ently Gavin Duffy thinks Michael D talks to peo­ple’s heads while he wants to talk to their hearts,” he tweeted. “I know what part of me this self-pro­mot­ing re­al­ity TV busi­ness guy can talk to.”

The pithy tweet was ‘liked’ more than 1,000 times and was one of a mul­ti­tude to put the boot in to Duffy this week. Some, keen to show their sup­port for Pres­i­dent Hig­gins, who is seek­ing a sec­ond term, used the hash­tag #keepthe­p­oet — a ref­er­ence to his strong as­so­ci­a­tions with arts and cul­ture.

If Duffy — now best known as the long­est serv­ing in­vestor on RTÉ’s Drag­ons’ Den — was wounded by the on­line brick­bats, he’s do­ing a good job not show­ing it.

“If you’re ac­tive on Twit­ter,” he says, speak­ing to Re­view on Thurs­day morn­ing while en route to the Gal­way Races, “you re­alise that it’s some­times best not to dig­nify [the most con­fronta­tional tweets] with a re­sponse, but that’s part of the process I’m in now.

“I re­ally don’t take it per­son­ally. You have to be in the cam­paign to re­alise how re­silient you’re go­ing to be or not and, over the past few days, my­self and my wife, Or­laith, have found that we’re re­silient.”

The pair have had to be re­silient. Be­sides jibes about his role on Drag­ons’ Den, Duffy has had to ex­plain his as­so­ci­a­tions with and de­fence of hunt­ing as well as clar­ify al­le­ga­tions that he had of­fered ad­vice to dis­graced ex-An­glo boss Seán Fitz­Patrick.

“It’s been a hec­tic five days,” he says, “and, to be hon­est, I ex­pected it. I be­lieve every po­ten­tial can­di­date should be scru­ti­nised and ob­vi­ously the same goes for me.”

Some feel that those who have sought elec­tion have been un­fairly pil­lo­ried. Duffy’s Drag­ons’ Den col­league, busi­ness­man Barry O’Sul­li­van, came to his de­fence dur­ing the week when he tweeted: “Great to have you in the race Gavin. Ig­nore the haters. We should never make the mis­take of think­ing that Twit­ter (es­pe­cially Ir­ish Twit­ter) rep­re­sents the real world.”

And ex-politi­cian Lucinda Creighton wrote that Ir­ish pub­lic life was be­ing coars­ened by the “sneer­ing” towards those who have ex­pressed their in­ten­tion to con­test the pres­i­dency.

Duffy him­self was drawn into the de­bate when re­spond­ing to a tweet — “Lord given me the con­fi­dence of a medi­ocre white man” — from Re­becca Moyni­han, a Dublin-based Labour coun­cil­lor. “Can I just say to any­one con­sid­er­ing run­ning for pub­lic of­fice,” he replied, “con­fi­dence will only get you into the race, courage sus­tains you but con­vic­tion is es­sen­tial.”

Duffy is in­deed con­fi­dent that he can se­cure the sup­port of four county coun­cils needed for for­mal nom­i­na­tion but ac­knowl­edges that the more po­ten­tial can­di­dates who put them­selves for­ward, the more dif­fi­cult that is.

Still, he has al­ready done much work to se­cure those nom­i­na­tions.

He says he and Or­laith “scoped” nine coun­cils na­tion­wide — in­clud­ing Water­ford, to which he spoke at length on Tues­day — and he says he be­lieves four of them will en­dorse him. “It’s clear to me,” he says, “that the coun­cil­lors I have spo­ken to around the coun­try want an elec­tion and for democ­racy to take its place.”

Duffy was an in­trigued ob­server dur­ing the last pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2011, not least be­cause his then col­league on Drag­ons’ Den, Seán Gal­lagher, came very close to win­ning the con­test. And he is aware of how nasty such cam­paigns have got. He says he is pre­pared for what­ever is thrown at him, but in­sists it’s not his style to fling mud.

He has been care­ful this week not to make a play on Pres­i­dent’s Hig­gins’s age — Michael D is 77 now — but he be­lieves that the cur­rent in­cum­bent in the Áras is not above the sort of ques­tion­ing that he him­self an­tic­i­pates be­ing sub­jected to.

Does he mean spe­cific as­pects of Hig­gins’ ten­ure? “It’s not for me to di­rect any­body,” he says, af­ter a pause. “There’s noth­ing that stands out specif­i­cally to me but when I was mak­ing the point, I was re­fer­ring to the main­stream me­dia and how they’re go­ing to han­dle the de­bates, etc.

“We know the char­ac­ter of Pres­i­dent Hig­gins but we do have to ask what his plans for his sec­ond term, as we’d ask what are my plans for my first term.”

Duffy was born in Co Kil­dare in 1960, but spent his for­ma­tive years and most of his adult­hood in Louth. He es­tab­lished a pi­rate ra­dio sta­tion while in his teens and his broad­cast­ing tal­ents se­cured him a job in RTÉ. He was just 24 when he be­came one of the first pre­sen­ters of Morn­ing Ire­land and he also co-hosted the sta­tion’s first busi­ness tele­vi­sion pro­gramme, Mar­ket­place.

Ex­cited by the emer­gence of lo­cal ra­dio, he left RTÉ in 1989 and was awarded the li­cence for a new sta­tion for coun­ties Louth and Meath, LMFM. He later sold it to UTV for €11m.

He also es­tab­lished a me­dia train­ing con­sul­tancy, coach­ing some of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­ers in the task of han­dling awk­ward ques­tions.

He met Or­laith through LMFM. She had joined as pro­ducer in its in­fancy and would later work as a re­porter for RTÉ.

Or­laith Car­mody had been wid­owed while still in her 20s. Her hus­band Kieran was di­ag­nosed with an in­op­er­a­ble brain tu­mour while she was 25 and he died three years later.

Last year, she told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent that when they mar­ried, Gavin sug­gested she in­clude some of the stones from her old en­gage­ment ring into their new wed­ding ring be­cause “Kieran is com­ing with us”.

She told the same news­pa­per that he had sug­gested mar­riage to her be­fore they had even started dat­ing. “It was very much his per­son­al­ity, larger than life,” she said.

“I was shocked; is he jok­ing, is he se­ri­ous? I was griev­ing still, it was very new to me. We were work­ing around the clock to­gether and when some­one is al­ways there, it’s in­tense. He be­gan to rely on me. I was edg­ing my way into his life with­out mean­ing to.”

Af­ter they were mar­ried they had four chil­dren — three boys and a girl — within five years. Three of them are in col­lege now but the old­est, Lor­can, will be help­ing with the cam­paign.

Duffy says Or­laith is fun­da­men­tal to his bid to be pres­i­dent. “I want to be very ac­tive in this cam­paign,” she tells Re­view. “When peo­ple talked to Gavin about go­ing for it, I saw my­self as part of that some­thing seek­ing to cre­ate a new, dy­namic pres­i­dency that Gavin is talk­ing about.

“I see my­self not just as a very strong sup­porter of Gavin, but also some­body who has worked with him side by side.

“A pres­i­dent is only one per­son and they can only get to so many places in the coun­try, and it would be a plea­sure and a de­light for me to go and ful­fil a func­tion if the pres­i­dent couldn’t do it and if they were happy for me to do it.”

He adds that there is cur­rently “no of­fi­cial role” for what she is re­fer­ring to, but should her hus­band get a nom­i­na­tion and be elected, she is adamant that she would take her role as ‘First Lady’ very se­ri­ously. She also ac­knowl­edges that some will see it as “counter-in­tu­itive” for her to be will­ing to step into a sec­ondary role when one con­sid­ers the work she has done in

We know the char­ac­ter of Pres­i­dent Hig­gins but we do have to ask what his plans for his sec­ond term, as we’d ask what are my plans for my first term

DAVID CONACHY PHOTO:

Two for the price of one: Duffy and his wife Or­laith Car­mody.

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