Send in the dogs — Michael D’s se­cret to se­cond term

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - SOCIAL - Kirsty Blake Knox @KirstyBlakeKnox

Just as Brexit be­gan to go up in flames, Pres­i­dent Michael D Hig­gins dusted him­self down and an­nounced he would very much like to spend seven more years knock­ing about the Áras. No sur­prises here. His months of dither­ing have made it some­thing of a one-horse race with all se­ri­ous con­tenders bow­ing out.

Miriam O’Cal­laghan chuck­ing it in stung the most. I had vi­sions of Ire­land’s an­swer to the von Trapps — the O’Cal­laghan clan — mov­ing in and rush­ing through the Francini cor­ri­dor singing Do-Re-Mi.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. As it stands, there only re­mains ‘a pool of min­nows’ in the run­ning, Seán Gal­lagher, Ger­ard Craugh­well, and the pos­si­bil­ity of a yet-to-be-de­cided Sinn Féin can­di­date.

De­spite this rag-tag bunch, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors are sug­gest­ing coast­ing to vic­tory won’t be easy for Miggeldy. His de­lay tac­tics have di­vided opin­ion, and he will have to put up the good fight.

Hav­ing spent some time with the man him­self dur­ing this week’s royal visit, and an aw­ful lot of time around him dur­ing his Aus­tralian tour last year, I feel fully equipped to take on the role of pres­i­den­tial ad­vi­sor.

My ad­vice to him is to launch a sim­ple yet ef­fec­tive two-pronged ap­proach. If he sticks to this game plan, he will go the dis­tance.

Num­ber one? Send in the dogs. Huge, with glossy mains and lolling tongues, Ber­nese moun­tain dogs Bród and Síoda are the great­est weapons in Hig­gins’ cam­paign arse­nal.

He knows this, and in re­cent weeks has been tact­fully de­ploy­ing them — parad­ing them around at gar­den par­ties and photo calls.

These dogs have been care­fully briefed: they know their re­mit and don’t stray from it.

Stand­ing at roughly 15 hands high, they must fol­low the pres­i­dent around and make him ap­pear like a pocket-sized king who should be wear­ing a cape and win­kle-picker shoes.

The size dis­par­ity is cru­cial here — if Hig­gins had two toy poo­dles, it would make less of an im­pact. A short-statured man with short­statured dogs is not ap­peal­ing.

It’s also im­por­tant that these are not your stan­dard show dogs, primped to per­fec­tion. They are clumsy, cum­ber­some and wad­dle around. They strike the per­fect bal­ance of be­ing both dopes and dotes.

We like them, and as a con­se­quence at­tribute qual­i­ties we see in them to Hig­gins — such as loy­alty, ami­a­bil­ity, and a good sense of hu­mour (it’s a estab­lished fact that dog own­ers are in­her­ently fun­nier than cat own­ers).

At this stage, Bród and Síoda are well­trained me­dia pros. This week, they went above and be­yond the call of duty when they met Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

The cou­ple were greeted warmly, and the dogs al­lowed them­selves to re­ceive a right royal pet­ting. They paused only to drink from a gar­den foun­tain (the dogs, not the roy­als).

The pièce de ré­sis­tance came when Bród ac­ci­den­tally sat on Meghan Markle’s foot. Need­less to say, the royal cou­ple were com­pletely won over.

Bród and Síoda had turned an oth­er­wise un­event­ful trip (bar the mo­ment New­stalk reporter Henry McKean roared ‘IS IT COM­ING HOME?’ at Prince Harry) into a mem­o­rable event. Michael D knows the quiet power they wield, and will no doubt de­ploy them with greater fre­quency in the com­ing months.

The se­cond stealth weapon Hig­gins has is his smile. The power of a de­cent smile should not be un­der­es­ti­mated in the po­lit­i­cal sphere. Sadly, not all smiles are cre­ated equal. And in Ire­land, we have a rich history of lead­ers with ter­ri­ble smiles — Enda Kenny looked like Burgess Mered­ith’s Joker in the 1960s Bat­man series when he smirked.

Leo has yet to mas­ter the art of smiz­ing (which in­volves smil­ing with your eyes as well as your mouth).

I’m pretty sure de Valera had it writ­ten into our Con­sti­tu­tion that he didn’t have to smile in pub­lic — ever, and the less said about Brian Cowan’s grin, the bet­ter.

Hig­gins’ smile is only bet­tered by Mary Robin­son’s beam: warm, wel­com­ing and deeply felt. It looks like the sun is ex­plod­ing out of his face.

To en­sure he lands the se­cond term, his cam­paign should be ridicu­lously sim­ple. Keep the dogs front and cen­tre, and grin like a Cheshire Cat.

Im­pact: Roy­als Harry and Meghan were charmed by the Pres­i­dent’s dogs this week

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