Michael D is in Áras thanks to a mis­take

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - SMYTH SAM

LEST we for­get, ‘mis­takes’ made by RTÉ helped Michael D Hig­gins beat In­de­pen­dent can­di­date Seán Gal­lagher who was com­fort­ably ahead of him in opin­ion polls go­ing into the cru­cial tele­vised de­bate. Gal­lagher never re­cov­ered his pole po­si­tion af­ter the RTÉ de­ba­cle just four days be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

A tweet mak­ing scur­rilous al­le­ga­tions about Gal­lagher from a Twit­ter ac­count pur­port­edly op­er­ated by Martin McGuin­ness was treated like the gospel on The Front­line de­bate. The tweet said a man al­leged to have given a cheque to Gal­lagher for a Fianna Fáil fundraiser would be pre­sented at a press con­fer­ence the next day.

The Twit­ter ac­count was fake. Fake views, if you will. The next morn­ing, the To­day With Pat Kenny RTÉ ra­dio pro­gramme ex­ac­er­bated the un­fair­ness, ac­cord­ing to the Broad­cast­ing Au­thor­ity of Ire­land. It also found ‘se­ri­ous and sig­nif­i­cant edi­to­rial fail­ings’ dur­ing a de­bate of ‘ut­most pub­lic im­por­tance and in­ter­est’.

RTÉ set­tled Gal­lagher’s le­gal ac­tion for a sub­stan­tial sum last year with­out hav­ing to dis­close ex­actly what hap­pened. No heads rolled and there were no ob­vi­ous con­se­quences for the kamikaze crash of pub­lic ser­vice broad­cast­ing. There was no ev­i­dence of any con­spir­acy, although RTÉ brought in new guide­lines for jour­nal­ists, pro­gramme-mak­ing and so­cial me­dia af­ter the sham­bles.

I had a prob­lem with the weasel words of some se­nior jour­nal­ists, pre­sen­ters and pro­duc­ers who pub­licly ‘re­gret­ted’ that ‘mis­takes’ were made. Later, some of them told me pri­vately they were re­lieved Hig­gins won the elec­tion. One prom­i­nent broad­caster asked: ‘What would we have done if Gal­lagher had won the elec­tion?’ Did he mean that ‘the ends jus­ti­fied the means’?

Book­ies cur­rently see Michael D as al­most unas­sail­able at 1 to 5 and Gal­lagher as sec­ond favourite at 5 to 1 to win the elec­tion on Oc­to­ber 26.

Mean­while, protest can­di­date Norma Burke satir­i­cally mocked the process be­fore coun­cil­lors at Dublin City Hall on Thurs­day evening. But I’m more ir­ri­tated by oth­ers churn­ing out pol­icy doc­u­ments and mak­ing speeches about is­sues they would be for­bid­den from com­ment­ing about, never mind act­ing on, if elected.

Who­ever is elected will do and say ex­actly what the Govern­ment ap­proves and the same Govern­ment will choose to where, and when, they travel abroad.

Bot­tom line is this: the next Pres­i­dent, like their pre­de­ces­sors, will be more of a lap­dog than a watch­dog do­ing obe­di­ence train­ing with Govern­ment han­dlers.

A cau­tion­ary note to Dr Leo Varad­kar: Italy’s cur­rent in­te­rior min­is­ter, Mat­teo Salvini, fol­lowed fel­low Looney Tunes pop­ulist Don­ald Trump and gave the anti-vac­ci­na­tion move­ment a nod. Salvini said vac­cines are dan­ger­ous and over­turned a law re­quir­ing Ital­ian chil­dren to be im­mu­nised.

Salvini dis­missed the es­tab­lished wis­dom that vac­ci­na­tion, an­ti­sep­sis and anaes­the­sia are uni­ver­sally re­garded as the great­est achieve­ments of sci­en­tific medicine – and that im­mu­ni­sa­tion has saved mil­lions, if not bil­lions, of lives.

Pub­lic pres­sure forced Salvini to row back on his or­der last week.

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