Belfast Telegraph

Gay's election ambitions come too Late Late in the day

By Sam Smyth

The last time I met Gay Byrne his hat was pulled down and the collar of his coat turned up. But he wasn't doing a Greta Garbo, 'I want to be alone' routine - he is a practical man and didn't want to be recognised.

His walk from Sandymount Green in Dublin to his home nearby would probably have been interrupted at least a dozen times by well-wishers if he had been instantly recognisable.

So, if he were elected president of Ireland, he would have little difficulty adjusting to being the first among equals.

After all, he has guided Irish public taste from Elvis through the Beatles to Jedward and from Sean Lemass through Charles Haughey to Enda Kenny. But nothing in his long career in broadcasting will have prepared him for the political dogfight of a presidential campaign.

There are several things that he would need to survive the scrap. He would, of course, need to be an Independent. This would be necessary to tap into the enormous goodwill available for any candidate who is not part of a traditional political party. And running on an anti-political establishment ticket would boost Byrne's appeal beyond any of his rivals.

He would need money - an area where he has suffered serial disappointments with past pension plans. So a fundraising committee would be required to shake a collection box around the corporate world and make discreet calls on his many wealthy admirers.

But Byrne faces the Herculean task of building an organisation on a greenfield site. Presenting and producing The Late Late Show on RTE for more than a generation was a monumental achievement, but it is not boot-camp training to run a political campaign. And the team at Byrne's headquarters would be crucial: a campaign director to whom the other members would report daily, or even hourly if required, would be the key figure.

Then experienced speechwriters would be needed to furnish fresh scripts for each occasion - sometimes within an hour.

Teams of researchers would be continually working to prepare policy positions on many concerns.

Advance teams would be needed to set up tours for the candidate in all of the major cities. Volunteers on a rota would be required to drive the candidate around the country to appear on local radio, at fundraisers and meet community organisations.

And then there would be unforeseen emergencies and circumstances that require instant response from the team, if not the candidate.

There has never been a political campaign in history that didn't have internal rivalries and factions competing for the favour of the candidate.

Then there are the other political parties who have their own candidates and will see damaging Byrne as a duty to their own cause.

Byrne has lived a blameless life, according to his clippings file, with no hiccups in his career or untoward tales about him or his family.

However, the dirty-tricks departments in political parties with a candidate may see his squeaky-clean persona as a challenge and throw dirt hoping some sticks.

Veteran politicians believe Byrne would have little difficulty getting the four local authorities or the 20 politicians required to nominate him as a candidate.

Neither would he have a lot of difficulty raising whatever money is required to fund a campaign.

But putting together a competent organisation and a credible campaign team would present enormous difficulties - even if he wasn't facing such a tight deadline.

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