In Ireland, where the race for the Irish presidency (a largely-ceremonial, national spokesman job...you know, like ours) picks up steam heading into the October election, conservatives in the majority Fine Gael party suffered a major setback this week. Prime minister Enda Kenny -- a conservative swept into office in February on promises of spending cuts -- backed Pat Cox for the Fine Gael nomination. Cox is a distinguished politician who joined Fine Gael earlier this year, and his election to the presidency would have adequately symbolized Fine Gael's ascension to power after twenty-four years of centrist Fianna Fail rule. However, in what is already being derided as a fatal mistake in the Irish press, Fine Gael leaders ignored Prime Minister Kenny's endorsement of Cox and instead nominated Gay Mitchell, a weak politician with a history of personal liabilities. Kenny was outraged (when a reporter asked him why he looked so disappointed, the PM shot back, "Am I supposed to be going around all the time grinning like the Cheshire Cat?"). In the absence of a strong Fine Gael candidate, it seems front-running independent senator David Norris will have little trouble locking up the presidency in three months.
Norris is an openly-gay and avowedly liberal writer, professor and public intellectual, and a major celebrity in Ireland. Though the Irish president wields little political power, Norris stands to consistently undercut Kenny's policies both to lawmakers and to the public, highlighting the fact that though Fine Gail gained majority in a historic landslide, it took a last-minute coalition deal with the leftist Labour Party in order to do it. If Labour plans to launch some power plays against their Fine Gael coalition partners, then having a liberal president like Norris will offer them a major boost.
Enda Kenny has a lot on his plate in the coming months. He must renegotiate the emergency loans his country took from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in order to make those loan payments more affordable for Ireland. He must also solve the previous Fianna Fail leadership's lingering bank-bailout crisis, figuring out how to prop up five insolvent Dublin banks (to the tune of 50 billion tax Euros, or U.S. $70 billion, a year) while also delivering the spending cuts his country desperately needs. With protests flaring up across Ireland, Kenny sure doesn't need a liberal rabble-rouser like Norris in the presidency.
It should also be noted that David Norris was dead wrong in his high-profile feud with Irish novelist Roddy Doyle in 2004. When Doyle carped that James Joyce's Ulysses was "overlong, overrated, and unmoving" (absolutely correct), Trinity College Dublin professor Norris shot back that Doyle is "foolish" and a "moderate talent" (absolutely false. If you haven't checked out Doyle's The Commitments, or, for that matter, his New Yorker stories, then you're missing out. He's like Nick Hornby with a pHd.)
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