“Are you the mayor? That is absolutely wonderful,” exclaimed Senator David Norris during a chance encounter with the Mayor of Cashel Maribel Wood, as she waited to check out her groceries in Morrissey’s SuperValu in Cashel on Monday evening last. The independent presidential candidate was on the campaign trail in Cashel, injecting an undeniable buzz to a muted Monday evening town. With a small entourage of young supporters, the embattled but forthright and friendly senator went in search of people in the shops along Main Street, purchased some sausages in Walsh’s Victualler’s, brimmed with glee when he discovered redcurrant jelly in Horane’s Health Store and even tried to blag a vote from the good folk in McInerney’s TV shop.
The most recent Ipsos MRBI opinion poll indicated that support for Norris had spiralled downward leaving him on just 11 per cent, third from the bottom and just ahead of Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell and fellow independent candidate Dana Rosemary Scallon. He may be down but he is certainly not out, judging by the reception he received as he shook hands with, hugged and kissed the people of Cashel. But back in the Cashel Palace Hotel, as he munched on a deserved sandwich beside a beautiful fire, Norris was clear on the reason why his support has dwindled.
“People said that they thought that negative campaigning wouldn’t work in Ireland but there has never been such a blizzard of negative campaigning against any candidate in the history of the State. And it has been almost entirely untrue, almost entirely lies and I will certainly be countering it, believe you me.”
During his talk of this ‘blizzard of negative campaigning’ that has surrounded the controversy about the letters of clemency and his refusal to publish them, his subsequent withdrawal from and return to the presidential race, the disability payments he received while he was a full-time senator, his facial expression changes to that of a man who has been deeply hurt.
“I have been accused of being a rapist, the headline was perfectly clear about that; of welfare fraud; that I am immoral, of improper use [of my office], every single one a lie that I can nail but let’s forget all that because it is all rubbish”.
And obviously keen to move swiftly from the negative, Senator Norris is quick to outline his vision and what he will do if successful in becoming the next president of Ireland. He has three pillars as the foundation of his campaign - culture, enterprise and mental health. The latter is something that concerns him greatly.
“I notice as I go through the country that there is an atmosphere of gloom, and you can see it in the boarded up buildings and abandoned convents. We believed in the Church, we believed in the banks, we believed in the court system and we believed in politicians and now we have doubts about absolutely everything.
“I wonder about young people, what security have they got? Maybe they won’t get a job and maybe after getting a fine education, they may have to tear themselves away from their homes. It is very important that we understand the issue of mental welfare and mental health and that is related to the tragic topic of suicide”.
Over 500 people die by suicide in Ireland annually, so how can he, as the president of Ireland make a difference?
“Look, I am not putting myself forward as the position of God Almighty, I am putting myself forward for the position as the president of Ireland and I know the limitations, I am a realistic person. But what you can do is you can visit Pieta House, you can visit Console, you can visit the voluntary groups because wherever the President goes the media will follow so you can help make it an issue that can be discussed.
And mental health, he believes, is connected to the two other pillars - culture and enterprise - because without these, people can become depressed. However the innovative and enterprising people he has met during his countrywide campaign trail has given him great hope that whether you are a transition year student or a mother-of-four, there are people in the country who can help make Ireland a great place to live, work and play in. And as president of Ireland, he will provide a supporting role to Government in their role of job creation.
Whatever about the recent opinion polls Senator Norris certainly looked like he was drawing some votes from Cashel on Monday last.
John Maher who may be a distant relative of Norris’s - both men discovered their mothers shared the same maiden name, Fitzpatrick - said that he could count on him for his vote.
“He is the best of what is there. He is down to earth, well educated and there’s no bunkum about him,” he said
And Marie O’Dwyer was quick to give him a huge hug as she told him that she was ‘mad about him’ and ‘always liked him’. Another vote secured for the vociferous and vibrant senator.