Sunday 17 November 2019

Derek Mooney: As a political professional I am amazed at this weak defence from Team Norris

The seeming implosion of the Norris for President Campaign has left me angry and exasperated with my ire focussed on two distinct and contrary groups.

First: those homophobes and bigots who are undoubtedly gleeful at the damage caused. Their champion, aka the self-styled Campaign for Conscience, has been attempting to do in David Norris since last October, though without much success or attention.

Operating from an address in Castlebar, Co Mayo this dog and pony show operation has been spewing bile from a web address purporting to be a pro-Norris campaign site.

While the nastiness and viciousness of their attacks might provoke my anger, their self-touching delusion in thinking they have suddenly become the agents of Norris's demise earns my scorn.

Though up and running since last October they have only garnered a grand total of 27 followers on Twitter. Like the Armageddon believers in the Peter Cook comedy sketch; they sit on the top of a hill every night awaiting the final conflagration. When it fails to come about they disperse saying "same time tomorrow lads, must have a winner some day!"

The real architects of the damage caused to the Norris campaign are David Norris and his campaign team. They are the second targets of my ire. About two months ago I wrote a piece in the Herald explaining why I would not be voting for David. In it I talked of " ... his gift for the quick quip and caustic comment, but that talent may also be his Achilles heel".

While I was not surprised to see old comments and quotes coming back to haunt his campaign, I am totally stunned and amazed by how both the Senator and his campaign team seems to have been so blindsided by this.

Selected salacious quotes from the 2002 Magill interview had been on the fake Norris site since last October. His people knew the material was out there so why were they not better prepared for this?

One of the first things any campaign manager does is to look at their candidate's weaknesses and anticipate what old quotes or actions their detractors might throw at them.

Having identified the weaknesses and vulnerabilities they then prepare a strategy for dealing with attacks and rebutting them.

Did no one think to do a wordsearch on Google or on the Seanad Eireann debates archive to see what their candidate had said in the past and get him to address any embarrassing or controversial comments he had made over the course of a colourful headline-catching career.

If a campaign is to be unhinged or brought down it should be as a result of an unexpected event or revelation, not an expected one.

Sending out online letters at 1.30am on Thursday morning in anticipation of bad news in the next day's newspapers does show that his campaign team are hard-working -- but it also suggests they are on an ongoing firefighting mission.

Many in the Norris campaign may be taking comfort in the positive figures they have seen in online polls in the days and hours since this furore has erupted, but I suspect the support in the wider world is slipping.

Almost three decades in Irish politics have shown me that Irish people are basically fair. They do not like seeing a decent man like David Norris being unfairly harangued and attacked, especially by those with nastier agendas.

They will not turn against him at his lowest moment, but that should not be confused with voting intentions. I have the greatest personal sympathy for David, but I will not be voting for him. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Derek Mooney was ministerial political and policy adviser from 2004-2010 and has worked as a public policy consultant to Government for 15 years

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