| 15.7°C Dublin

With Norris on the ropes, can anyone stop Higgins now?

David Norris is turning into a human punchbag.

Over the last 48 hours alone he has been accused of heavy drinking, defrauding the social welfare system and spoofing about those infamous clemency letters he wrote on behalf of his former lover.

The exuberant Senator obviously loves the limelight, but he is sorely testing the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity -- and the TV3 debate may well be seen as the moment when his bid for the Aras was finally holed beneath the waterline.

Vincent Browne, the veteran journalist who rejoices in the nickname 'Mad Dog', had clearly decided to sink his teeth into all seven candidates.

At some point during the 90-minute bunfight (a massive improvement over last week's Late Late Show with an over-polite Ryan Tubridy), every single one of them had to endure what Alex Ferguson calls "the hairdryer treatment".

They all coped with it in their different ways -- but in the end, Norris was the only one whose political blood was left flowing all over the studio floor.



Actor

Ever since it was revealed that the Senator had written at least half a dozen other letters for a man convicted of statutory rape, he has refused to make them public on the grounds of legal advice. Last night, he was challenged directly to explain exactly what the Israeli authorities had told him about the matter.

Norris often talks as if he is on stage at the Abbey Theatre, but he is not the world's greatest actor -- and his transparent spoofing in response to Browne's relentless questions was so embarrassing that his supporters must have felt like hiding behind the sofa.

Incredibly, it looks like there's even more of this torture to come.

Norris now stands accused of receiving a disability payment for 16 years after he stopped lecturing in Trinity College, even though he continued to be a full-time senator.



Guru

If he has an explanation for this, it had better be a good one -- otherwise the public humiliation of this decent but flawed man will finally be complete.

If Norris's support implodes, then it will cement Michael D Higgins's position as the clear frontrunner.

The Labour candidate had another good night, coming across as calm, thoughtful and statesmanlike. Some people have noticed a physical resemblance with Yoda, the levitating guru from Star Wars -- and right now, the Labour candidate is floating above the battlefield and well on his way to the Phoenix Park.

Who can stop Michael D now?

Martin McGuinness's denials of his murderous past were brilliantly denounced by Browne, who produced enough books on the subject to start his own lending library. Of course, it takes a lot more than that to rattle a veteran IRA man -- but even so, Martin's feeble response of "Some people jump to conclusions!" were unlikely to prove convincing to most viewers.

Mary Davis has reached a crisis point. After taking so much flak for her earnings from State boards, she is struggling to prevent her image changing from Mother Teresa to the Quango Queen. On the plus side, her feisty defence is at least making the Special Olympics CEO look a little less bland -- and she cannot be counted out just yet.

Gay Mitchell has upped his game, even if he needs to realise that taking lumps out of McGuinness will not necessarily translate into support for him.

Dana has clearly decided to target the eurosceptic vote, waving her copy of the Irish constitution around like the bible-thumper that many people believe she is.



Twist

Sean Gallagher is emerging as sincere and well-meaning, but his association with Fianna Fail is his millstone.

With three weeks to go, it's looking more than ever like President Higgins. Or does this long, frustrating and often downright weird election have one more twist in the tail?