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Don’t rule out a Conor McGregor presidency

McGregor would be a sharp break from the classic presidential mould. Credit: Getty

December 14, 2023 - 7:00am

Conor McGregor has had a busy few weeks. Though he has since toned down his more explosive comments since the Dublin riots, the idea has taken hold that the MMA fighter could run for office. But which one? 

Taoiseach — the Irish equivalent of prime minister — is out, since it would necessitate McGregor becoming mired in party politics and securing the support of a majority of the Dáil. However, the office of president — the directly elected Head of State, a largely ceremonial role not dissimilar to the one the monarch plays in UK politics — seems a much better fit for his ambitions. So what are his chances?

The first thing an external onlooker must understand is that McGregor would not merely be different from the typical person who is elected president; but almost the perfect opposite. The first president elected during McGregor’s lifetime was Mary Robinson. As a woman, her election was seen as a groundbreaking act of social progress, with her most well-known campaigns ranging from legalising contraception and abortion to gay marriage

Robinson is often understood as the first president of the modern era and set the model for future leaders: academic, parental, calm, reliable and above all, establishment figures. Both she and her successors can legitimately be described as social justice campaigners to some degree. Irish people are conscious that this is a formal and ceremonial role, and this is the image they have chosen to project outwards.

Outsiders like McGregor who don’t quite fit the mould have run for the presidency in recent times, with mixed results. An interesting parallel is Martin McGuinness, candidate for Sinn Fein in 2011. McGuinness and his party had hoped that the glow of the peace process would have changed the default view of him as a shadowy, violent figure to something more respectable and statesmanlike.

But during the course of the campaign he was consistently attacked by the press, other candidates and members of the public regarding his involvement in the IRA activities. The continuous thrum of negativity harmed his campaign and — despite being the most recognisable name in the race — McGuinness came a disappointing third with around 14% of the votes.

It is of course absurd to compare Conor McGregor, who doesn’t even qualify as a political neophyte, to a nationally and historically important figure like McGuinness. But the comparison does hold up to the limited extent to how the Irish Public views the prospect of a president who would be seen as divisive, controversial, and burdened by their past. They don’t like it, no matter how famous you are, and will choose someone safe.

An alternative point of comparison is Peter Casey, who ran for president in 2018. Casey is and was initially seen as a business-focused candidate whose presidency would hope to draw investment to Ireland. However his campaign was energised by the negative remarks he made about Irish Travellers, becoming a de facto “anti-woke” candidate. He finished second with 23% of the vote. Casey could be seen as a proof of concept for a more successful McGregor-type candidate.

That prospective candidacy is viewed in Ireland in two contradictory ways. It’s firstly seen as absurd, with lots of mockery about his lack of familiarity with what the role entails. But it’s also seen as an upsetting irritation, with prominent politicians sufficiently disturbed by the prospect of McGregor’s candidacy that they feel they need to comment on how awful and inappropriate it would be. The laughter has an edge of panic.

Both the Government and media are keenly aware that the last decade has proven that political entrepreneurs will make their own opportunities where they spot a gap in the market that the establishment can’t or won’t fill. Every successive piece of polling in Ireland on immigration and change shows that such a gap exists, is big, and is growing. 

His dissimilarity from other political candidates of the past may mean that McGregor won’t fill it, but the powers that be know and fear that someone will; in politics as in life, nature abhors a vacuum.


Conor Fitzgerald is a writer from Dublin. His Substack is TheFitzstack.

fitzfromdublin

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John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
7 months ago

The Republic of Ireland had ended up in the cul-de-sac it is in, with desperate gaslighting by the state of anyone offering any criticism of the level of immigration and integration, leading to the sooner or later inevitability of the likes of Mc Gregor playing the populist insurgent because of its most irritating national trait, namely self-righteousness. I spent a lot of my life there and the moralising has always been off the scale. The ROI just couldn’t help itself and had to show the world how it should take in more migrants than it could house or integrate and it inevitably didn’t work. That the state and seemingly much of the commentariat, is now spending so much time trying to associate legitimate concern with opportunistic looting as an arse covering exercise at the failure of their own policies is predictable and pathetic. No, McGregor won’t win, Irish social cohesion won’t be fixed and the state and the usual suspects at the Irish Times will carry on with their fingers in their ears and writing nonsense.

Peadar Laighléis
Peadar Laighléis
7 months ago

Look, Ireland loves to be ‘holier than thou’ and it’s taken a sharp turn from being more Catholic than the Pope to being more woke than the US Democrats, with whom almost the entire political establishment are affiliated.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
7 months ago

So strange that exactly the same fingers-in-the-ears, refusal-to- engage-with-the-electorate disorder should afflict so many nations’ leaderships at once. They can’t seem to help themselves, like junkies.

Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
7 months ago

I really want this – Conor is exactly right for Ireland

Peadar Laighléis
Peadar Laighléis
7 months ago

I am surprised Conor FitzGerald didn’t draw comparison to Dana Rosemary Scallon, winner of the 1970 Eurovision with a long career in entertainment who set the precedent of being nominated by four local authorities in 1997 (provided by the Constitution but until then it was more typical to be nominated by 20 parliamentary representatives), but and went on and got third place on a socially conservative ticket and then taking a seat in the European Parliament in 1999. That to me would be a better comparison.
However, the presidency of Ireland would be a straight jacket for Conor McGregor and he would react against it sooner rather than later. I don’t know if cutting ribbons and receiving foreign dignitaries is his thing. The political class would probably contrive some excuse to get him out.

Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
7 months ago

The political class need to go, not McGregor – the vote would be the starting gun

Chris Greenhalgh
Chris Greenhalgh
7 months ago

Conor McGregor is a perfect embodiment of the disconnection that exists between the centrist political parties, their media allies and that portion of the citizenry who are legitimately concerned about the social, economic and cultural impact of large numbers of undocumented illegal immigrants arriving in Ireland.
They also are dubious about the supposed benefits of multiculturalism.
McGregor has tapped into this vein of thinking.
Maybe not him for President but stranger things…

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
6 months ago

What would be really strange is if the mainstream parties would actually demonstrate enough self-reflection to realise that they are to blame for oddities like MacGregor popping up in the first place.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
7 months ago

A sign of the times ( and not a good one) that he is conteplating running. I can just see him whacking Leo’s ministerial merc for all he’s worth.

Kevin Jones
Kevin Jones
7 months ago

This is pure click bait. McGregor’s coke and steroid fuelled antics have made him detested across much of Ireland, not just by liberals. Just look at the latest polling:

Those polled were also asked if they would vote for former MMA fighter Conor McGregor, who has heavily criticised the Government’s response to the riots, if he ran for public office but just 8 per cent of those polled said they would, whilst 89 per cent say they would not.

So, yeah, I think I will rule him out.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
7 months ago

Zero chance.
Right wing extremist clickbait. Have at it boys and girls! We know that you are dumb enough to swallow this kind of nonsense – go ahead, prove me right!

John L Murphy
John L Murphy
7 months ago

Here’s solace.. a bien-pensant source which however doesn’t investigate the veracity of the claim, but simply parrots this assumption that it’s but a ‘far right’ fringe. (I add that while the Uachtarán na hÉireann position is indeed largely ceremonial, it includes the perk of Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Defence Forces, which might suit Mr McGregor fittingly…)
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/14/opinion/ireland-far-right.html?hpgrp=c-abar&smid=fb-share

Patrick Keeney
Patrick Keeney
6 months ago
Reply to  John L Murphy

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