THERE are four elections across the island within the next five weeks. So I thought this would be a good time for Candidatitis 2024.

It is my regular tribute to the majority of candidates – those who won’t get elected. Good luck to them all. Good luck especially to Sinn Féin’s candidates. I hope we have a great result. That’s all in the gift of the electorate. So I thank all the voters as well as all the candidates.

Opinion polls have become an integral part of every election campaign. Every newspaper and every broadcast outlet tries to second guess the electorate by commissioning polls. And then their columnists or pundits spend a huge amount of time analysing the poll they just commissioned.

So do many candidates. And their supporters. This can lead to mood changes and other character changing tendencies. This can be very stressful. So every candidate and everyone else should be mindful of the particular and peculiar stresses and strains that come with being a candidate. It’s a form of ailment called Candidatitis. It begins with the candidate coming to believe – with a certainty known only to the prophets of old – that they are going to win.

This syndrome is capable of moving even the most rational aspirant or shy wallflower into a state of extreme self belief. It strikes without warning, is no respecter of gender, and can infect the lowly municipal hopeful, the aspiring parliamentarian, as well as the lofty presidential wannabe.

I believe this is due to two factors. First of all most people standing for election see little point in telling the voters that they are not going to win. That just wouldn’t make sense. Of course not. So they say they are going to win.

That's when Candidatitis starts. As 'We are going to win' is repeated time and time again it starts to have a hypnotic effect on the person intoning the mantra.

Which brings me to the second factor.  Most people encourage Candidatitis.  Unintentionally. Not even the candidate’s best friend will say, Hold on, you haven't a chance. Except for the media. But no candidate believes the media. And most candidates are never interviewed by the media anyway.

So a victim of Candidatitis will take succour from any friendly word from any punter. Even a 'Good luck' takes on new meaning and 'I won't forget ye' is akin to a full-blooded endorsement.

So are we to pity sufferers of this ailment? Probably not.

They are mostly consenting adults, although some parties occasionally run conscripts. In the main these are staunch party people who are persuaded to run by more sinister elements who play on their loyalty and commitment. In some cases these reluctant candidates run on the understanding that they are not going to get elected. Their intervention, they are told, is to stop the vote going elsewhere or to maintain the party's representative share of the vote. In some cases this works. But in other cases, despite everything, our reluctant hero, or heroine, actually gets elected. A friend of mine was condemned to years on Belfast City Council when his election campaign went horribly wrong. He topped the poll.


That’s another problem in elections based on proportional representation. Topping the poll is a must for some candidates. But in PR elections such ambition creates a headache for party managers. If the aim is to get a panel of party representatives elected they all have to come in fairly evenly. This requires meticulous negotiations to carve up constituencies. Implementing such arrangements make the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement look easy.

It means only placing posters and distributing leaflets in specific areas with clear instructions to the electorate on how we would like them to vote. In some elections I have noticed that some candidates (not Sinn Féin candidates, folks) putting up posters in their colleagues' territory. Not a good sign.

It requires an inordinate amount of discipline on the candidates' behalf not to fall into this trap. Many do. Some don’t. Some get really sneaky. Particularly, as the day of reckoning comes closer. Panic attacks and an allergy to losing can lead to some sufferers poaching a colleague's votes. This is a very painful condition leading to serious outbreaks of nastiness, reprisals and recriminations if detected before polling day. It usually cannot be treated and can have long-term effects.

So, dear readers, all of this is by way of lifting the veil on these problems which infect our election contests. Politicians are a much maligned species. In some cases not without cause.

So the next time you look at a poster or get a leaflet through the letterbox or are confronted at your door by a wild eyed candidate – occasionally  accompanied by a posse of cameras – then take a more tolerant and benign view of the sometimes strange behaviour of those citizens who contest elections .

When you are accosted by a pamphlet waving candidate as you shop in the supermarket or collect the children at school or are minding your own business as you walk down the main street, try to see beyond the brash exterior. If they get carried away with themselves it’s not really their fault, you see. Big boys and big girls make them do it.

Most candidates are decent, well-meaning, civic-minded citizens. It’s a pity some have awful politics. So your votes should not encourage them. They will have difficulties enough dealing with defeat as well as the outworking of Candidatitis. But they will recover eventually.

If they get elected they, or we, may never recover. Please spare us from that.

Continuing along the Pathway to Change

IRELAND'S Future has an event in the SSE Arena in Belfast on Saturday, June 15. Entitled Pathway to Change, it has all the makings of a seminal moment in our discussions about the future. It will be the largest gathering by Ireland’s Future since its enormously successful, ground-breaking meeting in the 3 Arena in Dublin in October 2022.

Pathway to Change will bring together an impressive number of mainstream political and civic figures from across the island of Ireland to discuss their vision of the future of our island. The list of notable speakers includes Alliance leader Naomi Long; SDLP MP Claire Hanna; Uachtarán Shinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald; former Alliance leader John Alderdice; Social Democrat leader Holly Cairns; trade unionist Mick Lynch; Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik; Professor Brendan O’Leary; writer Claire Mitchell; GAA President Jarlath Burns; Leas Uachtarán Shinn Féin Michelle O’Neill; and veteran unionist and evangelical Protestant Wallace Thompson. They will join writer and peace activist Davy Adams and other panel guests.


Wallace Thompson is a founding member of the DUP and in a recent interview on the BBC’s The View said that some fellow unionists share his view that a united Ireland is “inevitable”. He conceded that the previous positions of “No Surrender!” and “Ulster Says No!” got unionism nowhere and added: “The union is damaged by Brexit. I can’t see it being repaired. We’re in danger of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.”

Whatever our different opinions might be on future constitutional arrangements, the reality is that it is imperative that all of us who seek democratic change engage in a positive and respectful dialogue with each other.

This means planning for Irish unity. It is important that unionists are involved in shaping this. The unionist population and its political representatives need reassured that their cultural identity will be protected in a new and independent Ireland.

It also means that the Irish government must stop running away from this issue and prepare for the unity referendums that are coming and plan for a successful outcome. The Irish government should establish a Citizens' Assembly to begin this work of planning.

I commend Ireland's Future for organising the SSE event. On June 15 I will join the thousands of others to listen and to learn. If you haven’t yet got your ticket yet then book now.