In October we will have our first presidential election this century. A lot has changed in Ireland since the last president was elected in 1997. A presidential election is a different type of election. I’ve always regarded it as a statement of how we feel about ourselves in an international context and how we visualise ourselves as a nation. Mary Robinson represented a modern aspiring pluralist state that had something to say on the international stage. Mary McAleese is a more spiritual president who makes us feel comfortable. So what does the future hold for us now? Do we need a president who will re-build our self esteem as a community and if so to what end? Suggestions that the President should perform a role in reviving the economy miss the reality of the last decade that the economic growth didn’t reach everywhere. That suggests a President for a few and not for all. That’s the risk with celebrity TV candidates. How can they connect with the marginalised? I’m out!
Before you can run you’ve got to get a nomination. I’ve always transferred my vote in the past for David Norris in a Séanad elections. He’s an outstanding senator but would he make a president? If he’s nominated I’d certainly transfer to him but can he get nominated? The arrival of other independent candidates like Mary Davis and the Dragon make the process of getting nominations from the county councils harder as each candidate needs 4 and who’s to say that there are enough councils inclined to nominate? What if a political party decided to ask councils to nominate their candidates for them as they have every entitlement to do? Cats, pigeons and setting among come to mind.
That leaves Sinn Fein, Labour, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. I think Sinn Fein will nominate a candidate. Their 17 Oireachtas members plus help from a handful of like minded TD’s could see a candidate, perhaps Gerry Adams, with an eye to the 2016 centenary of the rebellion. Fianna Fail will run a candidate in the hope of a reasonable performance and picking up transfers on later counts. I expect Brian Crowley will be their man. Fine Gael may nominate Mairead McGuiness who will poll well in rural areas and outside Dublin. Which brings me back to Labour. We have 3 very able people declared as contenders; Michael D, Fergus Finlay and Kathleen O’Meara. It’s hard to say no to someone but it’s got to be done. Finlay and O’Meara are outstanding advocates in the area of health and welfare, 2 issues Labour has always been strong on. But I think the bold and imaginative candidate would be Michael D Higgins.
He has so many strings to his bow. Poet, Lecturer, former Arts Minister, philosopher, Galway via the Banner and Limerick and a journey through TG4 included. Potential support for Michael exists not just in these geographical areas but well beyond. He is a strong candidate who has a lot to offer and what’s more you could visualise him having a lot to say about our society and as to how national regeneration could be fairer, better and more sustainable than what went before. He’s done that for years in or out of office. That’s what I want a president to represent and to be. Michael D is the man who ended Section 31 and his appeal will bring in transfers and support beyond the Labour’s core vote. No one can win without that. He’s regarded by everyone as an outstanding orator and motivator.
Mary Robinson was challenged by Noel Browne for the Labour nomination in 1990. When Mary won that nomination we all set about winning the election around the slogan “A President with a Purpose”. That meant something then to me and it still does. It’s time to be bold and have a purpose. That’s why I hope Labour nominates Michael D Higgins as its candidate for the presidency next month.