From top: President Michael D. Higgins during the Presidential Inauguration ceremony at Dublin Castle on November 11, 2011 with former Presidents’ Mary Robinson( (left), Mary McAleese (right) and Leo Varadkar (back far right); Dan Boyle
If a public election is to take place this year for the position of President, it will only be the eighth such election in the eighty year history of the office.
Of our nine Presidents to date three have been appointed without public election. One of those, Patrick Hillery, secured a second term of office without having to undergo public examination.
Two other Presidents, Séan T. O’Kelly and Mary McAleese, rolled over into second terms after securing their first terms through public election.
Only the polarising figure of Éamon de Valera has had to endure public elections to secure his first and second terms of office. His second election was a very tight squeeze, with De Valera winning by a tiny margin of 10000 votes, less than 1% of those who voted.
De Valera was 76 years of age when he first put himself forward for the position of President, a year younger than our current President is now. Of all the inhibiting factors that would question a presidential candidacy, age should be the least of them.
Michael D. Higgins, should he, as appears likely, seek a second term, would face greater criticism for going back on a promise made during the 2011 campaign not to seek re-election if elected.
There should be little concern about this if a public election takes place. The electorate then gets to decide if our President is fit, able and suitable when compared to another candidate of experience and ability.
A public election is best mechanism to achieve this. However, in the absence of alternative candidates who might be seen to do the job as well, there should not be an election for the mere sake of it.
But there should be an election. The need is to encourage a credible candidate to bring such an election about.
I was involved in a similar circumstance in 2004. Mary McAleese would have easily secured re-election had an election had transpired then. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had no appetite for an election. Neither had then Labour leader, Pat Rabbitte, who slapped down Michael D Higgins’ attempts to then to be a candidate.
Into the gap came Eamon Ryan. I became his campaign manager of sorts. There was never any belief that his candidacy would see him end up in the Áras. What was hoped for was an ability to influence a national debate while accruing a creditable vote.
Two factors worked against Eamon then. The first was an interview with Marian Finucane where he candidly admitted he had smoked cannabis, an admission that nowadays wouldn’t cause a ripple.
The second factor was uncertainty Eamon felt that he may not have had the united support of his party, without which a campaign may have floundered. Ironically gaining the required 20 Oireachtas signatures had proceeded more easily and would have been achieved.
And so a Presidential election did not take place in 2004. In 2018 those who have identified themselves as being President electable, are far from that. Would that someone would appear from the outgrowth and provide us with the choice we need.
I’m still likely to vote for Michael D though.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle