Dan Boyle: President Precedent


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


34 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: President Precedent

    1. Nigel

      My granddad was so crooked he had screws in his hips this isn’t true I’m just riffing

  1. Ron

    Abolish the role of President and use the money saved to fund politicians expenses. Appoint NAMA to sell the Aras as part of a portfolio called Project Bendover.

  2. Frilly Keane

    My Granda said about Mary Robinson
    “t’was far from a Union Hall she was rared”

    my Nana “she wears her shirts too short”

    although both were very pleased to see her elected, they both, and my Nana was a very active Workers Party member, believed it was all only a stepping stone for her.
    Which wasn’t really meant to be unkind I think, because they had come from only ever recognising the Presidency as a gig for Retiring Oul’ Fellas, I remember my Granda saying the Dail must have run out of 80 year old men.

    Anyway, they both voted for Mary Robinson. They figured if I was now on the pill, legally, I could do anything
    In their nanny granda way like

    Isn’t it about time kinda ting

  3. Cu Cullan

    Did you ever consider Dan, that there might have been a third reason for Eamonn’s failure..

    1. Dan Boyle

      What failure? He put himself forward then changed his mind. I have no doubt he would have been a good candidate. May yet be. Not this time though.

      1. Frilly Keane

        ‘prefer t’ see and hear the lad in Leinster House and on the telly etc than having him host garden parties

        BTW Dan
        Does he have a dog?
        Essential requirement for any future Presidential candidate

      2. dan

        Eamonn Ryan would be a terrible President. He’s totally vacuous when it comes to actually doing anything constructive.
        A President should have some track record of meaningful public office, not a populist man like Ryan who was in favour of Metro rail through Ranelagh until his voters started whinging

  4. Rob_G

    I like Michael D. as well, but I do hope that Craughwell gets a nomination. Elections are good for democracy.

    1. Annon

      An election in 7 years time will be plenty good enough for Democracy.

      If there’s no election then Michael D will not have campaigned for a second term and technically will have kept his promise

  5. Andy Moore

    An election is a neseccity ! 3 in one Day . Presidency , Referendum & General Election !!

  6. Daisy Chainsaw

    The Presidential election needs to be open to anyone who can submit papers to do so, the same as if running for councils and the Dail. It shouldn’t be reliant on being a party nominee, or begging biased councils. I was never going to vote for the likes of Dana, but I wanted her name on the ballot to not vote for her, rather than her failing to suck up to the right people to get the opportunity to run.

    1. Cian

      I disagree. If it were a free-for-all there could be *thousands* of names on the poll.

      There were 21 candidates in both Wicklow and Dún Laoghaire council elections – with a electorate of 18,000 and 33,000; so with a similar low-bar entry we could have 2,100-3,700 names on the ballot!!

      1. Brother Barnabas

        there needs to be some criteria, for sure – but daisy’s point is still valid: politicians or city/county councils shouldn’t have the power to determine who can be put forward

        1. Cian

          If not democratically elected people – then who should act as a gateway to being candidate?

          Perhaps add another route: 20,000 signatures?

          *edited for clarity

      2. The Old Boy

        The second Senate elections in the Free State had 19 seats that were elected by the general electorate, unlike the current system. However, these seats were treated as a single constituency, leading to a vast array of candidates and an absurdly over-sized ballot paper. The count reportedly took two weeks on a very low turnout.

  7. bisted

    …here Dan…don’t you enjoy the additional perk of lifetime free parking at Leinster House*

    * asking for a shinner

    1. Dan Boyle

      It isn’t absolute. Only on days when either House isn’t sitting. Is also dependent on whether I want to be in Dublin or not. Usually I don’t.

        1. Dan Boyle

          You usually don’t want to be in Dublin either? You sir, collectively, have a problem. Visit Cork if you need to get away.

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