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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: June 6, 2011 @ 11:32 pm

    The Áras: Nice Job If You Can Get It But There’s A Long Queue

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The way things are going, it will soon be easier to list the people who are NOT running for President than those who are. There is a bit of a race on for the Fine Gael nomination and Labour will be deciding on Sunday June 19th.

    In addition there are Independents such as David Norris, Mary Davis, Sean Gallagher and, latterly, Niall O’Dowd. Have I left anyone out?

    Looks like Pat Cox is planning to join FG in the hope of being their nominee. Gay Mitchell and Mairead McGuinness supporters won’t like that – but will be far too nice to use the word “blow-in”, made famous in political circles by Liam Cosgrave all those years ago. I think he was referring to the late Garret FitzGerald. Meanwhile, the name of John Bruton continues to be bandied about.

    The Labour contest is interesting: Michael D. versus Fergus Finlay versus Kathleen O’Meara. Three coins in the fountain, as it were. Which one will the fountain choose?

    David Norris was going great guns after his bravura performance on the convening of the new Seanad, then came in for sustained artillery fire over his Magill interview with Helen Lucy Burke, the content of which he disputes. Too early to say whether this controversy will sink  his campaign without trace, it certainly isn’t helpful.

    The Presidency is a very prestigious job, well-paid, nice accommodation, lots of foreign travel and optional workload, i.e., you can work really, really hard or you can do the standard amount and then go and play golf.

    Not that one would dare suggest any of the names mentioned would be seeking the position for the above reasons, but it’s a helluva number all the same. Any other suggested nominees? I suspect some of our Blog contributors would only love it …

    At the same time, it would be wrong to be cynical. Virtually all of the names mentioned here are people who have given much public service and, knowing many of them personally, I can attest that they are worthy individuals who would do the office proud.

    There has been a tendency to exaggerate the role of the President. Historians tell us that De Valera and his associates were anxious to prevent a situation arising where a home-grown Hitler or Mussolini could take supreme power and this is one of the reasons the scope of the office is fairly limited. Presidents are meant to be above politics.

    • Myles Duffy says:

      The reference to ‘an optional workload’ must be either tongue-in-cheek or betray of a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Office of President. Our Head of State is the Custodian of the Dignity of the Nation. That is an onerous burden.
      That is a role that requires extraordinary discipline, dedication, vision, energy and understanding. It is not a role for the feint-hearted or the ambivalent because of the intense scrutiny and high expectations that surround it. The range of skills required are quite daunting – diplomatic, representational, nation-building, nation-parenting etc.
      None of those aspiring to become candidates have indicated what they personally believe makes them sufficiently distinguished to become our Head of State. When they start to share this with us and describe how the character of their presidency might evolve society will begin to have something to cling to. Some say they want a conversation with the nation. But the nation want a President or a therapist?
      Society is looking for distinguished candidates that ‘look like a President; sound like a President and act like a President’. This means that those who ‘look like a janitor, think like a janitor, sound like a janitor and behave like a janitor’ need to find work as a janitor and not be pursuing delusional aspirations.
      Furthermore this Office has become something of a family enterprise with those close to the President making an enormous contribution to the success of the Office. Aspiring candidates might bear in mind that society are also curious about your supporting cast and how he, or she, might enhance the Office.

    • robespierre says:

      I must confess I have serious reservations about Fianna Fáil proxy candidates or candidates that are extremely closely tied to accepting state board positions and council of state positions under Fianna Fáil administrations running as so-called Independents. Some “independent” candidates have actually worked for Fianna Fáil.
      Personally, I think Phil Hogan had the right idea in trying to find a Vaclav Havel type figure in Ireland but sadly the arts in many ways have lost any streak of activism they once had. Bobby Ballagh’s occasional bombast notwithstanding – he and Tony Cronin are noble dissenting voices amid the consensus. I agree with nothing they say but I am glad they stand up and tell it as they see it.
      The closest to an arts figure among those discussed is the English language scholar and current Senator, David Norris. I have long hoped he would run as I think he would bring something very different to the office. He is Protestant, highly educated and a proud Irishman. I believe he is occasionally stereotyped as West Brit and I think there is some other label he frequently gets plastered with by the hard right but at the moment I think he would present a very different view of Ireland that personally I would welcome.
      After Senator Norris, I think Pat Cox’s intellectualism and his elegant, articulate use of language would undoubtedly bring a cerebral integrity to the role. He is a candidate of equal in my mind to Mary Robinson. I have met him through the Ireland for Europe campaigns several times and hold him in the very highest regard.
      I just wonder whether at this moment in time we need someone who can inspire the creative side of Ireland, a creative side that is about more than innovation in a microbiology lab. We need someone who spends more time in the right side of their brain than the left. There is far too much left-sided discourse in the Irish body politic which tends to lead to group-think. We need someone who is unafraid to present soft focus, unstructured ideas to help stitch new patterns into the national tapestry.
      I think both Labour candidates are of the highest integrity and ability but Michael D seems a little frail for the office but to be fair I will reserve my judgement until I hear him speak about his vision. Similarly, I have heard Fergus Finlay enough over the years to have an idea about what he would look to bring forward.
      I also think by the way that the media has largely forgotten the way both the incumbent and Dana talked up their marriages to differentiate themselves from the Fine Gael candidate in 1997, a modern lone parent, MEP and polyglot who represented then much of what we have since become. On the Late Late both pointedly (and smugly) declared that marriage was for life. It was just two years after 10,000 votes had allowed divorce pass in a referendum. Dirty tricks are nothing new in Presidential campaigns and I am sure that Mr. Cox’s lobbying, Mr. Norris’s interviews and many other “swift boat veterans for truth” moments will come to light in the months ahead.

    • V says:

      Firstly. Some say we should have a male president this time, since we’ve had two female presidents in a row. I don’t agree. I think it’s quite a good thing that we have a female president, especially since the Dáil is always rather “top” heavy with males – which is to say, we always have a male Taoiseach and, without sounding in any way whatsoever like a feminist, having a female president provides a gender balance in the “high places” in our society. Pity Mary McAleese is leaving now, as she really came into her own recently when we saw her in her element as Ireland’s No 1 Ambassador extraordinaire playing host to our distinguished guests. But I’m glad that Mary McAleese is definitely leaving on “a high.”

      Secondly. We do not need a new president that is clothed in any way in controversy and that does not appeal to people right across the left/right spectrum in society and in my opinion that rules out Senator David Norris. Besides, his orations tend to grate on the nerves after a while and how much Joycean prattling could the masses understand!

      Thirdly. I would nominate a woman that carries herself with grace and dignity, that can speak Irish fluently, hold her own in any discussion – especially when that involves government officials – that she is easy on the eye would be a bonus……………you see where I’m going with this. Yes, EIMEAR NI CHONAOLA for president. She’d be absolutely BRILLIANT. Remember this lady in the Leaders’ debate on TV3. Super.

      End of.

    • Ahem, that leaders’ debate was on TG4 and not TV3. It was in Irish, remember?

    • V says:

      Oops! Gabh mo leithscéal, Deaglán – bit of a channel blunder there on my part. Of course, I meant TG4
      Anyway, Eimear Ní Chonaola is the “Chanel No. 5” of possible presidential candidates imo.

    • UrscanB says:

      Pat Cox is just awful. Pompous, elitist, arrogant, one of those people who belive they are entitled to power and privilege. I’d rather Jedward.

    • Alan M says:

      There are a lot of egotistical gits with a sense of entitlement who will be putting their names in the frame. I think Pat Cox is as dull as ditchwater, partronising and condescending, Norris is a bit of a fool, Gay Mitchell a sour little crank, Mairead McGuiness a female version of Pat Cox, Michael D a bit old but wouldn’t be bad… the rest I have barely heard of. Personally I think Emily O’Reilly or Seamus Heaney would be very sound choices but, unsurprisingly, like John Bruton, they are not interested. I don’t think this is a particularly important office and I don’t believe it has the allure to attract top level candidates. Most of those interested so far are political ‘has beens’ who cannot accept their fate and are under the illusion that the Irish people actually want them in the Aras.

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