Why I should be President

 

With the campaign in full swing, The Irish Timesasked the seven candidates hoping to succeed President Mary McAleese to outline why they believe they would make a good president.

MARY DAVIS - INDEPENDENT

WHEN I announced in May that I was seeking a nomination for the presidency, I did so because I wanted to make a contribution – to Ireland’s recovery, to restoring pride in our country at home and to working to repair Ireland’s reputation on the world stage.

We all know that the next president will hold office at a time when we all are coping with the mistakes of the recent past whilst rebuilding our fractured economy and society anew. These are mammoth tasks.

However, for every day of my adult life I’ve worked alongside people whose challenge it has been to overcome adversity – and they have done it. I have seen endless examples of courage, grace, skill and great concentration. It has taught me, again and again, that we can all overcome obstacles that are put in front of us.

This experience has formed my vision for the presidency. The powers of the president are carefully set out in our Constitution.

As a member of the Council of State, appointed by President McAleese in 2004, I have seen at first hand how the president must, above all, work to protect Bunreacht na hÉireann.

But, for me, the presidency is also about influence. It’s about using your voice as president to speak for all of the people of Ireland, especially those for whom Ireland has not always been a welcoming place.

It’s about using the office to promote fairness, equality and respect for every person in our country. And, at this time of turbulence and challenge, I believe that it’s about playing a more expansive role on the world stage as a representative for Ireland.

Growing up in Mayo my family didn’t have much, but we had values of respect for people and pride in our community and our country, bonds which have been weakened in recent times.

I want to champion these values again. I want be a president that galvanises people into action, using my voice as president of Ireland to speak about real issues of concern – be it unemployment, mental health and suicide, or the needs of our most vulnerable people.

In recent months I have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland as part of this campaign. I have met inspirational people and seen inspirational things, but I have also been deeply disturbed by examples of exploitation and of a lack of respect for people.

I have met women who have been trafficked into the sex trade, parents of special needs children who have hit a wall in accessing some basic help from the State, families struggling to make ends meet.

The next president cannot stabilise the euro, create jobs or change national spending. But, by using their term and their time to promote core values in everything they do – such as pride in our country and respect for each other – they can promote the kind of new beginning that Ireland needs.

Throughout my career I have dedicated myself to achieving transformational change. When I first began working with people with an intellectual disability in the early 1980s, they were marginalised, patronised and often institutionalised. I set out to change that, working with inspirational communities and volunteers – of every age and background – to achieve a common goal.

More recently I have been responsible for the development of the Special Olympics across 58 countries. I have spent my entire working life driving change at community, national and international levels. My life experience has taught me aspirations are not enough. I believe in being hands on.

These are difficult times for Ireland, but we have seen difficult times in our past and we have come through them. I believe we can again.

If honoured with the role of president, my pledge to the people is to be a practical president in their service and to uphold the values enshrined in our constitution.

Above all, if chosen for this role, I will dedicate all of my abilities to promoting and safeguarding the welfare of all of the people of Ireland.

SEÁN GALLAGHER - INDEPENDENT

I AM contesting the presidential election as an Independent candidate because I want to do for enterprise and job creation what President Mary McAleese did for peace.

Fourteen years ago, President McAleese used her theme of “building bridges” to focus on the peace process as it was one of the major challenges facing the country at the time.

Now, the biggest challenge we face is unemployment and consequent emigration.

I want to use my life experience to put enterprise and job creation at the heart of the next presidency.

I have a varied background. I began in farming and agriculture in Ballyhaise, Co Cavan. I have worked as a professional youth and community worker, an interest I developed after I set up my local Foróige club. I have been a public servant, an enterprise worker and entrepreneur.

For the last number of years I have travelled the country mentoring, advising and supporting community, advocacy, and voluntary groups as well as enterprise groups, entrepreneurs, unemployed networks and others. What I have been pained to see is a loss of hope and a loss of self-confidence.

I tell these groups and others that at birth most people can do 10,000 things but my visual impairment meant that I could do 9,000. I have spent my life focusing on the 9,000 things I could do, not the 1,000 I could not.

I want the country to now focus on what we do well. We all have strengths, now is the time to put those strengths to work and come together to help our country recover.

In early July I embarked on a listening tour of the country. I have visited 22 counties and over 70 locations, travelling almost 20,000 kilometres.

I have met people in community halls, enterprise centres, main streets and marts and I have asked them what they want to see in their next president.

The message has been overwhelming. People want a president who is above party politics who can identify with them and be the voice and face of Ireland, not just as we are now, but the Ireland we would like to become.

This should not be a political campaign. We just elected a Government and no one needs a rehash of the political parties jostling for position and percentage.

The people of Ireland deserve more and the office of the president is worthy of more.

As president, at home I would want to highlight and celebrate what is working well. I have visited enterprise centres, business networks and chambers of commerce who are all working so hard to sustain and create jobs in an economic climate where survival is the new success.

Their efforts need to be recognised if they are to inspire others into similar positive action.

Abroad, I would want to work with the Government and every agency of the State to promote Ireland to help attract trade, tourism and inward investment.

As an enterprise executive and entrepreneur, I participated in foreign trade missions where a corresponding State visit by President McAleese was taking place.

I saw first-hand how the President set the tone and atmosphere of the trade mission and I know that I can expand this role.

My emphasis on job creation and enterprise is essential to me because of one key thing – our communities.

As I work in every part of this country, I can see that jobs are the glue that holds our communities together.

Money in the local economy keeps schools open, services running and sports teams on the field and employment gives people a sense of dignity and self-confidence.

I am confident that I can make a positive contribution. But this campaign is not about me, it is about all of us putting our strengths to work to change our communities and country for the better.

I have seen the positive outcomes that are possible, all over this country.

I want to harness that energy, encourage the contribution of others.

Ireland is not just an economy, we are collection of communities and we will rebuild our country, one community at a time.

MICHAEL D HIGGINS - LABOUR PARTY

I HAVE put myself forward for president of Ireland because of my passionate belief in our country and people. I offer both vision and experience as we open a new, transformative, chapter in our shared story.

My own journey has taken me from small farm to factory worker, clerk, student, university teacher, and into the public world where I have worked for equality and social justice.

Travelling tens of thousands of kilometres in recent weeks, I have returned to many places I first visited as a campaigner, debating issues of civil rights, women’s rights and children’s rights, speaking out for peace and against war, playing my part in many of the progressive movements for change in Irish society. The people I have met, in cities and villages, at festivals and football matches, in community halls and centres for the unemployed, have shared their vulnerabilities with me – the fears and concerns they and their families are facing. Yet they have also shared their strengths, hopes and ideas for our country’s future. They, along with the many inspiring community initiatives I have seen throughout Ireland, from Mayo to Ballyfermot, are the seedbed for the transformation we need as a nation.

The vision I am offering is of inclusive citizenship in a creative society, as we build a real Republic that makes us proud to be Irish in the world.

As president I would promote a vibrant, inclusive citizenship and highlight initiatives for inclusion and equality. I believe in a “citizenship floor”, with a level of participation and rights below which no one should fall.

Everyone has a contribution to make – whatever their religion, capacity, origin, orientation or income – and inclusion also means shared responsibility, to each other and to generations yet to come. As president, I would also promote a creative society, combining the best of tradition with the spark of innovation and opening up possibilities in every area of life from education to science to business.

I would encourage creativity in practical ways, something I did as Ireland’s first minister for the arts in the 1990s, establishing TG4 and a network of local arts venues, and helping transform Irish film from an €11 million into a €186 million industry.

I see the same potential today in creative industries from games development to artisan foods. However, creativity is, most importantly, a vital part of citizenship and needs to be supported from the ground up, in our communities and schools. As president, I would encourage access to art, music and self-development for every child.

This is a time for moving past a narrow, individualistic model of economy and society, working together to create something positive and different – a Real Republic, where equality, dignity and participation are the benchmarks.

Next year, its 75th anniversary, will see a major review of our Constitution. As president, I would encourage every citizen to engage with this constitutional convention and reflect on how our Constitution might best serve us all in our shared future.

I would also support further debate by hosting a series of presidential seminars on key issues such as restoring trust in our institutions. The very first seminar will focus on young people and their vision for Ireland and it is my hope that when we commemorate the 1916 Proclamation and other significant anniversaries over the next seven years we may be some steps closer to a Republic that will genuinely “cherish all the children of the nation equally”.

Being Irish in the world is something we should all be proud of.

As president, I would draw on experience representing Ireland as minister, foreign affairs spokesman and advocate for peace and human rights, to strengthen all strands of our international reputation from culture and science to leadership in humanitarian and diplomatic work.

I would also deepen connections with our Irish abroad and Irish networks throughout the globe, from Britain to Canada to China – offering support to emigrants of all ages and also identifying new trade opportunities worldwide.

If elected as president, I will dedicate both head and heart in the service of Ireland. I will be a president who is of the people, for the people and with the people.

DAVID NORRIS - INDEPENDENT

THE CHANGES in our political, social, and cultural landscape since the last presidential election have been enormous. People have been bewildered by the pace of events and the scale of the changes. It is at times of such stress and rapid change that we look to those in high office for leadership and guidance. We look to them for different things, to preserve our values and our dignity, to give us a sense of perspective, stability and continuity.

The requirements of those who need to fill those leadership roles have changed too. Never has the presidency elicited such interest, so many candidates, so much comment. Nor has it come with a tougher job description.

Being president is not about the minutiae of policy and day-to-day decisions, it is about something which has acquired much more importance as boom is followed by gloom.

Those who filled the leadership politicians in the Dáil and Seanad were, sadly, found wanting, both in times of boom and gloom. The response of the electorate was to cast out one party, and elect another in the hope of change.

They were changing one establishment party for another.

Throughout all the debates, financial or social, governments, not only in Ireland, put the preservation of the system and the interest of the establishments above the welfare of the people. This is wrong morally, politically, and practically.

I have friends and good colleagues in every single party and among the Independents, but I think the public should be aware that if a candidate representing a Coalition Government is successful, however admirable the Coalition Government, it will control the local authorities, the entire Oireachtas, both the Dáil and Seanad, automatically and rightly the Army, the air force, the navy and the police; as well as the banks which were clumsily bought by the State against the wishes of the Irish people and against the vote which I cast in Seanad Éireann. If the Coalition takes possession of the presidency it will in effect control every single lever of power in the State.

It would in my opinion, be a mistake to give it such all-encompassing control of the seats of power in Ireland.

We, the people of Ireland, deserve better. The people of Ireland, those who watched the mess being created, are not to blame for the crisis.

Some people who had only a little suddenly had a bit of extra cash in their pockets and enjoyed it for a while. But they didn’t create this mess they are being held responsible for. They need a president who will articulate that, who will put the welfare of the people back at the centre of political culture.

This is no time to banish sections of our population to the margins. We need to bring everyone together, from the margins of society.

I know those margins well. It took everything I had to win respect for those who were consigned to the margins of society. My political life has been spent fighting battles which were unpopular, deprecated and marginalised in their own way by the political establishment.

Now the biggest political battle of my life looms – to win back respect for the ordinary people who have been marginalised en masse by the political elite.

We have been well served by two presidents each of whom have reinvented the role, each in their own way. Changing circumstances may mean it needs to be reinvented again.

Uachtarán Mary Robinson and Uachtarán Mary McAleese served us enormously by taking the role of president and moved it on from where it was, a retirement home for politicians and lawyers, and made it something meaningful for the people of Ireland and those who like to see our nation represented properly at international level.

The role needs to be reinvented once more, to suit the changing times, to make sure that Ireland can hold its collective head high and that in our representation of the island around the world, people will continue to smile when they think of Ireland.

Let us bloom and grow again, celebrating all those the things that made us great before we had two halfpence to rub together, like the great cultural legacy this nation has inherited.

After the boom and the gloom it is time to bloom.

A new bloom, a blossoming of our dignity, a celebration of what we do well and a restoration of pride to our embattled island.

I know I can deliver that.

GAY MITCHELL - FINE GAEL

FROM TRAVELLING the country over the past 12 weeks, I know at first hand how much people want a return to economic prosperity and stability.

It is abundantly clear to me that people want more than material prosperity. They want a happier society as well – something was missing at the height of the recent economic boom.

The country is at a very important crossroads and the decisions we take now will shape the everyday lives of this and future generations. We do not need another Skype generation where parents and loved ones communicate from a distance.

That means making the right choices now. We know that Irish people have kept their confidence in the office of president even when many other institutions lost some of the people’s trust. They see the office of president as something which has given leadership at home and can project a positive image of Ireland overseas.

I want to build on the work of presidents Hillery, Robinson and McAleese by offering continuity and taking on the new challenges of our times. It is shocking that each year we lose some 600 people to death by suicide. That is two planes full of people per year. Why are we not putting this at the very top of the agenda? We must tackle this scourge together and find the way to open a door out of what has been described as a very dark door-less room.

I came into politics over 30 years ago through my voluntary work in the youth club movement. I was inspired by people like Garret FitzGerald and Declan Costello who spoke of the need for a just society. I have always worked hard as a councillor, lord mayor, TD, minister and MEP, by trying to make a difference.

I know how to work within the delimitations of an office but also how to use that office to the full for the common good.

As a member of Dublin City Council I dedicated my energies to improving inner city housing conditions.

Dublin is the only city in the world to have had three Nobel literature prize winners. That is why, as lord mayor, I created the Impac Dublin literary award, the world’s richest award for a single work of fiction which has been presented annually since 1994. I created lord mayor’s commissions and set up one on housing chaired by Garret FitzGerald which produced a report hailed as the best of its kind since 1915.

I reached out beyond my own party to ask Evelyn Owens to chair a commission on city council reform and Mr Justice Michael Moriarty to head a commission on tackling crime.

In the Dáil, I led reform in promoting value for taxpayers’ money by controlling public spending. Business Finance credited me with injecting new power and rigour into the roles of the comptroller and auditor general and the Dáil Public Accounts Committee. Last October the Institute of Public Administration published my book, By Dáil Account – Auditing of Government Past, Present Future,which sets out reforms to implement 21st century best practice and make our parliament a world leader in holding government accountable. If the Oireachtas functions properly there will less need of tribunals. As minister of state at the Departments of Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs, I accompanied president Robinson on numerous overseas visits and also accompanied taoiseach John Bruton to all EU leaders’ summits. I know the job of president well and how it can be used to promote Ireland abroad.

My experience representing Ireland’s interests abroad has been enhanced by seven years in the European Parliament where I have worked hard on the development committee and the economic and monetary committee. In September 2010 the Brussels-based Parliament Magazinenamed me “‘MEP of the Year”. I know how the EU works and how important networking and quietly influencing decision makers really is, and how to do it in Ireland’s interests.

I believe that every right brings with it a responsibility, and harnessing the enterprising spirit can create the wealth for socially just public services. I hereby declare my resolve “to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation” as the 1916 Proclamation states. As we approach 2016 we need a president with experience, a sense of innovation, belief and direction who can help us towards meeting these twin objectives. I believe I can be that president and, if elected, that will be my mission.

DANA ROSEMARY SCALLON - INDEPENDENT

THIS PRESIDENTIAL election is unlike any other that went before. We are faced with a time of crisis fiscally, economically and socially and at the heart of this many thousands of families are haunted by the spectre of renewed emigration, which brings its own particular sorrow and raises ghosts from the past.

I know what it is to be an emigrant myself and sadly, as in thousands of homes today, my daughter and her family were recently forced to leave Ireland to seek work and opportunity abroad. Among other things, my presidency will be one that seeks to bring home the nation’s children and families and I will do all in my power to ensure we do not have a new generation of “the forgotten Irish”.

Ireland’s economic woes are not insurmountable; a solution must be found within our lives, within the grasp of our own destiny. To our advantage, we have the unique creative nature of the Irish people, the good humour, the diligence and perseverance which will pay off and our country can return once more to economic health and well-being. I believe this to be true and I believe that I am the candidate who can personify Ireland emerging victorious from this storm.

We must remember that Ireland is a rich country – rich in its history, culture, in arts, music and most of all rich in her educated, capable and determined people. I, in my own life, have embraced this cultural heritage and identity and I intend, if the people of Ireland so choose, to harness and bring these qualities to the forefront of the minds of our international trading partners.

The president must represent Ireland abroad as the personification of the Irish State, our culture and our innovativeness. For the past 41 years I have been honoured to be an unofficial international ambassador for my country in the world of music and the arts, as well as being elected to serve Ireland at the Europe Parliament as an MEP, an experience which has fitted me for a role in the international forum.

Because of this I have a considerable reputation and experience in levels of international affairs of government and diplomacy; characteristics required in the prominent representative of our country – the president.

Diplomacy is an art which is not learned solely in politics, it is also learned through the trials and tribulations of life. Life experience has shown the benefits of “turning the other cheek” of accepting and celebrating differences and embracing change. Liberal sectarianism has no role in modern Irish society, nor has any other kind of sectarianism.

Growing up in the north of our island, I am intimately aware of the challenges that intolerance can bring. As a businesswoman and entertainer, I have transcended many barriers, drawing support from all sectors of communities both in my political and business careers.

My presidency will be about inclusiveness and overcoming barriers. I will be an ambassador for Ireland internationally embracing our Irish diaspora throughout the world and highlighting the unique opportunities available in the Irish economy which will continue to make Ireland a destination of choice for foreign multinationals. As president I would be the ultimate international trade envoy, with a spirit, personality, vigour and enthusiasm that will ensure Ireland is identified positively as a country with values, with a strong work ethic, with a capable and productive work force which would be attractive and profitable to foreign to international trading partners and investors.

I will above all be the president of Ireland, a head of state involved with the concerns of the people and who will listen to their concerns and actively engage with them, within the powers afforded to me. The threat of poverty, deprivation and the inequity of debt has once again raised its head in our country. I intend to be a president for the people; a voice for those who feel vulnerable, ignored or forgotten in Irish society. These vulnerable groups which include children and families, the aged, the infirm and the sick, deserve the full panoply of protections afforded them by our great Constitution of which I will be an ardent protector.

MARTIN McGUINNESS - SINN FÉIN

THE PRESIDENTIAL election is taking place at a time of deep challenge for Ireland and its people. We are facing one of the toughest periods of our history.

The economic and fiscal crisis has resulted in huge hardship for so many citizens.

The crisis is affecting people of all backgrounds the length and breadth of the island.

Families are struggling to pay their mortgages, parents are fighting to get proper educational support for their children and access to basic healthcare when they need it. People are searching for work. Tens of thousands of our young people are leaving our shores.

Ordinary people are angry at the culture of greed and selfishness and disastrous government policies which contributed to the crisis. They are angry at the loss of sovereignty to the IMF and the EU. Many citizens are in despair and losing hope.

It is time for a president who will stand up for Ireland and the Irish people. It is time that hope was restored.

We can bring about change but we have to get back to core values based on the rights of citizens. In this election I am standing on a platform of hope, of change, of strong representation and of leadership.

I am standing on my record as someone who has already been central in bringing huge change to Ireland, particularly in the North. If elected president, I believe that I can be a catalyst for real change throughout Ireland – change that is urgently needed.

In government I have demonstrated my ability to work constructively with the representatives of unionism. The successful working relationship I developed with Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson symbolises my political philosophy: that nothing is impossible and no problem is unsolvable.

Ireland needs the same sort of approach now. Ireland needs a new beginning and I do new beginnings.

The presidency can and should be a platform to continue to build the peace process and to serve a process of national reconciliation.

I would continue the example of President McAleese in ensuring that Áras an Uachtaráin is an open house for those from the unionist community and for those sections of our society who have been marginalised.

I will use the presidency to bring people North and South together. I will be a president for people in all 32 counties of Ireland and for the Irish diaspora across the world.

If honoured by the people by being elected president of my country I will be a people’s president and will put the people’s interest first.

I will only take home the average wage and will return the rest to the Irish people.

I will uphold the Constitution, stand up for Ireland and stand up for Irish sovereignty. I will use my experience to continue to be a strong advocate for Ireland internationally.

I will make creating opportunities for employment a cornerstone of my presidency.

This election is about leadership. I have been through tough times and I’ve shown my character – I’ve shown that I’m willing to stand up and be counted, to stand up for what is right and I will bring that passion and integrity to this post.

Understandably, many citizens are alienated from politics and political life. Now is the time to ensure that all political institutions are made more relevant and open to the people. The archaic rules for nominating presidential candidates, highlighted in this election, must be changed. The challenges that Ireland now faces mean that we need a real discussion on what type of a country we wish to build for the future.

We need a national conversation about constructing a new republic on this island – a republic that puts the interests of its citizens first and foremost.

As president, I intend to lead that important national conversation.