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Higgins set to reverse from ‘one-term deal’

Inside Politics: President should explain why he changed his mind on running for second term

Remember when the wags used to call Micheál Martin the former future leader of Fianna Fáíl?

Well come October, we will need to begin describing Michael D Higgins as the former past President of Ireland.

Presidential elections have turned out to be the most venal of all Irish polls, with every aspect of candidates’ personal and past life fair game. One by one they fell last time out.

Mary Davis was felled because of her directorships. The late Martin McGuinness was confronted in Athlone by the son of an Irish soldier shot dead by the IRA. David Norris was attacked for his views. Sean Gallagher crumpled when he was subject to an onslaught on Questions and Answers about his business past and his Fianna Fáíl connections (the party was still an electoral pariah back then).


The only person of the seven who was not subjected to any hard questions was Michael D.

There was some mild questioning, and it had to do with his age. He was 70 and would be 77 when his term ended. At the time he said he would serve only one term in office. It was the Irish electoral equivalent of a Mephistophelean deal.

But now, seven years later, he wants to reverse out of the deal he made with the divvil, otherwise known as the plain people of Ireland.

He can play on the fact that the main parties would prefer to walk to Siberia in winter in a pair of shorts and flip-flops than face a presidential election. They don’t really care about the age issue and don’t have any objection to Higgins, who has been a popular president.

So does it matter?

It does. The presidential term is very long - seven years - and two terms totalling 14 years without an election seems to be creeping into Tayyip Erdogan territory when it comes to democratic process.

If he is re-elected Higgins will be president until he is 84. Health is an issue. And a full explanation is required from him on why he changed his mind, which he is quite entitled to do.

People have been scoffing at Senator Gerard Craughwell for having the affront to mount a challenge. But there is a lot of merit to it being a contest, even if it turns out to be a procession.

Nominally above politics, Higgins has skirted close to the wind sometimes, and his big initiative on ethics had mixed results.

As Sarah Bardon reports today, Craughwell is now only three names short of the required 20 Oireachtas members to secure a nomination. In his comment he makes a fair point that underlines the justification for it being contested.

“Nobody is suggesting the President has not done a good job, but he should be reappointed by public support, not by coronation,” he said.

IMF chief brings IMFadvice

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund was in Government Buildings yesterday to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.

It’s been a while since Christine Lagarde has been in Ireland, and she reminded her audience yesterday how times have changed since then.

Lagarde said when she first visited Ireland in her role as head of the IMF growth was only 1.6 per cent as opposed to 7.8 per cent in 2017, and unemployment was 14.6 per cent in 2013 where it is now less than 6 per cent with long time unemployment at around 2 per cent.

That was the time the Troika came into Dublin every quarter, with Ireland facing stringent targets to meet every three months.

The word ‘conditionality’ entered the lexicon, as did austerity. Funny, you seldom hear parties of the left (other than the far left) talking of austerity any longer.

As it happens the IMF will soon publish its latest report on Ireland. The figures suggest something favourable, but when Lagarde and Varadkar spoke, it was about the need for the Irish economy to be resilient to future shocks.

She quoted John F Kennedy’s phrase that one should fix the roof when the sun shines when cautioning Ireland not to be complacent about the State’s strong economic figures.

And there was the cautionary note about overheating the economy: “We discussed some of the challenges and some of the clouds we see on the horizon for which Ireland has to prepare,” she said.

“[THE STATE] has to make sure it has the resources, the rainy day funds, the good fiscal position, to resist potential shocks whether they come from trade, from financing costs.”

Varadkar emphasised his Government was determined not to return to boom and bust economics, with an intimation the IMF may have given the Government stern advice on caution.

“It has given us very good advice. It’s not advice that we always want to hear, but it is important advice nonetheless,” Varadkar conceded.

For now, there seems little evidence to suggest a return to those tough brutal years when the country was stony broke.