President insists she has electoral mandate

 

The President, Mrs Mary McAleese, who was deemed elected yesterday for a second seven-year term of office will be inaugurated in a ceremony at Dublin Castle on November 11th. Mark Hennessy, Political Correspondent, reports.

At the Custom House in Dublin, where the presiding officer declared her elected as the only candidate, Mrs McAleese said she was satisfied that she has a mandate from the electorate.

Asked if there was any issue over her right to serve again, Mrs McAleese declared: "Absolutely not in the wide world. That is not a concern for me."

The Constitution laid down "very simple" presidential election rules, she said. "If on the day there is one nominee that person is deemed duly elected.

"I am really proud to have been elected, and I was elected, constitutionally elected. So I have as big a constitutional mandate as I had seven years ago," she insisted.

Her remarks came despite a failed last-minute effort in the Custom House by Mrs Dana Rosemary Scallon to question the nomination rules. The High Court and, subsequently, the Supreme Court refused an attempt by a Cork plumber, Mr Harry Rea, to win more time for Mrs Scallon to get a nomination.

Charging that the political establishment had conspired to keep her out of the race, Mrs Scallon refused to say how many TDs and senators had been prepared to sign her nomination papers.

The declaration of Mrs McAleese's election was delayed for approximately 20 minutes as Mrs Scallon made her case to the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Joseph Finnegan.

Mrs McAleese, who was never in close proximity to Mrs Scallon, stayed in a different room while Mrs Scallon made her arguments and the two did not speak. Later, Mrs McAleese said: "I can understand why anyone would want this role. I love being President, I love the opportunity it has given these last seven years. They were the shortest seven years of my life. I am nearly terrified that the next seven will be as short.

"I hope they feel longer. I am so proud to have been given this opportunity and I wouldn't begrudge it to anyone else, to be honest." She went on: "I am the one person who could have done no more to bring about an election. I offered myself for election.

"It was in the hands of others if they wanted to contest it. No-one did, no-one came forward. So I was elected under the terms of the Constitution and I feel that mandate as powerfully today as I did seven years ago," she declared.

The ceremony in the Custom House was attended by the Tánaiste, Ms Harney, the Minister for Finance, Mr Cowen, the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, and the Minister for the Environment, Mr Roche.

The leader of Fine Gael, Mr Enda Kenny, and former Fine Gael minister Mr Seán Barrett, who served as the President's election agent, were also in attendance.

Describing herself as having been "geared up" for an election, she said: "I could not say that I was disappointed. I was ready for an election." The McAleese election team had met daily for weeks to prepare a €750,000 election campaign, involving a 12-strong staff, a national tour and posters.

Key figures planning her campaign included former Fianna Fáil general secretary Mr Pat Farrell, PR adviser Ms Eileen Gleeson, and former government adviser Ms Kathy Herbert. A separate fund-raising committee headed by Bank of Ireland governor, Mr Laurence Crowley, had received significant donation pledges.

Meanwhile, the President gave a guarantee that she would complete her full second term: "Absolutely, if God gives me the health, the energy and the strength and keeps me alive, I will be here until the last day of it and hopefully enjoying it as much as I enjoyed the last seven years."