With only five weeks until voting, and less than a week before nominations close, the Irish Presidential election is beginning to ignite. Many twists and turns have already occurred, but is this merry-go-round of hopefuls doing justice to the position that our President should hold?
We have had senators, television celebrities, publishers, artists, MEPs, and entrepreneurs, all considering standing for the highest position in the land that was once the prerogative of our conservative older statesmen, and that is a good thing. But the number of political figures considering entering this year's race has been matched by an increasing number of celebrities. The question is how do we achieve the right balance between the political and the populist?
The presidential election has traditionally reflected Ireland's image of itself, and in that regard the biggest change was the election of Mary Robinson 21 years ago. Growing in maturity and self confidence, Ireland decided it was time for a woman, someone who had never served in the Dail, someone who broke Fianna Fail's stranglehold on the position, and a person who had proven herself a defender of human rights, particularly women's - a liberal voice. Mary McAleese took the post to the next level with a greater self assuredness and aplomb that matched Ireland's evolvement from one of the poorest countries in Western Europe to one of the most successful. But now we have a country disheartened with its present, and uncertain of its future. What type of president are we ready for now?
This year, for the first time in its history, there will be no Fianna Fail candidate and that in itself has opened up the presidential campaign. It has certainly become more interesting, particularly this week with Sinn Fein entering the race for the first time, and there have been more column inches written than would have been believed possible when the President was simply a figurehead nodding in the Aras as a political reward for services rendered.
David Norris, scholar and civil rights campaigner, had topped all previous polls until withdrawing. Now considering re-entering the race, can the voters overlook his blip if he manages to secure sufficient support to be nominated? It is unlikely Ireland will vote for another Mary from Mayo, or that Ireland is prepared just yet to forget Martin McGuinness' past. Dana Rosemary Scallon, also struggling to receive the required backing, has probably left her run too late, while Sean Gallagher's limited exposure should rule him out. Thus left in the field are current front-runner and Labour-endorsed candidate, Galway's Michael D Higgins, and Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell - two candidates who possess all the expected credentials.
Next Tuesday we will see if anyone else enters the field, and then we eagerly await some challenging debates from our candidates and their vision of our presidency for the next seven years.