Presidential candidates “experience and competence”, and “ability to represent Ireland at home and abroad”, not personality politics or scandalous stories of their past, will determine who will become Uachtarán na hÉireann.
This is the view of Labour’s presidential candidate and former Galway West TD Michael D Higgins who believers the public “is interested in issues of real substance” and not any kind sensationalism as the State enters the final four weeks before polling day.
“I love Ireland, I see its potential and I want to give the next seven years of my life to this,” Mr Higgins told the Galway Advertiser. “I want to raise issues about an inclusive society, citizenship, and creating an Ireland that is inclusive at home and proud abroad. I’ve been around the county on my campaign and people are interested in and responding to these ideas.”
With nominations now having closed, seven candidates will stand for election as President of Ireland - Mr Higgins, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell, and Independents David Norris, Mary Davis, Dana Rosemary Scallon, and Sean Gallagher.
Recent opinion polls show Sen Norris with the most support followed by Messrs Higgins and McGuinness. However Mr Higgins is the most transfer friendly, leading many to the view the race as ‘Michael D’s to lose’.
So far election coverage has concentrated on personality politics and some candidates past actions and deeds. Previous campaigns, particularly 1997s, became intensely personal, with much viscous comment thrown at the eventual winner Mary McAleese.
However Mr Higgins hopes the 2011 race will concentrate on “issues of substance” rather than on personality and name calling.
“I will keep my campaign on the substantive issues,” Mr Higgins said. “It would be a great pity if it were to descend below that. The election is not a battle of personality it is about who will represent the Ireland at home and abroad. It is the responsibility of the media to rise to the occasion as the public want every question asked of the candidates to be appropriate to the office of president.”
Mr Higgins feels that now the field of candidates is fully known, the focus will turn towards their “experience and competence”.
“It’s often thought that the presidency is only about examining legislation where it comes into conflict with the Constitution,” he says, “but 40 bills from the Dáil last year required to be brought before the president so expertise and competence in this area is very important.”
Mr Higgins believes he has “an advantage here” over the other candidates: “I am the only former cabinet minister standing for election, the only one who has drafted legislation, and brought it through the Dáil. I was also president of the Council of Culture Ministers in Europe and I have a long experience in dealing with international affairs. I think that experience counts.”
Mr Higgins believes he has another advantage in his potential ability to attract votes from a wider poll than any of his rivals. “I believe I have an inter-generational appeal,” he says, “and that I can attract votes from all the people.”