What sort of president do we need?

The candidates pictured by Mike Shaughnessy at TG4 this week.

The candidates pictured by Mike Shaughnessy at TG4 this week.

We rarely have presidential elections in the State. If you are under 55, you will only have had the opportunity to vote in two such elections. Make the most of the rare opportunity next week, and have your say in voting for our next Head of State.

Insider wonders what do we want from our next president? Before deciding who to support next week, this is a simple question we should ask ourselves. In answering this question, most of us will narrow down the field from the present seven candidates to two or three.

Insider has thought long and hard about this election over the last few weeks, and has tried to ignore the pettiness and irrelevance of much of the campaign. We had a general election earlier in the year, and that was when the detail of policy matters needed to be analysed and decided upon.

The presidential election is a time for a much calmer and more considered evaluation of the image we have of ourselves, and the image we wish to project to the rest of the world. Not caught up in the nitty gritty of policy debates, and the cut and thrust of party politics more suited to a general election campaign, this is a time to reflect and consider how would we feel when looking at our new president, at home and abroad.

President must reflect what is best about us

To be a success, a President must make us feel good about ourselves. S/he must reflect those aspects of our national life about which we can be proud; s/he should be an antidote to the constant gloom that dominates our present economic circumstances and political discourse.

The President must accentuate the positive in our lives, perhaps not just in where we are, but, more importantly, in where we can be and what we can become. The idea of renewal, and rebirth, has a very strong hold on the human psyche. This has been a great country in the past, and will be again in the future. Insider wants a president who can reinforce that message.

We must have a president who is believable, not one who refuses to discuss, or lies about, his/her own past. Has the last decade not taught us to be wary of politicians who are ‘economical with the truth’? We say we want leaders of integrity and then, amazingly, toy with the idea of supporting someone who many believe is brazenly lying to us about his/her past.

A good president will make this an attractive country

When the world looks at us, what will it see? When investment decisions are being made in boardrooms in different parts of the world, and companies are considering locating in this country, what type of Ireland will they be looking for?

Will the person who occupies the position of Head of State have any influence on that decision? When tourists are planning their travels, and Ireland is mentioned, what images will come to mind?

Many factors, of course, go into the making of these decisions, and the holder of the office of president may only be a minor one, if it features at all. However Insider believes a very good president will make this a more attractive country, and a very bad president may help to portray it as unattractive.

Our international reputation has been damaged by the behaviour of recent prominent political office holders, we seem to have turned this around; are we really foolish enough to now elect someone who could undo all the good work that has been done over the last few months?

Two horse race

The contest itself now seems to have narrowed to a two horse race. Independent Sean Gallagher has surprised many with his surge of recent weeks, while Labour’s Michael D Higgins is maintaining his support base, but may find it difficult to withstand the ‘Gallagher Gale’.

There was always a likelihood that the leading ‘non-political’ candidate would perform very well. Insider knows there is an anti-politician feeling at large at the moment, and whatever candidate could successfully tap into this was always going to be a contender. This support seems to have rallied around Mr Gallagher to the detriment of the other Independent candidates, and despite his close ties with Fianna Fáil.

Campaigns implode

Dana has had a horrid time, and Insider is in no doubt that if she could rewind the clock, her name would not be on the ballot paper. The same may also apply to a number of the other candidates, who Insider would have expected to perform much better. The early polls indicated that Independents Mary Davis and David Norris were contenders, but both their campaigns have imploded to the point that neither of them will reach double figures.

Gay Mitchell’s performance has been bitterly disappointing for those who felt Fine Gael was about to take possession of the Áras for the first time in the party’s history. Insider cannot explain why Mr Mitchell failed to make his mark on the campaign, when his combination of experience and energy may be just what we want in our next president. The electorate may feel it has given Fine Gael enough this year, and they would prefer more balance in the highest offices of State, by not allowing one party to dominate too much.

The Martin McGuinness candidacy has also been something of a roller coaster, with some political pundits predicting his possible election, once his candidacy was declared. A minor improvement on the Sinn Féin showing in the General Election is now the best that he can hope for. Like Dana, David Norris and Mary Davis, he may also be regretting the decision to allow his name to go forward. What looked a ‘no lose’ situation for Sinn Féin has certainly backfired spectacularly, with the spotlight being firmly put back on a number of IRA atrocities over the last few decades.

The courage shown by such as the families of Private Patrick Kelly and Detective Garda Frank Hand have reminded us all of the servants of this State who were murdered in the line of duty while protecting us.

The bogus argument of ‘if he’s good enough for Robinson and Paisley, he’s good enough for us’ has also been well and truly exposed. The fact is that for the DUP to attain power in Northern Ireland, they had to do a deal with Sinn Féin. For Ian Paisley and then Peter Robinson, the only way they could take office was as part of a power sharing deal with Sinn Féin. For the DUP, attaining power for themselves, and replacing the UUP, was what it was all about.

Come to think of it, Insider can only recall one intervention from a prominent Unionist politician in this presidential campaign, and this was Arlene Foster’s call for Mr McGuinness to come clean on what he knows of the Enniskillen atrocity.

John Hume, a Derry nationalist, was recently voted the greatest Irishman of all, and President McAleese, a Belfast nationalist, has been both elected and returned to the office of president. This demonstrates that the people of this State have no problem with Northern nationalists, but many do have a problem with the IRA.

The final act

What a campaign it has been, with the final act still to play out. A week is indeed a long time in politics, and the result in a week’s time may vary significantly from the recent polls. Insider still cannot call the final result, but admits it certainly looks to be between Michael D Higgins and Sean Gallagher.

Will the relentless spotlight now switch to Mr Gallagher’s Fianna Fáil membership and the true extent of his business success as an ‘entrepreneur’? And what might this show up? On the other hand, will the cruel ageist comments made against Michael D sow seeds of doubt in people’s minds about his capacity for a seven year term?

It is still all to fight for, and who knows what may emerge in the coming days. Insider certainly hopes for an, all too rare, Galway victory at this stage.

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