The last thing Ireland Inc needs is a besmirched presidency

Allegations of attempted murder, family rows, child abuse, age of consent, dodgy dealing with envelopes, confrontations with sons of murdered gardai, internal party bickering, quango queens, televised meltdowns, sibling savagery, bloody hands, political assassinations — it has been one hell of a presidential election campaign which comes to an end this evening when the last votes are cast and the doors on the polling station close at 10pm. Every element of the campaign so far would not be out of place on The Jerry Springer Show. Shows such as Springer’s specialise in gathering people bound by some connection in one place and then watching them disintegrate in front of a televised audience. It is the principle behind Big Brother, The Apprentice, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

This was the first presidential campaign fought in the age of reality TV and it is therefore no surprise that it is a reality TV star who is one of the two people who are most likely to be president come teatime tomorrow. People are now famous for being famous. Celebrity is build on a foundation of sand, without much substance.

Reality TV has been the ruination of the TV schedules and now the appetite for pushing contestants that bit further, exposing them that bit more, increasing their humiliation, has been brought on to the political stage. But reality TV is not real. The personas you see are shaped by clever editing and contrived situations which lead the mind.

This has been the crudest election campaign ever fought for the right to hold office in the Áras and sadly, it will shape political discourse for the coming years, to the extent that one feels the recriminations will not stop once the victor is declared.

In the last presidential election in 1997 , a magazine headline on the day that Mary McAleese was elected read “What Have we Done?” and see how she has been elevated to sainthood. The feeling that this time all rivalries will be forgotten once the count is over this weekend is a naive one. There is a feeling around that if someone wins the presidency with a question mark over his/her head, the media and political rivals will not rest until those questions are answered.

In the past few days this has led to the question of impeachment. At the start of this campaign it was unthinkable that such a scenario would arise and one would hope for the sake of the presidency that it does not.

Like Caesar’s wife, our president should be above suspicion. When we look at Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, our minds are filled with positive thoughts. Their roles and their ethos were shaped by the noble body of work they both did before coming president. Becoming presidential does not happen overnight. It is constructed in a lifetime of work and is not something that can be constructed through the completion of a few courses.

Ireland is in the stage of rebuilding its reputation at home and abroad. Now is not the time to send to the world a signal that we condone any sort of the nudge-nudge wink-wink behaviour that got us into this mess.

A few years back, Ireland got so cocky, it sent a puppet to the Eurovision. It was a laugh for a few minutes, but then the laugh was on us. It is important that we do not make the same mistake when we go to the polls tomorrow. Form is temporary. Class is permanent.


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