We all think we know Michael D (President Higgins to the rest of ye ).
He’s a man who eschews the comfort of his slippers and the Late Late on a Friday night to sit among us and shout on Galway United when he’s in town. Or to pop out to Inchicore when’s he up in the Big Smoke. He’s there for all the big occasions. For us, he was there beside David Burke for that moment in time last September.
He’s a man who like the rest of us, queues for his ATM while making sure nobody sees the balance, walks the prom, does small talk well, but who in the same breath can converse with kings and queens, forever able to reach into the arse pocket of his vast vocabulary and drag a quote to match the mood.
This week there is a sceal around that he fancies another whack at the presidency.
And I would welcome it.
But I would also welcome an election. And I think so would he.
It’s not desirable that he should stroll into another seven years and I think he thinks that way too. The stories this week are perhaps feeling the water, getting opinions out in the open, getting parties thinking “bejaysus what if we have to come up with a candidate?” He’s not one for having things handed to him and he would relish the opportunity to secure a second term by being the best of the rest, and not just a victor granted a walkover because nobody else showed up.
Some commentators have ridiculously expressed concern about his age and his mobility, but as well as being wrong, it is complete bunkum. I would rather have an intelligent and empathetic 80-year-old than a gormless but fit 40-year-old with buns of steel and abs you could hop a tennis ball on. The days of picking and choosing on the basis of age and ability should be well gone. We aspire to be a country of equal opportunity, and while we are still some way off that, this should not be a consideration in this election.
Imagine how lively a campaign would be with Michael D in the debates; It’d be like a National Song Contest with Johnny Logan in it again. What it would do too, is hold a mirror up to all the candidates so that they would have to prove that they could hold the office with the same aplomb and candour as the incumbent.
This process would show that if Michael D is to win it again, then he will do so after a contest.
Polls have shown that about half the electorate are not interested in having an election this autumn, when they were are so many other more crucial issues to focus on and when there is a possibility (probability ) that we will face the polls five times in the next 18 months (referendum, councils, Europe, general, presidential ) But it’s good to have a sense of pride too in who lives in the Aras.
The new few years will mark the centenary of an extremely turbulent time in Irish society. How better a way to honour the progression we have made since then, but by having a contested election where the best candidate will win.
Sen Gerard Craughwell has said that the country should not gift the position to President Higgins and he is adamant that he is going to get the requisite number of nominations to ensure he gets to stand in a poll come November, regardless of President Higgins’ intentions on the matter. There is talk too about Dep Michael Fitzmaurice and a few others. And that’s good.
Every one of us should be reading this this morning and think “Can I go for this?” Let everyone who considers themselves part of Ireland to be a potential candidate. Let each of us consider ourselves candidates who have not yet declared whether we’re running or not. This is a job of Ireland for Ireland.
The last few presidential election campaigns have gone on to reflect a changing country. Each choice seemed to be a step forwards, leaving behind the Ireland that had people commenting on “newfound interest in her family, her new hairstyle; that she’s from up there and not down here’; of mature recollection.
We’ve had brown envelopes, slashed tyres, fake tweets and nasty tricks, and you can have no doubt that this would happen again. If there is to be an election and I hope there is, the worse thing that can happen would be for the parties to put up candidates just for the sake of it.
The last few presidencies have shown that the office is no longer the preserve of the parties. Michael D’s term is not seen as a Labour win, but a win for everyman.
When he makes his decision in July, I for one, hope that he says “Yes, I’ll have more of that please...” and then let the jousting begin until the best candidate wins.