Any­one could be pres­i­dent... or could they?

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - DR CIARA KELLY -

THIS week we’ll elect a new pres­i­dent. The ninth or 10th — de­pend­ing on who wins — Ir­ish head of State will be voted in this Fri­day and take up res­i­dence in Aras an Uachtarain for the next seven years. And, like pres­i­den­tial elec­tions be­fore, it’s some­thing of a pe­cu­liar spec­ta­cle.

Our pres­i­dency is largely a cer­e­mo­nial role, so it’s a dif­fi­cult job to run for. The Ir­ish Pres­i­dent can’t be po­lit­i­cally ac­tive in the way mem­bers of the Oireach­tas can. They can’t ef­fect leg­isla­tive change or bring about pol­icy di­rec­tion. They can’t cam­paign, in any real sense, on is­sues. They can’t even say things pub­licly that could be con­tentious with­out con­sult­ing with the Gov­ern­ment first. Mostly, they are a fig­ure­head.

So when can­di­dates come out with pro­nounce­ments on how they’ll drive the coun­try and cre­ate jobs, fix the hous­ing cri­sis, build trade and forge a bet­ter fu­ture for us all, they are largely ridiculed as not un­der­stand­ing what the job they’re ap­ply­ing for ac­tu­ally en­tails. But, truth be told, if they came out and said “I can cut a rib­bon with the best of them. I’m great at host­ing gar­den par­ties. I look fan­tas­tic in a suit and I love meet­ing other im­por­tant peo­ple” they’d be ac­cused of triv­i­al­is­ing

‘All I’ve heard is crit­i­cism of their char­ac­ters’

the role. They are caught be­tween a rock and a hard place — not able to speak about lofty things they’d like to do with­out sound­ing fool­ish, not able to speak about what they’ll ac­tu­ally do with­out sound­ing trite.

So much of what is as­sessed about can­di­dates boils down to that elu­sive qual­ity ‘char­ac­ter’. And that, alas, is why it is such a bruis­ing cam­paign. The way in which these char­ac­ters are judged is by at­tempt­ing to un­der­mine them and seek out any flaws that lie therein.

So all I re­ally know about Peter Casey is that he was bluntly crit­i­cal of the Trav­eller com­mu­nity. What I’ve heard about Li­adh Ni Ri­ada is that she is anti-hpv vac­cine and wouldn’t dis­avow IRA vi­o­lence. Gavin Duffy is ap­par­ently pro-hunt­ing. Joan Free­man voted No in the last ref­er­en­dum and is re­lated to the Iona In­sti­tute. Sean Gal­lagher has al­legedly done noth­ing for the past seven years and is a sore loser from the last time. And Michael D Hig­gins — al­though he’s get­ting less crit­i­cism be­cause he’s a widely pop­u­lar Pres­i­dent — is tak­ing some stick about the Aras fi­nances and his views on Fidel Cas­tro.

In other words all I’ve heard is crit­i­cism of their char­ac­ters. Some of it may be de­served. Some of it may be a poor enough sum­ma­tion of them as peo­ple. But it seems an odd way to go about elect­ing a pres­i­dent. I’ve heard rel­a­tively lit­tle about their ac­com­plish­ments. The three Drag­ons’ Den can­di­dates are busi­ness­men — I don’t re­ally know what kind of busi­nesses they run or how suc­cess­ful or rel­e­vant they are. I’m un­aware of Li­adh Ni Ri­ada’s record in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. I only heard of Pi­eta House in glow­ing terms prior to the elec­tion but I haven’t heard much pos­i­tive about it since Joan Free­man en­tered the fray. And MDH is, as in­cum­bent, the only one re­ally cred­ited with the abil­ity to do the job be­cause he man­i­festly has been do­ing it for the past seven years but, as I re­call, last time out there was doubt bandied about that too — hence the one-term prom­ise.

It seems to me that if the pres­i­dent’s role is largely cer­e­mo­nial then the truth is any of them could prob­a­bly do it. And if we, as a repub­lic, be­lieve all our cit­i­zens are el­i­gi­ble for the job then per­haps we shouldn’t feign such dis­be­lief when some folk ac­tu­ally ap­ply for it. I re­mem­ber in 1997 when Adi Roche —who had been lauded for her work for the Ch­er­nobyl char­ity — was vi­ciously torn asun­der the minute she en­tered the Aras race. Why?

There’s a sneer­ing tone to pres­i­den­tial elec­tion com­men­tary here that smacks of be­grudgery to me — the Ir­ish dis­like of peo­ple get­ting above them­selves. Like we don’t be­lieve or­di­nary peo­ple are good enough for high of­fice. I won­der if it is a post-monar­chy per­spec­tive? We do still ooh and aah over the Bri­tish roy­als, who got their gigs by ac­ci­dent of birth. As a repub­lic, I’d hope any cit­i­zen should be con­sid­ered wor­thy to run for pres­i­dent. But I’m re­ally not sure that’s the case.

@cia­rakel­ly­doc Ciara presents Lunchtime Live New­stalk, week­days 12-2pm

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The race for the Aras will see a win­ner cross the line this week

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