Thursday 8 December 2016

When the Presidency was a walk in the Park

Before the two Marys, Aras incumbents' time was spent less on trying to inspire us and more on crosswords and golf, says Anthony Cronin

Published 03/07/2011 | 05:00

The reason a presidential election so often turns into a knockdown, drag-out, no-holds-barred affair is that there is nothing else to talk about except the character, personality and previous career of the candidates. You cannot talk about policy because the President is not supposed to have any policies.

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You cannot talk about legislating for this or legislating for that because the Presidency has no legislative role whatever and is barred from making any legislative suggestions to a government. There are really only two light duties assigned by the Constitution to the post. One is the occasional referral of a bill to the Supreme Court to decide on its constitutionality or otherwise. The other is the dissolution of the Dail on the advice of the Taoiseach and the handing over of the seals of office to a new holder of that office, thereby ensuring an orderly succession.

There is a suggestion that where a Taoiseach of the day has lost the confidence of the Dail the President could save us all the trouble, expense and turmoil of an election by asking somebody else to try to form a government. But this has never been put to the test and is never likely to be since poor Brian Lenihan pere incurred a lot of obloquy by trying to suggest to Paddy Hillery that he had this power.

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