Friday 24 May 2019

Fionnan Sheahan: Race to succeed McAleese will be no stroll in the park

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

The Presidential election is over a year away and yet there is no shortage of candidates lining up to replace President Mary McAleese.

The early start of Senator David Norris in declaring his intention to contest the election has had a knock-on effect in terms of flushing out prospective opponents.

Ironically, the independent Senator may not be a candidate at all as he will find it hard to secure a nomination without the backing of a major party -- particularly now it's clear the Labour Party has its own internal candidates.

Given the nomination process, Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour are the only parties or groups that can guarantee a candidate a place on the ticket.

Although obviously directly elected by the people, to be a candidate a citizen must be over 35 years of age and be nominated either by at least 20 TDs and Senators or at least four city and county councils.

Independents and smaller parties in Leinster House would have to all unify behind a candidate to get them across the starting line.

And the larger parties' numbers of councillors means the strict imposition of party whips could block a prospective candidate going down the council route.

The larger parties will be in no hurry to nominate their candidates as they all have their eye on an even bigger prize -- a general election.

The growing sense the Government will fall within the next nine months puts a different complexion on the Presidential race.

Coming before a general election, the parties would be keen for a good show as the presidential campaign would be viewed as a statement of the national mood and be pitched as a precursor of what was to come in a Dail election.

But coming after a general election, it's a different story and the parties might be less enthusiastic about engaging in another costly campaign. A single candidate, put forward by the three parties, couldn't be ruled out in those circumstances.

Of all the candidates being mooted, former Taoiseach John Bruton is arguably the only one with the potential to be a unified nominee.

Aside from his Fine Gael background, he was Taoiseach in a successful coalition with Labour and a Fianna Fail government proposed him as EU Ambassador to Washington and, technically, for the position of EU President.

Here are the potential runners in next year's race for Aras an Uachtarain -- and their pros and cons:

  • Brian Crowley: Consistently poll-topping MEP but, beyond his popularity, what has he achieved in 15 years in the European Parliament?
  • Bertie Ahern: Former Taoiseach's fancies a run but his flawed legacy means he carries more baggage than a 747 flying back from New York full of Christmas shoppers.
  • Mary O'Rourke: A wily operator from Fianna Fail royalty but can also cause ructions with her single-minded views.
  • Mary White: Not a household name by any means, the senator has clearly signalled intent to seek the nomination anyway.
  • John Bruton: Intellectual and political heavyweight, but might be constrained by the role and would certainly be divisive with his steadfast positions.
  • Sean Kelly: Admired for his tenure as GAA President, but has disappeared since his entry into politics with his election to the European Parliament.
  • Mairead McGuinness: Impressive vote-getter with plenty of style and communication skills, but general election showed she can get found out on the substance side.
  • Gay Mitchell: Not always given credit for his abilities and would certainly liven up the campaign as he'd pick a fight with all his opponents.
  • Fergus Finlay: Surly former spindoctor knows how to get a candidate elected, but the social justice and children's right campaigner has never been the name on the ticket.
  • Michael D Higgins: Beloved by his party and has fans for his cultural and human rights work, but the 69-year-old might have left it too late for a run for the park.
  • David Norris: Running a clever campaign, focusing on his record in the Seanad, but will struggle without big party backing and will have a problem being taken seriously.
  • Eamon Ryan: Threatened a run seven years ago in farcical circumstances, has the vision thing in bundles, but would fall on the Green Party's perception.
  • Trevor Sargent: Widely held in high esteem, particularly after his principled stand on entering government, but might lack broad appeal.
  • Gerry Adams: Always has his name associated with a run down south and there's the attraction of being in the park for 2016, but he would attract a vicious backlash.
  • Mary Lou McDonald: After losing at national and European level, the party's deputy president is a politician without a mandate, but she's been found wanting.
  • Mary Davis: The Special Olympics chief is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate, but she has no political experience.
  • Emily O'Reilly: The Ombudsman is often spoken about as a potential candidate, but her stances from her campaigning journalism days would make her contentious.

Irish Independent

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