Saturday 19 January 2019

If we insist on a president, we must be able to vote for one

Waiting game: Michael D has yet to announce if he’ll stand for a second term
Waiting game: Michael D has yet to announce if he’ll stand for a second term
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Ah, the will he/won't he debate.

Will he step in again? Will he step out again? Will we have another seven years of Higgins's Ball? (Ask your parents if you didn't get the reference.)

There are plenty of issues facing us this year, and few of them will do much in terms of bringing the country together.

As we've seen over the last few days, the knives are being sharpened ahead of a likely May/June referendum on abortion. You may have heard about it.

Then there is the fact that we're only 10 months away from a scheduled presidential election. You may have cared about it. Then again, maybe you don't care about it at all.

Maybe you look on the presidency as a waste of time and money. And you'd be right, but that's not really the point.

Before things even start, and to save the usual rag-tag army of Higgins supporters getting upon their hind legs and accusing anyone who lacks the requisite slavish devotion to Ireland's National Pet of being a monster, I should point out that I voted for Higgins last time around.

I wasn't particularly happy about it, but then again I wasn't going lose much sleep one way or the other.

I voted for him because even though I fundamentally disagree with many of his views he is, as they say, a good egg.

I know people who have been friends of his for decades and they all speak with true warmth and affection. I've met him a few times down the years and he is, undoubtedly, a decent man.

But like many decent men of the Left, he has a seemingly endless fascination with tyrants and murderous dictators as long as they were on the 'right' side.

His eulogising of Castro, particularly, left a sour taste in the mouth.

After all, for a friend of the arts and poetry, as Higgins undoubtedly is, he was somehow able to admire a man who had no problem bumping off artists and poets, and indeed anyone else, who displeased him. The president represents the people and we are entitled to hold any elected official to account for their actions.

So why do so many punters want to see this country hand him another seven years and allow him to extend his Phoenix Park lease without even being tested at the polls?

We have a seriously weird attitude towards the role of the president in this country.

On the one hand, we all know that it's a load of bunkum. Ultimately, all we want is someone we can trust to visit other countries and not make a fool of themselves in the process.

Yet, while we all agree, to one extent or another, that the role is essentially meaningless, we seem determined to fight over this trinket like it's the Crown Jewels.

Fake tweets, scurrilous accusations, allegations of sexual impropriety - any casual observer who landed in this country during an Irish presidential election would be forgiven for assuming we were voting for someone with American levels of executive powers, rather than someone who is there to keep a smile on their face and a bilingual platitude on their lips.

And we can't just blame dirty tricks and character assassinations on the usual Trolletariat of social media. The last race for the Áras saw some mind-bogglingly weird behaviour from the warring parties. Great fun for the cynic, of course, although those poor, gentle souls who long for a more elevated debate and civilised political discourse must have despaired at some of the behaviour last time out.

Even so, the seven-year bitching session that rolls around at the end of a presidential term is something that we should retain if we are going to bother retaining the position at all.

It shouldn't matter that Higgins hasn't announced one way or the other whether he wants another go.

He initially promised that he would only serve one term and the more credulous voters believed him.

That was a mistake on their part - not because he is a liar or not to be trusted, far from it.

But he is, despite it all, a life-long politician and anyone who takes a politician's word as gospel and genuinely believes their promises should be deemed too gullible to be trusted with a vote.

Nobody, in any walk of life, should be offered a seven-year contract extension without a proper review procedure in place. Yet while the current incumbent sits in his Áras eyrie and ponders his next step, his supporters are already saying that we don't need another election.

Why? What are they afraid of?

Most of the commentary has been positive. He is widely seen as having done a good job. His base loves him and some swing voters have come to admire him.

But the fact that he may (or may not) be a shoo-in for a second term doesn't mean that we shouldn't go to the polls.

People live more bubble-fied lives these days; existing in their own echo chamber where all views are largely uniform and dissent is frowned upon.

So if you only exist in a world where everyone thinks he's great, you could be forgiven for thinking the entire country feels that way.

But that's neither here nor there. Either we respect the institution enough to vote on it or we don't.

And if we don't respect it, we should just scrap it.

It's really not that hard to understand.

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