Monday 14 October 2019

Higgins must now follow through on transparency

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Dublin Castle as he was announced as the next president of Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina at Dublin Castle as he was announced as the next president of Ireland. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM


It ended exactly as most of us believed it would at the start with a big win for Michael D Higgins, who will be Uachtarán na hÉireann for another seven years. Six out of 10 people who voted chose Mr Higgins as the best candidate by far.

Mr Higgins had proved over seven years of hard work that he can do the job. He can showcase the best of modern Ireland with a sense of history and culture, along with a dash of style, and with a marvellous command of the Irish language.

Mr Higgins has served a 50-year apprenticeship to that tough vocation while never compromising support for human rights and the dignity of every citizen. He deserves our warm congratulations and our best wishes for another successful seven years travelling across Ireland and the world from Áras an Uachtaráin.

It was a grim election campaign which is part of the reason that turnout was the lowest in the history of the eight presidential elections since the office was created in 1938.

But a dull campaign does not mean we should not have had a presidential election.

Had President Higgins been returned unopposed, as some people suggested, then it would have been the greater part of a generation since we last had an election to our most prestigious office. That would have been very bad for democracy in Ireland.

We say "thank you" to Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell, who stepped forward and pushed for an election. Credit too to Sinn Féin for copper-fastening the case for an election by saying early on that it would field a candidate.

Mr Higgins was vastly superior to all competitors, some of whom got a very small vote. But all candidates are to be commended and thanked for playing their part with dignity and courage. They too have helped Irish democracy.

We note that Mr Higgins, during his astute election campaign, did repeatedly promise to make the spending at the Office of the President more open and transparent.

In making that remark, nobody is inferring that any irregularities are involved here, but we are pointing up the President's own words that all spending of taxpayers' money should be correctly supervised and open to public scrutiny.

There are strong arguments for extending the Freedom of Information (FoI), for so long championed by Mr Higgins and his former Labour Party colleagues, to the Office of the President. Mr Higgins's arguments that FoI risked "undermining the independence of the presidency" are very puzzling. The measure applies to the office of Taoiseach and all of the Government ministers without anyone making protests about undermined independence of these important offices.

Irish Independent

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