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May the best candidate win

Although it seems to have been going on forever it is only now, with the full line-up of candidates being known, that the presidential election campaign can begin in earnest.

After several months of phoney war, the real battle starts now.

Four weeks from today more than three million voters will be eligible to vote for the ninth President of Ireland.

So what do we want from our President?

At one level the Irish presidency is a ceremonial non-job. When he was writing the 1937 Constitution then Taoiseach Eamon de Valera was careful to ensure that the office of President possessed no executive power.

About the only two discretionary powers the President possesses are the right to refuse a dissolution of the Dail to a Taoiseach who has lost a vote of confidence and the right, after consulting with the Council of State, to refer the constitutionality of bills to the Supreme Court.

Everything else the President does is closely circumscribed by the government of the day.

Which is only as it should be.The existence of two competing centres of executive power would be potentially destabilising.

It is the President's role to act as a ceremonial figurehead who advances the interests of the State, rather than those of the government of the day, in a non-partisan and dignified manner.

However, despite, or perhaps because of, its lack of executive power, each occupant of the office has been able to redefine its role in his or her own unique way.

The late Dr Patrick Hillery, who reluctantly served as president from 1976 to 1990, restored dignity and stability to the office after the trials and tribulations of the mid-1970s.

Mary Robinson perfectly embodied the opening up of Irish society in the 1990s.

Mary McAleese did Trojan work improving North-South and Anglo-Irish relations, culminating in last May's phenomenally-successful state visit to Ireland of Queen Elizabeth II.

When the new President, whoever he or she is, takes office on November 11, they too will have the opportunity of putting their own stamp on the office.

With the prosperity of the Celtic Tiger now a rapidly-fading memory and national self-confidence having taken a severe battering following the economic implosion, one of the main jobs of the new President will be to lift national morale and rally our collective spirits.

We need someone who can convey the message that, although times are tough, we have the capacity to endure and better days lie ahead.

Someone who can help to channel the national mood away from the pessimism that has become almost endemic following the dramatic reversal of our economic fortunes.

What we don't need is a President who seeks to use Aras an Uachtarain to advance a narrow party agenda in possible conflict with the democratically-elected government.

Those with long memories will need no reminding of the last time, way back in 1976, when President and government were in conflict.

Such a damaging episode must never, ever be allowed to occur again.

Several of the candidates who will be on the ballot paper in four weeks have the qualities necessary to fulfil the role of President with distinction.

Good luck to all of the candidates and may the best man or woman win.

Irish Independent