Sunday 19 May 2019

It may not suit the parties but the people deserve a say on presidency

Editorial Comment

Something of a cosy consensus has been allowed develop around our president and the notion that he be granted a second term in office without an election.

The automatic 're-election' of a President happens regularly in Ireland - tolerated, perhaps, because of the office's largely ceremonial role - but it is not a practice that should be allowed continue.

Whatever your opinion of the office of President - a role many feel should be abolished altogether - the incumbent is our Head of State and should be elected by the people and not crowned by political parties with an eye on their election war chests.

Michael D Higgins has enjoyed a successful tenure as President and has proved popular with the public.

His part in the 1916 Centenary celebrations and his State visit to Britain have been high-points and the President's contributions on the homelessness crisis, social justice and Ireland's historic treatment of women have been insightful and impressive.

However his term has not been without a degree of controversy. He has been accused of politicising the office and his praise for the murderous Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro appalled many on both side of the political aisle.

There is no doubt that Michael D Higgins is popular and he has certainly enhanced the profile of the Presidency. However, that alone is not enough to warrant crowing him for a second term as head of state without going to the people.

It is clear, with the possibility of a General Election at any time, neither Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael have any thirst for a Presidential election.

Supposed apathy among the public and the potential cost of an election have been cited as handyexcuses not to go to the polls.

The fact that the Presidential Election could have been held on the same day as two referendums could have put paid to the cost issue. Conveniently for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael last week previously unaired concerns about the legality of removing the 'womans place in the home' clause in the constitution mean that vote will now, probably, be delayed until 2019.

There are also the frequent, ludicrous, claims in political and media circles that President Higgins is 'universally adored'. He isn't. No politician ever has been and none ever will be.

He is definitely popular, and he is held in very high esteem by many, but he most certainly isn't universally loved.

In 2011 President Higgins received just over 56 per cent of the vote. That means that almost half the electorate did not want him in Áras an Uachtaráin, After seven years in office he may well receive a higher vote no but those who voted against him in 2011 deserve to have their say again.

The President should also tell voters why he has reneged on his, categorical, 2011 pledge that he would not seek a second term.

Back in 2004, when Mary McAleese was about to be returned for a second term unopposed, one prominent TD said that the main political parties were showing 'great arrogance' when they argued that there shouldn't be a contest.

And who was that TD? None other than Michael D Higgins.

Enniscorthy Guardian