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Fergus Finlay: President of Ireland? Yeah, I've decided to go for it. Here's why

IN the course of the work I do, I travel to most parts of Ireland, meeting families and groups nearly every day.

In my entire adult life, I've never encountered before the sense of hurt and betrayal that's out there now. Thousands of people have been damaged by the divisions and inequalities in Irish society.

Thousands of people have been forced to pay for the sins of others. I meet mothers, carers, people who've lost their jobs and are really struggling -- and people who were doing really well only a year or so ago, and are bewildered by how fast it has all disappeared.

Failures

But I also meet people every day who are working tirelessly to put right some of the wrongs of our recent past, and many more who care about their neighbourhoods, their families, and the building of a better society.

There's a really strong sense that we can't allow ourselves to be beaten by the failures of recent years. And boy, have there been failures.

It's not just grubby things like the Ivor Callely affair -- that's just a symptom of a political system that has got increasingly out of touch with the people. The enormous failures of policy that have left us with a banking crisis that will take generations to pay for have done untold damage.

We had a decade of wealth, and all we're left with, it seems, is crumbling schools and overcrowded hospitals.

And in the midst of all the policy failure, we have had scandal after scandal -- in politics, in business, in banking, in the professions like the law and accountancy, and perhaps, most damagingly of all, in the Church. Authority has been abused, people have been let down again and again, trust has been betrayed.

It's why people are so angry, and so hurt. I get the same message over and over again -- we need a new direction. We need to build a new trust, almost from the ground up. Leadership, I think, has to come from within the community now, and it has to be based on respect and trust, but informed by a strong vision of what Ireland can be.

Almost the only democratic institution that hasn't been tarnished by the scandals and failures of the past is the presidency.

I think that has a lot to do with the character of the recent holders of the office, but also with the fact that the presidency belongs to the people. It's the only office that is elected by everyone in Ireland, and derives its mandate from everyone.

Vigorous

The election is a good bit away, that's for sure. But the time has come for us all to start discussing and debating what the presidency should and could mean to the people of Ireland, and how we can use it to start charting a new direction for ourselves.

That's the main reason I've decided to put myself forward for a nomination within my own party, the Labour Party.

I know it's really early. But I think there's a great opportunity now for an open and vigorous debate about the issues involved.

I'd love to see a debate about the values that should inform our entire approach -- the message we should take to the people, the mandate we should seek, and how we should set about winning this crucial election with a professional and committed campaign.

The presidential election is, of course, only one of the matters with which the Labour Party and the political system will have to concern itself in the coming months (there's every possibility of a momentous general election, and the certainty of by-elections, in the meantime).

But the presidency matters to people, and therefore it's right that we should start discussing it now. The presidency -- especially a presidency in which every citizen has a personal sense of ownership -- has the power to reflect and to shape the vital spirit of our people.

In light of everything that has happened in the last few years in Ireland, it has never been more important that the people be given a real choice about what kind of spirit should inform our politics in the years ahead.

I really want to be part of offering people that kind of choice.


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