independent

Monday 17 December 2018

Noel considers tilt at the presidency

Noel Whelan
Noel Whelan

David Looby

Ballycullane man Noel Whelan is strongly considering running for President of Ireland in the upcoming election.

Whelan, who turns 50 in November when Michael D Higgins's current term expires, hails from a well-known Wexford political family. He is planning on running as an Independent as he feels the country needs a president who is relevant to an ever changing Ireland, one in which young people deserve a greater say.

Whelan, who is taking silk next month - becoming a senior counsel after practising as a barrister from 19 years in Dublin, Wexford and Waterford, is a well-known political pundit and columnist, who appears regularly on television and in print. The brother of Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael Whelan, he is Dublin based but returns often to his native Ballycullane.

Whelan said he took a serious look at running for president at the start of the year and was considering mounting a campaign to run as an Independent for the role at Áras an Uachtaráin if Michael D Higgins wasn't going to run again.

When it became apparent that President Higgins was going to decide to pursue a second term, Whelan cooled his campaign talk as he felt the Labour man would, in all likelihood, retain the job, which comes with a salary of €250,000 plus per year.

He said along with a campaign team he ran through the themes he could run his election campaign on. 'We said we would re-purpose the presidency for the 21st century and since there was a whole range of new vibrant and important issues - particularly in relation to social change and the role of young people that the president should focus on - we were confident we could put a strong campaign together.'

Whelan said following the announcement that Sinn Fein are fielding a candidate, he is once again strongly considering mounting a tilt at the presidency, feeling that a non political party candidate is needed in the race, adding that even though some other potential candidates names have been mentioned, none have declared to date.

'I would see a pathway through the county councils because I am non party and because Independent councillors are eager to play a role. I think he (Michael D) has had a terrific presidency, one which was near perfect, but I think this election should be about what the president should do and should be for the coming seven years. The priorities are clearly different for the 2020s than what they were for the past seven years from when he was first elected in 2011.'

He said the next president needs to be able to address changes in the psyche of the Irish people, based around how Ireland has changed 'dramatically' after the trauma of the recession. 'Also the lessons we have learned, the impact of Brexit and our political and general public debate, which needs to be more moderate and less angry. There are the voices of young people which should be better heard in the national political debate and I think there is a role for the president in that. Whether there is any point entering the race when there is a sitting president I have to give consideration to that. I also have a lot going on in my professional and personal life.'

Whelan, who is actively involved in the Kennedy Summer School which is taking place in September in New Ross, said if he decides to run over the coming weeks - he will be writing to Wexford County Council in August to have his name put forward for consideration at the body's September meeting. 'I would be the youngest of all the names being mentioned. I do believe energy and perspective play a part. Also I have been involved in politics for 30 years and have campaigned on the marriage, abortion, Seanad and electronic voting referendums. Some of them weren't popular but I keep making the point that the democratic system is important and it has a delicate balance in it.'

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