Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Presidential Election

The current edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette (21 October 2011) carries the following editorial comment on page 2:

The Presidential Election

Voters in the Republic of Ireland go to the polls in a presidential election next week. Never before have so many candidates stood for the office, and never before has such an election generated so much interest and so much controversy. Seven candidates are standing for election and the PR system of transferrable votes means that the result of this contest may hang on transfers, going not to a second, but even to a third or fourth count. The result is therefore highly unpredictable, which may be encouraging for some of the candidates but disturbing for others.

Given the onerous but largely powerless duties imposed on a President, it is a healthy sign of democracy that able, politically agile candidates should go before the people, willing to face scrutiny in their efforts to win a post that is in danger of effectively gagging the winner, at worst, and, at best, forcing the new office-holder to remain detached from the crucial issues of the day. For an active politician it inevitably means a change of mindset of considerable proportions.

The country needs and deserves a President who follows in the dignified and graceful paths already trod by President Mary Robinson and President Mary McAleese. Both have set a remarkably high standard. The voters next week face that choice. The choice is not made easy by the number of candidates, but now is a time for a President who can give the nation real ‘heart’ in the midst of especially difficult and testing times for the country and, indeed, for the wider European Union. It is also to be hoped that the new President will be a person who will play a role in furthering good relations between North and South, and will present a positive and hopeful image of Ireland on the international stage.

These are all qualities which, to a large extent, relate to the candidates’ personalities as well as to their achievements in the past and their abilities. Now, as ever, a strong, trusted and highly regarded figure is needed to fulfil the ‘first citizen’ role of an Irish President, an office of undoubtedly great privilege and distinction.