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Column: David Norris on why an independent CAN and SHOULD run for the Áras

Senator David Norris writes for TheJournal.ie on the value of political independence in the presidential race.

Senator David Norris

AS HE EXPLAINED in his decision not to run for Irish presidency, Niall O’Dowd made astute observations on the challenges of being an independent candidate in that race. Pointing in particular to the difficulties of raising the substantial funds required to run a national campaign, Mr O’Dowd described the nomination process as “a complicated system which overwhelmingly favors the big guns in the main political parties”.

On this point he has not only my agreement, but – perhaps surprisingly – the agreement of the main political parties themselves; in 1998 a joint report on the mechanism of presidential nomination, describing this process as “unfair” and “undemocratic”, was endorsed by all parties.

Recommendations were made for improvement, including a reduction (20 down to 10) in Oireachtas member endorsements and the introduction of a mechanism of nomination via the validated signatures of ten thousand citizens. While these measures would do little to address the logistical and financial imbalances faced by independent candidates, it would go some way toward facilitating the entry of more independent candidates in the race, releasing the exclusive grip of the parties on the office.

It is my hope that the recommended changes will be made, and I believe future presidential election processes will be richer for the candidates it will encourage, but I have entered this race knowing the rules as they stand and I remain entirely confident.

In focusing on the struggles of being an independent candidate, the great benefits of it are overlooked

Niall O’Dowd is right to point to the challenges to be faced but I must wholeheartedly disagree with his main contention: “Quite simply I believe the race is not winnable for an independent, any independent, no matter what the current polls say because the dice is stacked.” In focusing on the struggles of being an independent candidate, the great benefits of it are overlooked. The advantages of independence and the tangible public appetite for it in the wake of discontentment with the party system are missed.

Independence in political life brings with it the privilege of being able to speak for the marginalised and those without a voice, and to champion causes which may be crucial to social progress but which lack the political capital which would encourage the parties to concern themselves with them.

Independence can be a great unifying attribute

I am proud to have been able to campaign for issues that only my independent status could allow, particularly in the area of human rights. As a backbench Senator, that took the form of debate and polemic. As President, that same independence of thought is applied in leading a discussion rather than spearheading an argument, extending a conversation to the people of Ireland and beyond it as their representative.

Independence can be a great unifying attribute; opening up the possibility of creating strong and non-antagonistic networks for dialogue across all parties, tiers of government, and internationally, as I have done in my own political career.

Right now, Ireland needs an active and positive President who is enthusiastic about the virtues of our country. We need to begin to foster a sense of national wellbeing. We are still a great nation with a vast and continuing legacy of global contribution. We did not stop being so three years ago with the change in economic fortunes; we remain a determined, spirited and ingenious people. And if we are being true to ourselves, we need an independent voice to articulate that.

The office of President does not and should not belong to the parties

We need a President who will not answer to a party, but to the people; one who will speak for and listen to them.

The dice may be stacked and the challenge incredible, as Niall O’Dowd asserts, but I have entered this contest knowing the rules and have never been shy of a challenge. The office of President does not and should not belong to the parties. The Presidency belongs to the people of Ireland. It is an office which transcends partisan politics and one to which a candidate with a history of independent thought, speech and action is aptly suited.

I am certain that I have the qualities required of the office and am confident in the will of the electorate to see me there; to make a statement to the world that an optimistic, honest and – crucially – independent first citizen is one who truly represents the nature of the Irish people.

Read: Niall O’Dowd on why being an emigrant has made him a threat to Ireland’s elite>

Read: Norris leads Mitchell and Higgins in latest presidential poll>

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Senator David Norris

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