SO FAR, ALMOST the entire debate regarding the upcoming presidential election has revolved around personality. This is perhaps understandable. Independent candidates can only gain a place on the ballot paper by convincing local authorities or members of the Oireachtas to nominate them, whilst party political candidates must take part in internal contests for a nomination.
These processes inevitably direct focus onto the individual seeking nomination rather than the role of the presidency itself. In addition, the withdrawal from the race by David Norris – and the lead up to this decision – has completely dominated the media in all forms. The combination of all of these factors has resulted in plenty of focus on the candidates but far less focus on what they would do if honoured with the position of President.
This should change. The President plays an important role in Irish life. Choosing a person for this office is an important decision, especially today.
Ireland’s next president will be head of a changed State. One which, until recently, naively thought that it was at the zenith of its powers. One which, for the foreseeable future, will have to manage the consequences of past decisions as best it can. One which must now go through a period of ‘warts and all’ self-assessment so that economic recovery is coupled with social renewal.
In short, the next president will hold office at a time when we all are coping with the catastrophic mistakes of our recent past whilst rebuilding our fractured economy and society anew. This is a mammoth task. The presidential debate should now focus on the individual views of each of the candidates concerning the role of the President and the part they can play in this work in the years ahead.
Of course, the next president – like all Irish heads of state – will operate within a defined constitutional mandate. The President’s primary role will be, as always, to uphold the Constitution and all work and engagements that he or she undertakes will be in close agreement with the government.
Equality and fairness
The powers of the President may be limited but this should not mean that there should be no discussion at all on what a president can achieve. Despite the constitutional parameters of the office, we should recognise that the office of the president can have a real impact in a range of ways, both in national and international work on our behalf.
So, how would candidates for the presidency use the role to represent Ireland on the international stage? How would they help to encourage communities that have been hit hard by the recession to regroup and rebuild? And, how would they uphold principles of equality and fairness – set out in our Constitution – and amplify these qualities in all that they do?
I believe a greater focus on these issues is now warranted, and would benefit the ongoing campaign.
For my part, I am firmly of the view that the voice of the President, as an advocate for Ireland as a destination for inward investment, should be used. I would like to lead an enhanced number of international trade missions to bring a message to our current and future trading partners that Ireland is rebuilding and renewing itself. I would also like to use the Presidency to be an advocate for global justice as, for me, Irish Aid is one of the strongest manifestations of what it means to be Irish on the world stage.
At home, I would like to strongly encourage community development. This is something that I have been involved in for all my working life, from the start of my time working with children and adults with a disability. I know that change does not happen overnight, but is built – person by person – over time.
This is the kind of debate that I would like to engage in and that I think the voters would benefit from. There is a job of work to do in this country in the years ahead. The President – as someone who seeks to encapsulate and articulate the spirit of our nation – can and must play an especially important role in this work in the years ahead.
Mary Davis is an Independent candidate for the presidency.