My Guide to the Irish Presidential Election

Possibly because we haven’t had a presidential election for 14 years, this election season has so far been utterly mad. The election is set for Oct. 27, and as of now, the candidates include a Eurovision winner, a reality TV personality, and a former terrorist. Click through for an introduction to the madness, in which My Opinions, You Will Hear Them.

First, the background! The President of the Republic of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann in the first official language) serves for seven years; they live in the Áras in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. Their authority is required to formalise and dissolve the Irish government, and they alone can refer legislation to the Supreme Court. They also issue invitations to other heads of state and formally host their visits here, and they act as a spokesperson and ambassador for the Republic of Ireland internationally. Basically it’s as though we have a monarch who we get to elect.

For the past 14 years, Mary McAleese has been the President; before her, there was Mary Robinson (you may remember I’ve mentioned her before). However, as Mary II has now served the maximum time, we need a new president. The nomination deadline is Sept. 28, and candidates can be nominated for election in two ways: by at least 20 members of the Oireachtas (i.e., 20 members of either house of parliament – the Dáil or the Seanad (Senate)) or by at least four local authorities (i.e.: city or county councils).

Each Oireachtas member and local authority has only one vote: once they have nominated one candidate, they can’t nominate any more. The former way is how political parties nominate their candidates: the latter is usually regarded as the easier route for independent candidates. You also can’t go halfsies on the nomination process; it’s one or other. Voters, however, use Proportional Representation: we vote in order of preference. Currently, there are five definite candidates and two more who are yet to be nominated:

L-R: Gay Mitchell, Mary Davis, Michael D Higgins, Seán Gallagher (image from sciencecalling.com)

Gay Mitchell (nominated by the Fine Gael party): an MEP for Dublin, former TD and cabinet Minister, career politician. A pro-life candidate in the Catholic sense of the phrase, i.e. anti-death penalty as well as anti-abortion. He has also written letters of clemency for Death Row prisoners convicted of rape and murder (this will become important for a little compare-and-contrast later on). Frankly, he doesn’t share enough of my values to get my first few votes. Also, I’m not voting for a candidate whose slogan is almost exactly the same as another candidate’s.

Mary Davis (nominated by five local authorities): I had never heard of her before the presidential race opened, but according to her homepage, she has a reasonably impressive CV: Development Officer at Special Olympics International, appointee to the Irish Council of State, former chair of the St. Patrick’s Festival, and serves on the board of the International Women’s Forum. However, she’s never had to get herself elected publically before, and I don’t know much about her political views.  Also, I’m not voting for a candidate whose slogan is almost exactly the same as”¦ yeah, see what happened there? And on a totally shallow note, I don’t think we need yet another president called Mary, but she still might get one of my top three votes.

Michael D. Higgins (nominated by the Labour party): Michael D., as he’s known, has been a Senator, TD (first elected in 1981), and most notably was the first Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht. He’s also a poet. Out of the existing candidates, he’s the one I have the least hesitation about voting for: he’s not exciting, but he shares most of my core values (filthy liberal that I am) and he is not likely to make a show of us on the international stage; he might even get a book of poems out of it.

Seán Gallagher (nominated by four local authorities and some Oireachtas members): I had to go and look up this guy’s name, that’s how little I know or care about him. He’s a businessman who built up a bit of a profile for himself on TV’s Dragon’s Den and has also worked as a campaign manager for Fianna Fáil candidates. He gets points for encouraging local authorities not to give him further nominations as he already has his – but his is the slimmest CV of all the candidates, so it’s a no from me, Seán.

Martin McGuinness (nominated by the Sinn Féin party and several independents): a former member of the Provisional IRA, long-time member of Sinn Féin, and most recently Minister for Education and Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

If you really want to make me angry, mentioning this man as a possible Uachtaráin na hÉireann is the most recent and effective way to do it. For someone who only declared his candidacy last week, he’s already made an arse of himself; he wants people in Northern Ireland to have a vote in the presidential election in the future (Northern Ireland, remember, is a part of the United Kingdom). And just today, he blamed Irish media questions about his IRA past on “West Brit elements in Dublin,” a sectarian insult that does not bode well for future diplomatic relations with Britain (he also refused to meet the Queen of England on her visit to Ireland earlier this year).

It’s not that McGuinness is not from the Republic of Ireland – Mary McAleese was born and raised in Belfast. There’s even a precedent for a former paramilitary as President (I’d tell Éamon de Valera to stand up now, if he was still alive, as he was President from 1959 to 1973 and a former member of the IRB). But a man who is both Northern Irish and a former member of the IRA, and also a likely killer…

The question, to put it starkly, is whether we should have a head of State who would, in principle, be liable to arrest for war crimes under international law. ““ Fintan O’Toole

As well as someone who was unable to get himself elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in his home city (Derry), and has had his whole career in Northern Ireland, and just resigned from an actual position of power in a democratic body that he fought (in several senses of the word) for decades to establish in order to compete for a largely ceremonial position in a state that isn’t his own… well. I don’t have a word for how far away McGuinness can fuck off with himself.

“Dana” Rosemary Scallon (not yet nominated): former MEP for Connacht-Ulster (1999-2004), she’s mostly famous for winning the Eurovision in 1970, failing at a previous presidential run (1997), and being uber-Catholic. Last month, she was said to be “considering” her candidacy and told us she’d let us know when she got back from her holidays. How nice of her. She officially declared on Monday, has the support of just one Oireachtas member so far, and is competing with David Norris for the last remaining nominations. Suffice to say I won’t be voting for her even if she does succeed in getting nominated. Also, she’s highly likely to get offended if she’s ever confused with fellow former Eurovision winner, Dana International.

David Norris (not yet nominated): Norris’ campaign for nomination and election began way ahead of everyone else’s, and he enjoyed strong public opinion support from the start. He’s a well-known figure in Dublin in particular as an independent Senator since 1987, patron of the arts, and Ulysses aficionado. He’s also a prominent campaigner for gay rights (and is gay himself) and the most socially liberal of all the candidates with debatable competition from Michael D.

His original campaign was damaged by two things: one, an old interview with a journalist in which she quoted him as condoning the sexual abuse of children during a conversation about the sexual mores of Ancient Greece; and two, the revelation that in 1992 he had written a letter of clemency for his former partner, Ezra Yizhak, an Israeli campaigner for Palestinian civil rights, who was convicted of statutory rape in Israel. Both “revelations” had the whiff of homophobia about them (not helped by some media outlets referring to Yizhak as Norris’s “lover”) but nevertheless brought up enough doubt and debate to result in his campaign team resigning and forcing him to withdraw from the presidential race (even though Gay Mitchell has written letters of clemency for those convicted of worse crimes). However, a concerted campaign by his supporters and consistent polls showing strong support for his candidacy brought him back into the race last week.

At risk of sounding tokenistic, it would be amazing to draw a line under the old Ireland with a gay, Protestant president, however although Norris has the nominations of 17 Oireachtas members and one county council (Fingal), time is running out for him to get either three more county councils or Oireachtas members to nominate him. There are seven more independents who have yet to declare for any candidate, as well as all Fianna Fáil members who may or may not be allowed to vote for a candidate of their choice (FF have decided not to put their own candidate forward after the disaster of their defeat in the general election earlier this year). Fine Gael county councillors have been told to abstain from local authority votes, which may also help Norris and Scallon

Before he resigned, Norris would have been my top candidate: however, I was very disappointed with how he handled the accusations against him and by his resignation. I don’t know if he’ll get my number one. On the other hand, despite his past mistakes, he’s infinitely preferable to Martin McGuinness:

Other names that have been muttered during the summer were Gay Byrne, former TV and radio chat show presenter, national institution, oddball; Micheál Ó’Muircheartaigh, sports commentator; and Miriam O’Callaghan, also a TV presenter. The fictional character Ross O’Carroll-Kelly is also running a campaign via his Twitter account, slogan: Fuck-all done, fuck-all to do – which at least promises to be more entertaining than the other candidates’. But in the main, I’m feeling disillusioned and entirely uninspired by this election.

So, have I totally confused you yet? And if you had the choice, who would you vote for?

For more fun and games, the Twitter tag for the election is #aras11.

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