03/10/2011 - Analysis
3.1 million Irish are being convened to vote for the second time this year. After having renewed the Chamber of Representatives (Dail Eireann), the Lower Chamber in Parliament, on 25th February they will elect the successor to Mary Patricia McAleese to the presidency of the Republic on 27th October next. Elected for the first time on 30th October 1997 with 45.2% of the vote (as Fianna Fail's candidate, she won ahead of the then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds in the race to be appointed as the party's candidate)); she was then re-elected in October 2004. The only candidate standing (on her own nomination, as stipulated in article 12.4.4 of the 1937 Constitution – Bunreacht na hEireann – for heads of State in office) for the supreme office when nominations were finalised, she was appointed without having to stand before the population. Born in Belfast, Mary Patricia McAleese was the first president of the Republic of Ireland to come from Northern Ireland, and is the third to have undertaken two consecutive terms in office, the last one dating back to, Eamon de Valera the father of the Irish nation, who was in office as Head of State from 1959 to 1973.
The President of the Republic has done a great deal of work to bring the communities living in the country together and has given a great amount of encouragement to the reconciliation and peace process between Catholics and Protestants living in Northern Ireland. In 1998 she caused a mini diplomatic incident by accepting to receive communion in an Anglican church. From 17th to 20th May last she hosted the British Queen Elizabeth II who was visiting Ireland, an all time first since the foundation of the Republic of Ireland.
At the beginning of 2011 Fine Gael (FG), in office at present, suggested the organisation of a referendum on the extension of voting rights to the election of the Irish presidency to the British population living in Northern Ireland. Prime Minister Enda Kenny's party states that if a native of Ulster can become President of the Republic of Ireland then it was normal for the Irish in Northern Ireland to be able to elect the head of the Irish State. The far left nationalist party, Sinn Fein (SF), said it supported the vote of the Irish from Northern Ireland in the presidential election.
The Presidential Function
The President of the Republic of Ireland is elected in the so-called alternative vote for a 7 year mandate that can be renewed once. Any Irish citizen aged at least 35 can stand for the post. All candidates have to have the signatures of 20 members of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) or that of at least four County Councils or of four town councils. The former heads of State (or the outgoing president of the Republic) are the only ones to be exempted from this.
In 1997 two of the five candidates, Derek Nally and Dana Rosemary Scallon, succeeded in putting forward their bids with the support of the counties, a first in the country's history.
Although the president of the Republic only has representative power, he can however refuse to dissolve the Dail Eireann. Indeed, according to the Constitution the Taoiseach has to resign if he loses the support of his parliamentary majority. He can however ask the Head of State to dissolve the Chamber of Representatives. The latter is then allowed to refuse this request, in which case the Prime Minister has to resign.
7 people are running for the presidency of the Republic of Ireland, which is a record for this election.
Gay Mitchell, MEP, will represent the party in office, Fine Gael. On 9th July last he won during a vote within his party, taking 54% of the votes ahead of MP Mairead McGuinness, who won 46% of the votes. Previously Gay Mitchell was preferred to the former President of the European Parliament (2002-2004), Pat Cox who suffered for having been a Fianna Fail, then Progressive Democratic Party member – which disbanded on 20th November 2009 – before finally joining Fine Gael.
The second candidate supported by a political party is Michael Higgins, poet, former Arts and Culture Minister (1994-1997) and chair of the Labour Party, a member of the government coalition in office. With 37 votes he pushed ahead of former Labour Party advisor Fergus Finlay (18 votes) and former Senator Kathleen O'Meara (7 votes) during the nomination vote of the candidate for the supreme office within her party in June last.
On 18th September Martin McGuinness, Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland was appointed as the Sinn Fein candidate in the presidential election. Martin McGuinness was a militant in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) for thirty years, from the beginning of the 1970's until 1998 and one of the actors in the peace agreement, the so-called Good Friday Agreement – signed on 10th April 1998 between the nationalist Catholic parties and the Protestant Unionists of Northern Ireland (and ratified by referendum on 23rd May in the same year by 71% of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland and 85% of the Irish from the Republic). This text put an end to three decades of violence between the two communities, Protestant and Catholic, in a war that cost 3,400 people their lives between 1969 and 1997. The Good Friday Agreement also led to the formation of a government rallying the Protestant Unionists, loyal to the British crown, and the Catholic Nationalists, supporters of a united Ireland.
Martin McGuinness worked hard to achieve Sinn Fein's acceptance of the peace agreement. He also played a major role in the IRA's decision to sign a permanent cease-fire and to destroy its stock of arms. "I joined the IRA, I have never denied it, the conditions and circumstances that led me into it are no different from those that made Michael Collins, Tom Barry, Eamon de Valera and Nelson Mandela to take up arms against injustice that existed in their time,
" declared Martin McGuinness adding, "I greatly regret the fact that so many people died – British soldiers, IRA volunteers, men of the UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment) and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), innocent civilians – in the 25 years of fighting.
Martin McGuinness says he is a progressive candidate of a wide progressive movement that extends the party to which he belongs.
"He has all the qualities necessary to be a political leader: a deep love of Ireland, its people, and more importantly, a vision for the future of this nation,
" declared Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams as he spoke of Martin McGuinness. "I want to use my power to build bridges and unite people on this island based on the peace process,
" declared the candidate. Martin McGuinness's presence in the Irish Presidential election offers Sinn Fein a chance to undertake an electoral campaign across all of Ireland. This might however weaken the Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland's position in places where his opponents may highlight the fact that he privileges his desire for the reunification of Ireland in relation to the Ulster peace process. The presence of the former IRA officer turned craftsman of the peace process between the Protestants and Catholics in Ulster amongst the pretenders to the Aras an Uachtarain (the name of the residence of the Irish Head of State) has been the source of dispute in Ireland. The Chief of Justice, Alan Shatter, expressed his doubts about the candidature of the Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to the presidency of the Republic. "I think that many will look at his chequered past as inappropriate for someone who is to be the commander in chief of our armies, but it is up to the electorate to choose;
" he declared adding, "I do not believe that someone who boycotted Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland can stand as a reconciler.
" Martin McGuinness is asking the Irish to judge him on the role he played in the peace process rather than on his past.
The other four candidates are standing as independents.
Sean Gallagher is a company head known as one of the heroes of the TV programme broadcast by RTEI, Ireland's Dragons' Den. He decided not to use electoral posters during his campaign, qualifying the posters as a "waste of taxpayers' money.
Mary Davis, the organiser of the Summer Olympic Games in 2003 was appointed to he Council of State in 2004. "The Irish are ready for another Mary,
" she declared; referring to the outgoing head of State Mary Patricia McAleese and former President Mary Robinson (1990-1997).
Dana Rosemary Scallon is running for the second time in the presidential eleciton. The unfortunate candidate in the election on 30th October 1997 in which she won 13.8% of the vote and finishing 3rd, she was finally elected to the European Parliament in 1999. Dana Rosemary Scallon is famous for having enabled Ireland to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970 with the song All Kinds of Everything.
Finally, David Norris, a Dublin Senator, a James Joyce specialist and known for being the first homosexual to have been elected to public office in Ireland, is also running. David Norris first made a bid to run before being forced to withdraw from the race at the beginning of August after it was revealed that in 1997 he had written a letter requesting clemency addressed to an Israeli court in support of his former partner, Ezra Nawi, who had been found guilty of raping a boy fifteen previously. Some weeks later he decided to re-enter the race in response according in his own opinion to "the demand of his electorate
". "If I can make a come-back like this then the country can also make its own and I hope that I will be the one to lead it at that moment,
" declared David Norris.
The senator owes his return in part to the chair of the Labour Party, Michael Higgins who encouraged the councillors of Dublin to grant their support to independent David Norris and help him stand in the presidential election "in the interest of democracy
", he said.
The main opposition party, Fianna Fail (FF) decided not to put anyone forward in the presidential election. In office in Ireland from 1997 to 2011 and in coalition with the Progressive Democratic Party (PD), it achieved its worst result in its history in the early general elections that took place on 25th February last (17.4% of the vote), losing 24.2 points and 57 of its 77 seats compared to the previous election on 24th May 2007.
Its leader Micheal Martin supported his party's participation in the presidential election. "If we are a serious party, we will stand in the elections,
" he declared. Criticised for having delayed in taking decisions and for having allowed division to reign over the party, he finally gave up and chose to focus on the reconstruction of Fianna Fail.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (1997-2008) had said for a time that he might stand for the supreme office before withdrawing. He said he would support the Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell in the election on 27th October next.
Just one month before the presidential election, David Norris is in the lead in all polls in which he is due to win around 21% of the vote. He is followed by Labour Party candidate, Michael Higgins with 18% and Martin McGuinness with 16%. Dana Rosemary Scallon is running last.