Article from the Oct 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Joe Higgins Column - abolish the Irish Presidency!

EVENTS AROUND the appointment of a President for the next seven years have degenerated into farce.

After initially throwing some shapes in the direction of putting candidates forward, the Labour and Green parties limped off the field before the match started. Fine Gael had already declared that they would not even show up.

Meanwhile right wing independent candidate Dana whined her way around the County Councils denouncing the equally right- wing political establishment for blocking her attempt to get four County Councils to nominate her to contest the election.

The Presidency is an establishment institution, largely ceremonial, with no real meaning for working people. Occasionally we hear patronising comments that the President can reach out to people who are marginalised in society. Where there is poverty or marginalisation, real social and economic investment is needed, not gushing rhetoric from a figurehead who arrives in a luxury motorcade and is whisked away again as quickly.

In September President Mary McAleese rang a parliamentary representative of each registered political party "as a courtesy" to let their parties know that she would nominate herself and be an "independent" candidate.

It was highly unusual for a member of the Socialist Party to receive a call, however brief, from a leading establishment figure. However, I informed the President that we considered the Presidency to be superfluous and that it should be abolished!

The process for securing a nomination to stand is highly undemocratic. Requiring either 20 signatures from members of the Dail or Seanad on the one hand, or the nomination of four County Councils on the other, it was designed to restrict the candidates to representatives of the political establishment.

It reveals much about the nature of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party that none were prepared to contest the election. The reason given is that the incumbent Mary McAleese is "unbeatable" and that therefore it would be a waste of resources and money to contest.

But if these parties believed they had a genuine alternative to the political establishment in terms of ideas and a political and economic programme, they would welcome the opportunity of having a public debate. They would welcome the opportunity of putting their alternative against the traditional capitalist governments irrespective of the expected result. In any case, it is completely wrong to say months before an election that the result is a foregone conclusion, since an intense campaign has its own dynamic and if there was a genuine alternative well fought, major upsets could be possible.

The results of the 1990 Presidential Election were significant in certain ways. The candidate supported by the Labour Party, Mary Robinson, was not a socialist by any means, but she represented for many people rejection of the hypocritical and reactionary social policies of Fianna Fil in particular, then under the leadership of Charles Haughey. The defeat of the right wing candidates was significant and also foreshadowed the big gains that the Labour Party made in the 1992 General Election on an anti-corruption, anti-Fianna Fail platform. Of course the then Labour Party leader, Dick Spring, criminally within four weeks put the same Fianna Fil back in government.

If it was possible for any citizen or group to put forward a candidate for a Presidential election without restriction, the Socialist Party could well decide to put forward a candidate on a radical socialist programme. In current circumstances that would mean, apart from the abolition of the office itself, mobilising on key issues now confronting working people in Ireland and the world at large.

Opposition to the rampant privatisation agenda of the Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat government and a defence in particular of Aer Lingus, Aer Rianta and Dublin Bus as publicly owned companies would be central. So would opposition to the imperialist invasion of Iraq and the collaboration of the Irish government with the occupation by giving the U.S. military facilities at Shannon. It would mean fighting on all the issues of the day and advancing a socialist alternative, nationally and internationally, to capitalist globalisation.

Other columns by Joe

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