We are glad to see that a Presidential Election will be held in the Autumn/Early Winter.
The incumbent, Michael D Higgins, has certainly fulfilled his brief well but whether the prospective candidates yet to be officially endorsed can overcome his long-standing popularity with the general public remains to be seen. However, whoever is President beyond the election, we do feel that the office is in need of some review. Does the Head of State require a salary just shy of €285,000, €100,000 more than the Taoiseach? Surely not, given that the role of the President is primarily ceremonial. Surely the office of Taoiseach ought to be the highest remunerated political office in our State, and with that in mind, perhaps the time has come for not only a cost review of the Office of President, but of the entire office.
That’s not to say it should be scrapped: we are a constitutional Republic after all, which stipulates a President as Head of State and we believed that a national figurehead, operating outside and above politics, is a position worth retaining.
This newspaper has attended functions at the Áras and there’s no doubting it’s an impressive home for our President. But one wonders if a more humble abode than the former Viceregal Lodge, itself a product of our colonial past, might be considered in the future? A smaller residence for the President would mean less or re-designated staff and maybe this should also be considered if the office is to be re-modelled. One suspects a candidate who would do the job for a smaller salary would go down well with the electorate, but there’s little doubt that whoever eventually challenges Michael D Higgins faces a tall order when it comes to out-polling the current Uachtarán.
Two prospective candidates, Gavin Duffy and Joan Freeman, who both made their cases to Councillors in City Hall on Tuesday last, are well-known and have long-standing public records. But those records are likely to be scrutinised in a microscopic manner between now and the election if past campaigns offer any indication.
Sinn Féin, seeking to occupy an electoral space which Fianna Fáil are set to leave vacant for the second successive Presidential Election, will be running a candidate, and it will be interesting to see whom they eventually choose to run.
Whether anyone named or un-named can mount a realistic challenge to President Higgins remains to be seen. He has overseen the various centenary celebrations with aplomb and articulacy and would appear keen to mark those further pending centenary events, including the end of World War I, the War of Independence, the Civil War and the foundation of the State.
There have been occasions when his speeches had veered into overtly political ground and his statement following the death of Fidel Castro did elicit some controversy, but that soon blew over.
His Presidency has proven a worthy successor to both Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson’s terms of office and despite his age, no-one can seriously suggest that he has seen the role as a cushy retirement gig at the end of a distinguished life of public service. The Poet President has done his State some service, but it’s only right that he faces a contest, the first time since 1966 (President Eamon De Valera) an incumbent has had to stand for re-election.