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President for life?

Wednesday, 11th July, 2018 5:12pm

On Tuesday, President Michael D Higgins announced his predicted intention to seek a second term in the office.

Although he had said in the lead up to the first election seven years ago that he would be a one-term president, this move was certainly expected.

Some people on social media asked whether anyone cared about a presidential election, bar a few reporters. Does anyone else care? Given President Higgins’ ongoing popularity, it’s probable that very few other people do actually care.

I think most people would say he has done a good job. He’s brought a tremendous warmth and humanity to the role.

He has traversed around the borders of what is politically acceptable in the role, sometimes straying well beyond that.

His tribute to Fidel Castro upon his death in November 2016 was roundly criticised. He said:

“Fidel Castro will be remembered as a giant among global leaders whose view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet.”

He later went on to become the first Irish head of state to visit Communist Cuba.

He also further improved Anglo-Ireland relations when he took the first state visit by an Irish head of state to Britain in 2014 and was praised for his deft handling of that and various royal visits by the British family.

An academic, an intellectual and a poet, as well as being a politician, he has brought a different sensibility to the office.

Among most of the major political parties, there appears to be little appetite for another election. This might be partially due to the recent referendum on the Eighth Amendment, but more likely due to their wanting to save money ahead of a possibly imminent general election.

A number of potential candidates have previously declared their interest in seeking a nomination, including Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell, Senator Padraig Ó Céidigh and Senator Joan Freeman.

On Tuesday it was reported that former Presidential candidate and businessmen Sean Gallagher had written to al local authorities asking that they schedule meetings to discuss nominations of presidential candidates.

Other candidates will need the backing of either 20 members of the Oireachas or four local authorities should they decide to contest the election.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin confirmed last month that his party would back President Higgins should he seek a second term in the Áras. Fine Gael last night did the same while Labour are likely to follow.

The fly in the ointment is likely to be Sinn Féin. On Saturday the party will make a decision as to whether it will put forward a presidential candidate.

I have no particular appetite to see another election; there will be another soon enough.

I think the warmth and low key style he has brought to the office has made him an excellent statesman and representative of the Irish people. He is, generally, in touch with the feelings of most of the people.

But should he become President again without a contested election? I don’t know, and I’ve thought about it a lot.

I can’t make my mind up. Perhaps the people should decide.

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