One could hardly blame the Irish public for feeling confused at the latest developments surrounding the forthcoming Presidential Election.
In scenes reminiscent of Lanigan’s Ball, one stepped in again, as Independent candidate, Senator David Norris announced his re-entry into the race, one stepped out as Senator Labhras O’Murchu withdrew his name as a prospective candidate, and two others joined the fray - just over a week before nominations close.
The most controversial of the new hopefuls must surely be Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness who has insisted that he will be a people’s President and will be a first citizen for a new republic in a new time.
In what will be a popular move, should he be elected, he has indicated that he will merely draw the average industrial wage and will donate the bulk of the President’s salary to the Irish people. That is a laudatory commitment in the times in which we live and will add to his stature amongst his supporters.
However, he also states that he is determined to remain focused on the future, though some people may try to drag him back into the past. He has pointed to his role as a peacemaker in recent years and expresses his pride at the relationship he has developed in the North’s power sharing executive.
It may not be quite that simple for Mr. McGuinness. Yes, his role as peacemaker in recent years has been significant but so too his role during the Troubles in Northern Ireland is very much a part of his past. He will face searching questions during the tenure of the Presidential campaign and it behoves him to respond to the queries put to him so that the electorate can make an informed judgement when going to the polls. Though Mr. McGuinness may wish to focus on the times ahead one suspects that issues from that past will be very much a part of this campaign. It is highly unlikely that his political opponents will confine the debate to the Sinn Fein man’s plans going forward and that is something he must be fully prepared for.
The entire campaign has been fraught with controversy for Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin. Initially he had sought to support the potential candidacy of television and radio Presenter, Gay Byrne, then decided that Fianna Fail should not enter the race before one of the party’s own, Cashel man, Labhras O’Murchu sought his Oireachtas colleagues’ support to stand as an Independent. He had requested a free vote within Fianna Fail to facilitate his entry into the Presidential election but announced yesterday that he was withdrawing from the contest.
The dithering that has prevailed within Fianna Fail has done little to rebuild its reputation in the aftermath of its meltdown in the last General Election. The party seems to lurch from crisis to crisis, be in denial and unable to accept that decisions it made were the catalyst for the public verdict when it came to the results of the general election poll. It is well past time that definitive decisions were made, adhered to and accepted.
There is little doubt that this is turning out to be one of the most controversial and interesting Presidential Elections in quite some time. It is also one of the most bizarre and it is of paramount importance at this point, with just weeks to go to the poll, that the public have a clear and unequivocal picture of who precisely is being presented to them as a credible occupant of this auspicious office, what the aspirations of the hopefuls are and how they will represent this country as its head of state.