Higgins win is a cause for national celebration

The seven-year presidency of Michael D Higgins will see transformations that he will not welcome, but which he will be powerless to influence. By Vincent Browne.

There will be the 1916 centenary celebration, the celebration of the assertion of Irish national sovereignty at a time when our sovereignty is compromised beyond the contemplation of those involved in the 1916 Rising. It has been compromised by a generation of rulers (politicians and the banking and business elite) through their incompetence, their reckless indifference to the public welfare and a culture of entrepreneurship with attendant inequalities that they nurtured assiduously.

One entrepreneur was almost elected to the presidency. Not that Seán Gallagher was personally to blame for the banking and financial collapse, but he spoke the lingo of entrepreneurship, with its bland ''positivities'' and its un-spoken cruelties, its carelessness with following rules and regulations, its calculated obfuscations and its embeddedness in the political party that brought about the downfall.

This is the party that spoke proudly of its ethos in the spirit of 1916. Ironically, the prospect of a president from Ireland Inc was avoided through the initiative of another cult figure from Ireland Inc, a petrol-smuggler.

That brush with the unthinkable is not all that will unsettle Michael D.

There is the looming consolidation of our loss of sovereignty by the new designs being devised in Berlin in the form of a new EU treaty, to which we will be required to give endorsement under threat of ''or else''. That treaty that will make permanent our vassal state that was defined in the EU-IMF agreement of 11 months ago.

Last Wednesday afternoon, before she set about to return to Brussels, Angela Merkel spoke to the German Bundestag, from which she was required to seek a mandate for what she was about to offer in Brussels.

Bizarrely, the German parliament controls the German government and insists on holding the government to account, which must be very annoying for the government. Several members of that parliament insisted that every new financial commitment made by the government to save the eurozone must be debated and agreed in the German parliament. It is there, not in the European Parliament or any other national parliament, that the future of Europe will be played out in the coming months and years.

Merkel acknowledged the pain of the austerity being inflicted on the people of Greece, and hurriedly went on to say that any assistance to Greece had to be accompanied by ''strict conditions'' (ie even more pain) and also a permanent oversight. She said that any long-term resolution of the crisis must involve EU treaty changes that will institutionalise permanent oversight of all EU economies, an over-sight that will inevitably apply Germanic rigour to the conduct of economic and fiscal policy.

The nature of the EU has changed dramatically over the last few months. There is now no disguising that all major EU decisions are taken not at the Council of Ministers, and still less by the European Parliament (does it still exist and, if so, why?).

Decisions are taken not by the European Council (the meetings of the heads of government), but by Germany, at times in a ritual consultation with France.

The mechanisms of the European Union have been set aside. While they may be revived in the next while, they will only be given life again at the indulgence of Merkel, who will be constrained only by her meddlesome parliament.

Michael D will preside over an office that has only ceremonial significance, over a state that will have only ceremonial authority.

There was a disappointment during the campaign that Michael D did not speak with that sulphuric passion so characteristic of him about the vulgarities, injustices and inequities of our society, about the culture of Ireland Inc that has brought us to this wretched predicament.

It might have been wondrous, too, to have heard him in full flight against the barbarities being inflicted on the people of Libya by Nato, under the guise of saving the people of Libya from other barbarities, and the drone-inflicted massacre of people from Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq by our American friends.

He might not have won the presidency had he done so, but he might have revived our spirit and awakened us to the awfulness that has evolved. And it would have been a campaign about something that mattered, instead of a campaign that hardly mattered. But Michael D is no fumbler in the greasy till.

He represents the best of our spirit, the best of our sense of solidarity, the joy of our culture, its richness and humour. It would be great if he avoided the self-importance he sometimes exuded when he was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

His wife, Sabina, will be an enhancement of the presidency and the nation. Michael D is sui generis, a one-off. His election is a cause for national celebration. A pity Angela Merkel won't permit that.

Image top: The Labour Party.