We are lucky to have Higgins as a candidate

We are lucky to have the option of voting for Michael D, given the calibre of the alternatives. By Vincent Browne.

Martin McGuinness is the best-qualified person to be president of Ireland. His first qualification, which distinguishes him from all the other candidates, is that he doesn’t want to be president, thereby confirming a psychological normality, which perhaps is an asset, even in the presidency.

That any normal being, who is not a retiree, should want to hold an office which is 99.9% ceremonial is incomprehensible, unless they think they can ‘expand’ the office in away that very probably would cause a constitutional crisis. Mary Robinson thought she could ‘expand’ the office, and she tried - but at grave risk. Mary McAleese reverted the office to its traditional inconsequence, albeit with an illusion of relevance. I do not know McGuinness, but it is unthinkable that he would want an irrelevant office in preference to the very relevant office which he holds as deputy first minister in the North.

One can assume only that he is running for the presidency as a way of legitimising Sinn Féin and boosting its profile. He has certainly done the latter, but maybe not much legitimising. I assume he agreed to stand in the election on the assurance that he had no chance of winning. That assurance is assured. Aside from that, he has by far the most substantial achievement of any of the candidates - the success of the peace negotiations in which he played a leading part, and the success of the power-sharing arrangement between the DUP and Sinn Féin, in which he has also played the leading part. He is personable, able, clever and, at this stage of his career, domesticated - by which I mean he has adopted the mindset, assumptions and manners of our society’s power elites.

So, no problems with McGuinness in the Áras. McGuinness is also the least qualified candidate for the presidency because of his inextricable association with a litany of horrific atrocities in the course of the Northern Ireland conflict. Even accepting his own story of what he has been up to since he supposedly left the IRA in 1974, as a senior member of Sinn Féin, clearly with enormous influence on the IRA, he was an apologist and facilitator of the IRA.

Never once in all those years did he condemn the abominations that were perpetrated by his close comrades. Instead, along with his associates, he indulged in sneering at ‘the politics of condemnation’. Not until he became a presidential candidate did he condemn any of the outrages perpetrated by the IRA - not a whisper of condemnation when that might have contained the slaughter.

There is now a real prospect that we may elect a person as cliched, achievement-lite and redolent of the ‘going forward’, ‘rolling out’, ‘heads-up’ bull manure that was the lingo of the boom, as Seán Gallagher has emerged as frontrunner.

Aside from that, he is infected with the Fianna Fáil virus, to the extent that he was unable last Wednesday night to utter a word of criticism, even of the policies that have ravaged this country. He did so last Thursday to repay the damage of the previous night, but he was implausible. If we elect Gallagher as president, we certainly deserve the further odium and the ridicule of whatever bit of the world deigns to think about us any more - not that it matters anyway.

Aside from that, questions about his business dealings are swirling around the ether even as I write and, if he is elected, these won’t go away. Not that he would be a disaster as president, for there is nothing at all about him to suggest that he would want to do anything as president that would cause any trouble. Dana Rosemary Scallon is not credible and, it seems, not even to herself. Fine Gael is hoping Gay Mitchell will end up ahead of McGuinness, and there is no expectation he can do any better.

Mitchell is unexciting, which should be a qualification for the presidency, but it doesn’t run well in a campaign. David Norris might have won the presidency had he been able to contain his histrionics. A bit of colour mightn’t go amiss at the Áras, but not the Norris-scale melodramatics. It was that which got him into trouble. The unrestrained extravagance of his letters to Israeli officials on behalf of his former partner was more damaging than the representations themselves. The frenzy of his response to questions about those did him in.

And it’s just as well we found out about it before we elected him to the Áras. Seven years of non-stop, overblown schmaltz?

Mary Davis was credible for a while, but then the sweetness and opportunism of her bid for the office did her no favours, and she is now out of it. That leaves Michael D Higgins and, before I continue, I must acknowledge that we have been friends for a long time.

He has the advantages of being a retiree, being liked a lot, being measured, literate, inspirational at times, entertaining at times. He may be a bit prone to self-importance, but that is a small price to pay. We are lucky to have the option of voting for Michael D, given the calibre of the alternatives. We will be lucky to have him elected president.


 Image top: The Labour Party.