Real debate needed over presidential election

Even before they start their Third Level or working lives, the 55,000 students who received their Leaving Cert results last Wednesday have done the people of the State a service. Acres of coverage of their achievements meant that, yesterday, most of the main national newspapers, including The Mail, were Presidential campaign free zones. What a relief.

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that very many of our citizens have already succumbed to presidential campaign fever fatigue. No wonder, for why should they tolerate being force fed coverage by the square kilometre of an office for which the main qualifications are that the incumbent be able to warmly shake hands, look solemn while walking up and down ceremonial lines of stern faced soldiers and sound sincere during the endless recitation of pious platitudes.

News editors looking to fill blank pages while many of the usual news makers are on holiday, will probably mean the respite will be short lived. Still it gives an opportunity to reflect on the absurdity that is the office of President of Ireland. And the hypocrisy of the political establishment toward that office.

The three political parties that have dominated political life in the State since its inception have colluded in a major deception surrounding the presidency. They proclaim loudly that the office is ‘above politics’ even as they frantically jockey for political advantage in trying to get their man or woman into the official residence in the Phoenix Park.

Each party will claim that their candidate embodies the values and policies that Ireland needs for the future. However even if this were true, no matter which candidate wins, once ensconced in the position, nothing meaningful can be heard about a future direction for the country since the President is constitutionally mandated to sing dumb on such issues. Should the President have any brilliant new insights into how the problems of our society might be overcome, they can never be communicated to the electorate because of a government ban – constitutionally provided for.

There is an argument that the presidency serves as a link for the diaspora, the millions of Irish born people abroad and their descendants. We should maintain solidarity with our people around the world, many of whom forced out by the failures of Irish capitalism, but we could do so with an Ambassador for the Diaspora, at a fraction of the cost and without the sham contest now going on.

And it is a sham, and highly undemocratic, since nomination procedures mean people will get to vote only for candidates who have been vetted by the political establishment. This is a time honoured, cynical ploy utilised by political elites the world over from the now defunct Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union to the ruling clique in present day Kazakhstan. For appearances a few token independents are allowed on to the ballot paper but nobody who stands for anything different or threatens the ruling establishment.

A measure of the irrelevancy of the campaign to date is that not one of the four declared candidates has had anything different to say on the critical economic crisis that is causing havoc in the lives of an enormous number of our people. Nothing about the immorality or unfairness of the Irish people being saddled with the crushing private debts of financial speculators and speculating developers. Nothing about the resulting catastrophic policy of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail, based on savage austerity and resulting in keeping almost half a million workers unemployed.

These are issues that will plague us for very many years to come. How these issues are dealt with will determine the future shape of Irish society. That includes whether tens of thousands of young people will be able to make a livelihood in their own country or be forced to emigrate. Surely any campaign for what is supposed to be the highest office in the land that doesn’t deal with them is a fraud and a waste of time and resources.

The fact that no candidate of the Left can get a nomination will mean that there will not be anything that could be termed a real debate on real alternatives regarding these critical economic and social issues. Instead we will have a continuation of the mind numbing and meaningless ramblings and talk about ‘vision’ and ‘hope’, concepts that are abstract nothings when divorced from plans and policies to bring about fundamental change that could transform the lives of the very many whose hopes are routinely dashed on the wreck that is the present financial and economic system.

Instead of a Presidential election on October 27, let’s have a Referendum to abolish this establishment bauble and in the meantime a real debate on real issues and real solutions to the disastrous failures of the present chaotic and crisis fuelled system.