Fine Gael will select a candidate to contest the Presidential Election today from among Gay Mitchell, Pat Cox and Mairead McGuinness. Two of them are Members of the European Parliament and Cox is a former Member and former President of the Parliament.
If one, or more, of these candidates had established sufficient credibility with the electorate they would be entering this selection process radiating a more intense sense of conviction rather than an ambiguous aura of compunction.
None of them have communicated directly with the voters. None of them have described to the electorate their credentials to become Head of State. There is an enormous difference between the skill-set of a European parliamentarian and those of a successful, inspiring President. The qualities that make one competent in one role do not seamlessly transfer to Áras an Uachtaráin. Therefore, as far as this Office is concerned – all of them are strangers with inadequate recognition throughout the country. Opinion polling data about strangers is nonsensical, whatever trend it attempts to portray.
There appeared to be widespread sentiment in Fianna Fáil at the end of the Bertie Ahern’s tenure as Fianna Fáil Leader and Taoiseach that the obvious and only candidate to succeed him was Brian Cowen – based on Cowen’s sound-bites in the course of the 2007 general election and a perception that he had what was necessary to be a strong leader and to pick a competent cabinet. The 2011 general election gave the electorate’s verdict. The voters will be cautious about the sentiment of any political party having been so badly let down by that experience.
The electorate want the next President to be no ordinary, taciturn Joe or Jane Soap. They want an articulate, sophisticated and nuanced President who will defend the Constitution; defend the dignity of our nation and be imbued with a sense of its potential. They want a President with the capacity to promote and reflect the prestige of Ireland across the globe. They want a President who, at one level, has the authenticity to convey the nation’s grief to those afflicted with appalling personal tragedy and, at another level, to inspire an audience of sceptical foreign strangers in faraway places that Ireland is awesome. They want a President who radiates the spirit of Ireland.
Who is electable to conduct such a mandate?