Now that the sluice gate of opportunity has been perceived by Dana Rosemary Scallon to have opened following the exit of David Norris the real king maker could be Micheál Martin. The presidential election will be the first real test of his leadership of in the eyes of the nation - beyond the boundaries of Fianna Fáil. That said, I don’t think that a member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party could be a successful presidential candidate this time for self-evident reasons.
But Fianna Fáil was able in 1997 to attract a distinguished candidate from beyond its own mainstream who was to become a genuine, world class statesman; who became a unifying, consistently progressive force in the country for not one, but two terms; who dreamt of building bridges and did so with astounding tact, tenacity, imagination, diligence and success. Fianna Fáil’s offering to the nation in 1997 was inaugurated one week after President Obama won his first-ever election to political office and she will leave office in 2011 with a level of goodwill and esteem that is, at best, a fantasy for the world’s major leaders and statesmen.
That candidate thoroughly understood what the role of Head of State entails – its scope and limitations. That disciplined candidate safeguarded the Constitution and scrupulously protected the dignity of the Office and of the nation. That visionary candidate understood the concept of prestige and enhancing the reputation of Ireland. That reflective and mature candidate radiated values that resonated with voters’. This chosen candidate was authentic and credible; that’s why she won the election and then won the heart of the nation.
The reputation of this nation had a very close shave with reputational Armageddon this week, three months before the presidential election. The image on the world’s television screens of an Irish President declaring his abrupt resignation on the steps of the Áras and describing his love of a rapist has been averted. The risk that the equivalent of the Lincoln Bedroom at the presidential mansion could be accommodating a personal guest of the President who would attract lurid tabloid journalism comment and speculation has been mitigated. The prospect of a convicted child rapist being the second person, as consort of the President, to formally greet foreign dignitaries when they arrive here on State visits will not arise.
Those who have expressed an interest in contesting this election are not really endowed with the presidential stature that we have become accustomed to. The nation therefore needs a determined input and intervention to insure that this contest provides the electorate with the opportunity to elect a statesman of calibre – an individual who is the best Irish person of this generation and whose credentials to become President are inspiring and compelling.
The electorate should not be reduced to a choice of candidates from among the minor aristocracy of domestic reality TV, from the faded grandees of the Eurovision Song Contest when President de Valera was in office, an anonymous stranger who has yet to offer a single compelling statement to justify consideration and a pair of jaded duds with a faded political legacy whose appeal is likely, at best, to be only to their most loyal and long-standing following. That escapade would end in a puddle of tears and a nation diminished in the eyes of observers. We have been through enough of that.
If Fianna Fáil can produce a credible candidate with potential universal appeal that personal achievement could become a defining moment, the catalyst for Martin to prove his leadership credentials to those who are apolitical but patriotic. That accomplishment could confirm the character of Martin’s leadership. It would be an act of real patriotism.