The article in the Irish Independent on 20 August, ‘Challenge for Martin as Lenihans’ opt out of the election’, asserts that this constitutes ‘a massive headache’ for Micheál Martin’s efforts to rid Fianna Fáil of its toxic image. Surely, this type of brazen nepotism would only appeal to the 15% of the electorate who supported the late Brian Lenihan. Martin’s fundamental challenge is to win the trust of the 85% of the electorate whose political gaze is elsewhere and he will need to do much more than merely preach to the choir in this endeavour.
The immediate and compelling challenge for Fianna Fáil is to sponsor a committed and sufficiently distinguished candidate to contest the Presidential Election. That ought to be a person with the capacity to inspire the trust, confidence and enthusiasm of the electorate; someone who can convincingly be described as the most distinguished Irish person of the current generation.
Half of the Irish electorate are under the age of 35 years. Most of this cohort has never voted in a Presidential Election. Our population has expanded by 850,000 since 1997. A substantial portion of the electorate were not even born in Ireland.
The clumsy and uncoordinated Fianna Fáil efforts to make a credible impact on the most important Constitutional Office of State are risible, especially when the competition is so lacklustre, taciturn and undistinguished.
The Presidency of Ireland is not a political party trophy even though Fine Gael and the Labour Party have treated the forthcoming contest as a facility to confer a distinguished honour on one of their own insiders. No party, or prospective candidate, has begun to explain the credentials to justify their high-flown ambition to be recognised as an eminent, world-class statesman. The response of the electorate to them, according to polls, is ambivalent and uncertain. There is every prospect that the Presidential Election will record a voter turnout no greater than the 47% recorded in 1997. The vitality and influence of the President will not be derived from electorate that is tepid.
Therefore, the next pragmatic step for Fianna Fáil is to provide the electorate with a candidate choice for President who is energetic and credible, untainted by the prevailing quagmire of toxicity and who reflects the voters’ aspirations, values and expectations.