According to the editorial writer in The Irish Times on 5 November, 71-year old President Michael D Higgins ‘has performed assertively and well’ during his first year as President of Ireland. Does this mean he is convincing, credible and effective?
When the wreath laying, headstone tapping and fraternal greetings to the widows’ of long-deceased fallen idols are segregated from the activity of his first year in office, what remains that defines his presidency?
He has been a critic of the EU’s failure to balance austerity with growth and job creation, but what interventions has he made directly to counter this and to stimulate employment other than offer idle chatter? Who is he connected to that is strategically relevant to enhancing the prosperity of Ireland? Who accepts his phone calls?
His speeches tend to be long and weary commentaries about abstract concepts of general concern over which he has limited or no, capacity to influence. Any one of the sloppy and slovenly Independent TDs in Dáil Éireann could embrace a similar platform of self-righteousness but Higgins is Head of State, not a local, scruffy ward heeler. How, creatively and dynamically is he using the resources of the presidency?
The Irish Times interview with President Higgins (A Year in the Áras, 3 November) conveys an impression of a one-dimensional presidency on a perpetual campaigning carousel, engaging only in a zealous, but somewhat ambiguous, quest for a philosophy that might produce a purer form of virtue and an ethical culture that is more robust. The theme of this endeavour is to be adapted in 2013 from the attribution in 2012 that unregulated markets caused ‘a post ethical, or unethical existence’ to wider reflection and deliberation on what is described as ‘the crisis in ethics and the crisis among intellectuals’. What impact will that have on the stature and wellbeing of Ireland other than being fire side conversation over a stale pint of Guinness?
But as far as the public is concerned the presidential election campaign is over, having resulted in President Higgins achieving the highest-ever number of first preference votes in the seven contested presidential elections. Public focus is now on what the President is actually delivering. It is regrettable, therefore, that President Higgins did not avail of this interview opportunity to describe the impact, effectiveness and strategic accomplishments of the first year of his presidency.
The long-term unemployment rate is 8.8% and 29% of those in the 20-24 year age group are unemployed. But nowhere in this interview does the President refer to his attitude towards investor sentiment, profit, employment creation, opportunity, innovation, incentive or risk mitigation all of which are critical catalysts to relieve the debilitating and tragic catastrophe haunting Irish society. Why should President Higgins seem to be so detached and aloof from the benchmarks of economic vitality and the complexity of investment decision making, or is he taking the achievement of a dynamic investment flow from sectors that are rigorously regulated and closely scrutinised too much for granted?
The interview describes the thousands of encounters the President has had this year and the journeys he has taken. But it does not elaborate as to what proportion of these interventions have had a significant or influential impact, or which are a reflection of the eminent stature and the privileged global access the unique prestige of his office confers.
The President is preparing a speech for delivery in the New Year intended to truthfully represent the history of The 1913 Lockout to ensure that the efforts of workers of that era, struggling to achieve even the most minimal power to protect themselves, is accurately portrayed by him.
But what initiatives and interventions to promote investment and employment creation does he intend to take to ensure that the workers of 2013 and the hundreds of thousands deprived of work are afforded the opportunity to achieve a modest level of self-sufficiency and dignity to sustain themselves and protect the integrity of their families?
President Higgins attributes the widespread failure of institutional leadership in Ireland to moral turpitude, prompting ‘a different search for a source of morality’ –as if morality was something one discovers in a Swedish furniture warehouse. He states that ‘the President’s discretion is what defines the Presidency’, the essence of which is moral authority, but he also wants to extend the boundaries of the presidency.
What specific, focused, targeted accomplishments would he like to describe at the conclusion of the second year of his presidential legacy in November 2013 that are shown to have had a compelling and enduring impact; are the product of the discretion and boundaries already available to him and are crafted by his irrepressible insight, passion, acumen and charm combined with the counsel, guidance, pragmatism and experience of his officials?