President Michael D Higgins getting a traditional welcome to Perth during his state visit to Australia President Michael D Higgins
THIS may sound a bit petty, but I’m the jumpy type and I’m anxious to know who is acting as Head of State while His Excellency Michael D and his wife Sabina are on a grand tour of Australia and New Zealand.
It’s not that I begrudge them or their entourage the trip, mind you; it’s just that I’m in constant dread of a Constitutional crisis in their absence and we don’t even have a Vice President to take command of the Defence Forces in an emergency.
Anyway, will he be back in time to present the 2017 Tidy Towns award in Birdhill? That’s what I really want to know.
The funny thing is that the Constitution which the President is sworn to protect, doesn’t even describe him as ‘Head of State’. Shouldn’t we rectify this anomaly, or just scrap the office altogether, because it seems to me that the State is, and always has been, a bit rudderless anyway? I’m not talking about the Government now, or its predecessors. I’m talking about this State of grace that was born without original sin.
Now I’m well aware that it’s not cool to criticise the President, especially this President, because he’s the only socialist I know who has won the hearts of the elite as well as the downtrodden. That’s no mean achievement, I can assure you. Populism is even more bizarre than you might think. I also know that the President had to get permission from the Government to leave the country. But did they know he was going to stay away for so long? Or was there method in their madness? The very thought is making me even more uneasy.
My more learned friends have assured me that there’s a Presidential Commission in place to perform his duties and protect the Constitution while he’s away, comprising the Chief Justice and the Chairs of the Dail and the Senate. But they don’t imbue me with the same sense of grandeur or even confidence. They don’t travel in a vintage Rolls Royce, surrounded by half the country’s security forces, puffing us all up with a sense of self importance. However, it does beg the question: do we need a President at all?
Meanwhile, President Higgins himself is pondering whether or not he will run again for the highest office in the land. It’s such a weighty decision that it will take months to resolve, but hopefully we’ll all know before the start of next summer when he returns from a trip to Canada.
But even if he does seek a second term, it seems that he won’t have much running to do, because none of the political parties wants to nominate a candidate to challenge him, although one or two individuals have indicated, in the interests of democracy, that they might throw down the gauntlet themselves. Good luck to them, for even if they do decide to oppose him, he’ll walk it – as the fellow says.
We all love Michael D, and even if we didn’t, we wouldn’t admit it in a million years for fear of being labelled a contrarian. He’s a decent man, but the trouble for me is that I like my socialists rough and ready. Michael D is too polished for my taste and he doesn’t really challenge our smugness. Instead of fuelling our notions of grandeur, he should be diffusing them. But, on the other hand, I have to say that he’s infinitely preferable to having a TV personality or a pop star at the helm. If that ever happens, I’m out of here.
One thing I don’t like is the innocuous campaign, particularly by some sections of the media, to persuade him that he mightn’t be able for a second term because of his age. This is absolutely ridiculous. Queen Elizabeth is 20 years his senior, and I challenge anyone to name a more successful or more popular ruler than Her Majesty. Brian Boru was over 80 when he fell at Clontarf.
Personally, I think the office itself is an anachronism and doesn’t serve any real purpose in a modern state that couldn’t be filled by the Attorney General and a good PR guru, at half the cost. Surely the last thing in the world we need at this stage of our development is a mechanism to continue fuelling our notions of grandeur and greatness. We know ourselves how great we are. We don’t have to be told.
At the height of the recession we were all for paring back on public costs. We were promised that the Senate would get the chop, but as we found to our dismay, politicians look after each other, and the axe fell instead on thousands of hard working civil servants, teachers, nurses and guards, that we are now finding it almost impossible to replace. We weren’t even allowed to question the cost of the Presidency.
Maybe the office was relevant back in the day when we were trying to find our feet, and trying to fill the vacuum – and the mansion – left by the last Governor General of the Irish Free State. But we’re a fully-fledged Republic now, although I wouldn’t bet on that either.
It’s time we called a spade a spade and either dumped the Presidency altogether or else gave the holder of the office more power to make a difference to our lives and justify the cost of putting him or her up in a 90 room house. I often wondered, when different Taoisigh over the years made their way to the Áras to be appointed head of Government after being nominated by the Dail, what would happen if the President declined. Or what if he disagreed with a Taoiseach’s nominee for a Ministry?
Now I know. He doesn’t have the power to do anything but play along and grin and bear it. The trouble is we have to pay for the charade.