on who’s going to occupy the áras

Today, Thursday the 27th October 2011, Ireland elects its first new President for fourteen years.

For the great majority of my life in this country, the post of President has been held by two wonderful, dignified, intelligent, and graceful women: Mary Robinson, from 1990-1997, and Mary McAleese, from 1997 to today. I look up to these women greatly, and finding their successor was always going to be a difficult task.

Nobody really suspected it was going to be this difficult.

There are seven candidates standing in this election. Because a lot of Irish events don’t make news outside the country, you may not be familiar with them. Allow me to give a short introduction:

Michael D. Higgins

Labour Party elder statesman and well-respected former minister. Heavily invested in the welfare of the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking regions) and in promoting Irish culture. Has travelled everywhere, met everywhere, gotten along with most of them, and spoken out vociferously for human rights across the world. Prone to bursts of Irish, or at times, reciting his own poetry. Jed Bartlet wants him to be President, and so do I.

Sean Gallagher

Previous to this race, best known as ‘yer man off of Dragon’s Den’. Most of the country were gently baffled as to why he was running for President, until about halfway through the race, when 40% of them suddenly decided they’d vote for him. Running as an independent, although he was at one time a member of Fianna Fáil’s National Executive. Fianna Fáil having allowed the country to go to the dogs over the past few years, this is not a popular record to have. Currently in some hot water over accusations of dodgy financial dealings, which were raised in the last televised debate (on Tuesday night). It’s looking uncertain as to whether he can maintain his front-runner status.

Martin McGuinness

Running on behalf of Sinn Féin, and currently Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland (a position which is on hold for the duration of the campaign). Controversial background, detailed in the wiki article linked above, but instrumental in the Northern Irish Peace Process. Currently running a strong third.

Gay Mitchell

Best known for two things: being an MEP, and being a true blue Dub from Inchicore. Has joked that if he wins, he’ll be able to look across from Phoenix Park at the house he grew up in. Has also learned to be careful about joking, after somewhat facetiously threatening to jump off O’Connell Bridge if asked to smile on the campaign trail. Undoubtedly hardworking, metric tons of political experience, member of the leading coalition party, but a lack of charismatic spark that would endear the public to their figurehead.

David Norris

A Senator, and Ireland’s best-known and longest-standing gay rights activist. Brought to Europe the case which ended the criminalisation of homosexuality in Ireland (interestingly, former President Mary Robinson – pre-presidency – was his Senior Counsel in this cause). Delightfully eccentric. Despite carrying much public goodwill, his lengthy battle for nomination, and the controversies that have dogged his campaign, will prevent us having the world’s first openly gay head of state.

Mary Davis

Another Independent, Mary Davis is the Chairwoman of Special Olympics Ireland. She is well-known and respected for her excellent work with this organisation – but after a month of campaigning, I still don’t know anything else about her. Next?

Dana Rosemary Scallon

Oh, Dana Dana Dana. Where does one start? Dana won us the Eurovision in 1970 with the heavingly twee All Kinds of Everything, and since then has been inserting herself apparently randomly into Irish public life. More religious than Jesus and more right-wing than a lopsided seagull. She spent time living in Alabama, and took US citizenship while there, sang some songs, then returned, ran a failed bid for the 1997 Presidency, became an MEP, had another go at the Áras in 2004 but failed to raise enough support to contest Mary McAleese, sang more songs, and is now back for another crack at the top job. Unfortunately for her, it doesn’t seem to be third time lucky.

That’s your lot.

It is worth reading the wiki articles and the linked sites; these are just my brief and semi-sardonic thoughts. It’s been a dirty race, with most candidates having had at least one skeleton dragged kicking and screaming out of their cupboards. Only Michael D. and Gay Mitchell have really been spared the mud-flinging – mostly because they’ve both been well-known politicians for long enough that there’s nothing left to discover about either of them. As an onlooker, though, I can’t say it hasn’t been enjoyable.

So today we vote, and tomorrow we find out who will be the new face of Ireland to the world.

Sit tight. This could be a late one.

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