On Monday evening I was in Dublin to attend RTÉ’s The Frontline as a participant from the audience.
The show was about the Presidency and my contribution was about the absurdity of the political hoops prospective candidates must jump through, before they ever get to our ballot papers.
Our only directly elected national representative must first be anointed by the political elite. That is wrong.
Aside from this entirely, a mounting debate about the price of the Presidency is taking place. Debate is always welcome, but the Presidency plays a role that is absolutely crucial for our society, now more than ever. While our President has very limited (that is to say, almost no) powers, it is a crucial role for a person of good standing to fill in this country.
We have lost faith in the Church, the State, politics and Europe, not to mention in ourselves. We need somebody to look up to.
The reaction to the tragic death of Brian Lenihan proves that it is still possible to see the person beyond the politician. Many were unhappy with his political legacy, but the vast majority have acknowledged that he was an exceptional man who believed passionately in public service.
We need exceptional people in public life, and we need exceptional people who are in a position above and apart from the petty squabbling that politicians are necessarily engaged in.
Politics is not pretty and it is not edifying. Even at Cork City Council level, politicians are rarely inclined to cover themselves in glory, as we saw from this week’s meeting.
But leadership is a different thing, and can come in many guises. Sporting figures like Paul O’Connell and even entertainment figures like Mary Byrne – laugh, but she has shown immense dignity since she was shot to fame – prove that. There are a few key attributes that they share; dignity; charm; knowing what is appropriate; and having achieved something in their chosen field.
I’m not suggesting Paul O’Connell or Mary Byrne for President.
What I am suggesting is that a President should be someone we can be proud of. Someone who has achieved something for this country already, be that social, cultural or in the voluntary sector. Someone who we know will put the good side out and make us proud of them and of ourselves.
It sounds twee, but the President has a hugely important role as someone for young people to look up to. Someone who won’t cause the adults in the house to throw something at the television or change the channel.
President Robinson is an inspiration to women of my generation. I saw her numerous times throughout my childhood, planting trees, cutting ribbons and even on children’s television, and she had an impact. Her work before and since being President of Ireland means she continues to be an icon to those who believe in justice and equality. President McAleese, too, has had an immense impact on the psyche of the nation, and the recent visit of Queen Elizabeth is a testament to her skilled and subtle Presidency.
Think of a future generation with nobody to look up to but people like Paul O’Connell and Mary Byrne. They are great role models for potential sports people and singers, but to get beyond our current confidence crisis, we need role models for potential good citizens.
- Brian Lenihan: Admired and respected Irish finance minister who struggled to cope with the economic crisis he inherited (independent.co.uk)
- Critiquing Brian Lenihan… (cedarlounge.wordpress.com)