As a sanguine seven line up for the President’s job, the process of electing Ireland’s next head of state will at last enter the realm of democratic choice.
The public can now reclaim the reigns of the race from the political monopoly that is the presidential nomination process. The method of selecting presidential candidates – while a transparent process – remains a bastion of the political class dictating public choice.
This does not mean to say that the race for the Áras has so far been opaque. All seven candidates have been in the media spotlight to varying extents – but not for the benefit of the public. It is to the members of the Oireachtas, Dáil and the councils that their electioneering has been directed.
And it is exactly these members to whom the public can attribute the self-proclaimed “biggest comeback in Irish political history”. David Norris’s words on the Late Late Show have proven to be no hyperbole, and his nomination has been hailed as a positive signal to progression of Irish democracy, not least by Norris himself: “Thank God for democracy, democracy was vindicated here.”
Indeed, the transition from gay rights activist to presidential candidate over the course of 30 years is just one facet of a transitory Ireland. It is hard to believe that until only 18 years ago, archaic legislation such as the criminalisation of homosexual acts remained in force.
Yet the Senator’s 11th-hour struggle for support – while successful – has shown a fundamental flaw in Irish democracy. Despite widespread public backing, the electorate has so far been a mere onlooker to Norris’s bid for the presidency.
Furthermore, the successful nomination of the Sinn Féin candidate casts an air of doubt over those hailing Norris’s nomination as the advent of Liberal Ireland. It is only after the race began in earnest last Wednesday – as a campaign for the benefit of the electorate – that questions are being asked about the propriety of his candidacy.
Now that the race for the Áras has passed to the Irish electorate, it is the responsibility of the media to act as a channel for public scrutiny. While the public may not have had a direct say in the selection of the seven candidates, they may now call on the press to provide the necessary exposure, interviews and evaluations. A rigorous approach to the election is entirely appropriate for an individual who is, after all, to be our national incumbent and representative.