For many people, the President of Ireland occupies a purely ceremonial role but it is clear that there is the potential for The President to do more and affect positive change in our society. The legislative constraints surrounding the Presidency are clear but the influence and respect that the Office of The President holds is real and could make a massive difference to the people of Ireland.
Professor Robert Elgie, the Paddy Moriarty Professor of Government and International Studies at the School of Law & Government at DCU has stated that:
“Once elected, the presidency has an important symbolic role.”
I agree with Professor Elgie that the election of a President, like any other election, sends a clear message to the Government and to the world, what the people of Ireland feel is important to them at this time and I wonder what message the Irish people will choose to send in this Presidential Campaign.
Do we as a people want more of the same?
Do we want an elite business man in power?
Or do we want to send a message that the mental health crisis that we see everyday in our villages, our towns and our cities is our biggest concern.
The power of democracy is that it gives power to the people.
It is not the business elites that decide who shall be President, it is not the Government that decide who shall be president, it is the people of Ireland who cast their votes and decide who they want and what values they want to represent them as President of Ireland.
While many people feel that the role of the President is purely ceremonial, I believe that the President of Ireland can have a profound effect on Irish society.
Some of our previous Presidents have shown how The Aras can champion a particular issue in our society and inspire real change in our country.
Mary McAleese, a northern nationalist, used the influence of the Presidency to great effect in order to inspire change in the political environment and create a real impact for the people of Ireland. Mary Robinson highlighted minorities at home and abroad, giving a voice to the dispossessed and a home for the diaspora.
These former Presidents have shown how a President can, within the limits of the office, use their role to highlight issues, generate dialogue, focus attention and make real change happen in our society.
In Ireland, we elect a President that reflects the Ireland of its time.
Professor Elgie states that, “without changing a word of the Constitution, presidents could take it upon themselves to speak out a little more, including on matters of public policy.”
Given the current mental health crisis, I believe that we now need a Presidency that prioritises the wellbeing of our people, physically and emotionally, at home and abroad.
The time is now for a change in direction of how we address our own well-being individually and collectively, to make Ireland a better place to live in. If you want to see positive change in our society, use your vote to inspire change for the people of Ireland.
Professor Robert Elgie is the Paddy Moriarty Professor of Government and International Studies at the School of Law & Government at DCU