Finian McGrath: We need a presidential vote to avoid system going stale

Several people are considering contesting the presidency but need to declare their intentions in the coming weeks, Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath says.

A contest is needed, he said, to stop the political system going “stale” even though Mr McGrath believes president Michael D Higgins is a “rock ‘n’ roller”.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the Independent Alliance TD says the next president should reflect the radical change in Irish society over the last few years and be “fresh and energetic”. McGrath has said President Higgins should not be given a free run for a second term when his seven-year period at Áras an Uachtaráin finishes in October.

He now believes several prominent individuals are on the cusp of declaring an intention to run: “I know Michael D well, I get on with Michael D personally. I think he did a very good job in his presidency. But I do now think there should always be... I’ve seen it now with the changeover with the Taoiseach... the new energy it has brought, so that is a good argument to say we should have an election.

"If Michael D wants to stand again, good luck to him. But I definitely think there should be a contest. Every now and again, we need to renew the political system. Sometimes the political system goes stale. We all go very boring, very cautious. And I think if you had a presidential election, you would have at least five or six candidates.

“When I talk about energy, I’m talking about new ideas, new politics. Michael D is a rock ‘n’ roller, he is 76 but he has a very young mind intellectually, and he is very good with young people and sports and politics and the arts.

"I get it and I have great time for him. I have fantastic time for him, but I do think if there is an opportunity for somebody to challenge him, we should encourage that. And I as an independent TD will facilitate that process.”

A number of names have been linked as possible challengers if a presidential election is called in October. These include European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly; Barnardos CEO Fergus Finlay; Fine Gael MEP, Mairead McGuinness; and RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan.

Barnardos Chief Fergus Finlay
Barnardos Chief Fergus Finlay

President Higgins has said he may make a decision on whether to seek a second term after a visit to Canada in May. However, Mr McGrath argues that those interested in the presidency should declare in the coming weeks: “If I was a serious contender, you should be thinking about it early in the New Year, to announce your candidacy.

"But I do think there will be one [a contest] and I think there will be a least five [contenders]. Well, I definitely think there will be two or three type independent candidates. I think that Fianna Fáil will have one.”

Asked what any person seeking the next seven years in the office should bring to the role, he said they need to be “fresh and energetic”, adding: “The new person has to reflect the radical change that has taken [hold] in Ireland in the last five years but also reflect that change in their actions and deeds.”

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