President must face same depth of scrutiny as election rivals

The presidential election race will only be fairly run if the media asks the tough questions of all candidates, including Michael D Higgins, writes businessman and presidential election candidate

President must face same depth of scrutiny as election rivals

The presidential election race will only be fairly run if the media asks the tough questions of all candidates, including Michael D Higgins, writes businessman and presidential election candidate Gavin Duffy.

Today, I am writing to councillors across the country, and tomorrow I address Waterford City and County Council as I start the process of trying to win a nomination from the required four local councils to be on the October presidential ballot paper.

As the news of my intention to contest the election broke yesterday morning, I was meeting neighbours at my local shop. They all wished me well but some also asked, in a genuinely concerned tone,

why are you subjecting yourself to the slaughter, Gavin?

Later, the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio 1 discussed, for the second week, the viciousness of presidential elections.

On the previous edition, the election was unanimously described as a “bear pit”.

Yesterday, it was described as a “blood sport”.

The president is the only office we, the people, directly elect.

As it has relatively little power, limited to just three responsibilities by the Constitution, it is seen mainly as a ceremonial office, but what it lacks in power, the office can — when used effectively by a president — have great influence and can achieve so much.

So, the personality, background and experience of each candidate has to be tested and scrutinised because, if elected, that person represents each and every one of us at home and abroad and speaks on our behalf at moments of national triumph and national tragedy.

What people want most in a president is a safe pair of hands and the role of the media in an election is to fully test each and every candidate.

President Michael D Higgins has served well over the past seven years, but once Sinn Féin declared it was going to put forward a candidate, a contest was on.

My candidacy, and that of senator Joan Freeman, who has also declared, at least offers voters a true and wide choice.

I and my family, my wife Orlaith Carmody and my four adult children — aged 20 to 24 — gave due consideration to what we are subjecting ourselves to and genuinely believe there is nothing odorous in the closet.

We don’t welcome the intrusion, but we do know that some of it will be necessary.

However, if all candidates are going to face in-depth character screening, so too must the incumbent and that is a challenge and indeed a significant responsibility for the national media, both mainstream and digital.

We must respect the office of president, but also find the balance where the incumbent faces the same depth of scrutiny as all others on the ballot paper.

This is only the second time in the history of the presidency that an incumbent has contested an election.

It last happened in 1966, when Éamon de Valera was president and he was opposed by a Fine Gael candidate, Tom O’Higgins.

The president, then aged 84, chose not to campaign or talk to the media and, most significantly, RTÉ agreed not to cover one minute of the campaign of Mr O’Higgins.

De Valera won by the narrowest margin ever in a presidential election, just over 10,000 votes.

Any observer at the time would confirm that if Tom O’Higgins had received coverage of his barn-storming nationwide campaign, the result would have been a different one.

The presidential election will start in just eight weeks, and national media, our broadcaster, newspaper and online editors, need to agree on the manner in which the election is covered.

Is it an election or is it some media-driven process of elimination, a TV game show, where people are killed off one by one.

Adi Roche (1997) and Mary Davis (2011) were both “killed off” in the first week of the election and were never given a chance.

So much for encouraging women to enter politics

A hardened campaigner, Sinn Féin has decided to not even name its candidate until September 16. The media has asked the party, is this a ploy to limit the screening time of their candidate?

There needs to be a serious commitment from editorial teams to decide how to properly conduct the 2018 presidential election.

Gavin Duffy is a businessman, panellist on RTÉ’s Dragons Den programme, and Independent candidate in the 2018 presidential election

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
Revoiced
Newsletter

Our Covid-free newsletter brings together some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com, as chosen by our editor, direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up