Seven years too long

In The Irish Times, Jim Duffy looks back at the “unambiguous stitch-up” that saw Mary McAleese returned ‘unopposed’ as Irish President for a second seven-year term of office and argues convincingly for “a fundamental overhaul” of the nominations procedure and the seven-year term.He is particularly scathing in his criticism of the Green Party’s failure to nominate a candidate –

“it is much more difficult to understand the Green’s stance. For running against McAleese would have been a no-lose option for them. With a guaranteed 50 per cent coverage during the campaign in a two-horse race, it would be next to impossible not to get enough votes to qualify for State funding.

The Greens effectively turned down a free campaign and free publicity that would have won the party a higher profile and increased credibility with voters who had not voted Green, resulting in more Dáil seats. Opting out will probably go down in history as one of the great tactical blunders, “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” in Abraham Lincoln’s memorable phrase.”

He is sceptical of a public nomination system, preferring instead that “an Oireachtas nomination should be reduced, perhaps to 12, still a significant barrier but not an insurmountable one”, an alternative to the current council nominations be developed, and that an unopposed candidate should still be subject to ratification either by plebescite or by “a secret ballot of members of the Oireachtas”.

His final recommendation is a reduction of the anachronistic seven-year term –

“The idea of seven-year terms first occurred in November 1873 when France created the extra long term under a Royalist president, Patrice de McMahon, to give time to engineer a restoration of the monarchy. That never happened but France stuck with its extra-long seven-year term for presidents right down to 2000.

Weimar Germany copied the seven-year idea as did de Valera. With France and Germany having abandoned it, it is time we did the same.”