|Michael D Higgins, Fergus Finlay, Kathleen O'Meara, Mary Davis|
Pat Kenny had several presidential candidates on RTÉ’s ‘Frontline’ last night, most making the same noises: ‘Vote for me, I’d be great up in Áras an Uachtaráin’. What else can they say? The president doesn’t have any executive powers, so what matters is not any policy the candidate offers so much as the style, the tone s/he brings to the office.
Tone. It’s one of those words that are elusive until you see an example in practice. Think Mary Robinson: the tone she brought to the presidential office was unmistakable from the start. Mary the Second brought another, equally distinct but totally different tone. The trouble is you don’t know quite know what tone of presidency you’re going to get until the person has been installed. Remember my old chum Eoghan Harris’s prediction for Mary McAleese? She’d be “a ticking tribal time-bomb” as President. Oh dear, Eoghan. Totally, spectacularly wrong. Again.
So here’s my suggestion. Since electing a president is a bit like marriage, a leap of faith, let’s vet the candidates on the basis of how they speak. After all, that’s what most of their working day will consist of, if elected: speechifying.
First up, David Norris. He wasn’t on Kenny’s show last night because he was, um, otherwise occupied. Once the bookies’ favourite, measured by the voice criterion he might as well quit now. When Norris opens his mouth a kind of braying sound comes out in an Anglicised Dublin 4 accent. Maybe it works for hard-of-hearing English people situation several fields away. Then there’s the dressing in Edwardian clothes every year and prancing around Dublin reading Joyce at the top of his voice. Next, please.
Michael D Higgins. Michael D was there last night and has the advantage of owning a voice that’s at the opposite end of the scale from Norris – small, chirpy and wheedling. As he is himself - the voice, in fact, is the man. But there’s a distinct sense of déjà vu here, because we’ve already had a small, chirpy, wheedling president. His name was Sean T O’Kelly and your granny might remember him. And he did an OK job too. But you wouldn’t pay over £2 million to see a half-decent movie a second time, would you? Next please.
Fergus Finlay. Fergus was there last night and has a soothing voice. Think warm syrup being poured into a gleaming Waterford bowl and you’ll have Fergus’s voice. It’s soft and measured and hypnotic. Listen to my voice, you will put your X beside F for Finlay… And what if he were elected and (God between us and all harm) QE2 were to make a return visit? There’s a danger she’d end her days slumped face down in the dinner trifle as Fergus oozed on and on and on and… Next, please.
Niall O’Dowd. Niall wasn’t there last night because he was, um, in America. Niall is different. He has quite a nice voice. Not too braying, not too squeaky, not too honey-dripping. In fact Bill Clinton has described him as “the voice of Irish-America”. Niall says he’s interested in the idea of a “business President”. Given that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael’s idea of business is to pay French and German bond-holder debt while crucifying the Irish people, it’s an attractive idea. But how would a “business president” work? Would he take the European bond-holders by the throat? Would the constitution let him? Besides, Niall has plans to relocate us. “The US is where Ireland needs to be”. Mmm. Nice voice then, and great peace process work and close mate of the Clintons, but would the out-on-his-feet Irish taxpayer be happy to cough up an extra €1 million for Niall to commute between New York’s Upper East Side and Dublin’s Phoenix Park?
Kathleen O’Meara of the Labour Party and Mary Davis of the Special Olympics were also on last night. I'm buck ignorant and had never heard of either of them, but they had quite nice voices and they both said they would be great as president too. There was even some talk of renewing the republic and a fresh 2016 proclamation. Nobody suggested the north might feature in any way, shape or form, so if they do come up with a 2016 proclamation, it'll mean some pretty heavy editing of the old one.
Anyway, I shouldn’t be wasting your time talking about this, and I hope you didn’t waste your time watching ‘The Frontline’, because the whole thing’s none of your business, is it? Come next October, you’ll have a better chance of being elected to the Áras than of being allowed into a polling booth.
[Note: an earlier version of this blog appeared as a column in the BMG newspapers]