Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The People? What Have They Got to Do with It?

David Norris yesterday remarked in his concession speech that “the presidency of Ireland belongs to the people and not any party or sectional interest.” That single sentence explains exactly why he was unelectable in the first place. The poor man has no idea how this country is governed. None at all.

If Oireachas na hÉireann were compared to the human body, the Presidency would be the appendix. It performs no function but it can, on very rare occasions, go septic and kill you. As nearly happened with poor Cearrbhall Ó Dálaigh.

The Presidency is a left-over office, just as the appendix is a left-over organ. It’s the office that took over from the Governor-Generalship of the Irish Free State, which itself took over from the Lord Lieutenancy of Ireland. It doesn’t do anything. It’s an artifact. A relic. A ruin.

The notion that the office does do something is nonsense and propaganda. The Constitutional role of the Presidency hasn’t changed one little bit since Mary Robinson’s election in 1990, irrespective of the beliefs of her church. It’s locked in, nailed down, there in black and white.

The nomination process is proof positive of this. David Norris couldn’t have been more wrong in saying that the presidency belongs to the people and not any party or sectional interest. It is precisely the other way around.

This fact is clearly understood by Mary Davis and Seán Gallagher, the independents who got nominated because they saw what the system is and then worked it to easily secure their own nominations as independent – or quasi-independent – candidates. That’s what people who live in the real world do.

David Norris, for all his fine qualities, does not live in this real world. If Norris has a political antecedent in recent times, it’s George Lee. Another idealist who ignored the real world and got a dirty land when it bit him on the ankle.

The fact that Norris was so popular in the polls shows the distance that exists between Irish political structures and the nation’s understanding of them. Norris’ candidacy was hailed because he was a maverick; a maverick in the Phoenix Park means political crises for breakfast, dinner and tea. It can’t, can’t work.

So how do people have the impression that it could work? Does the nation understand how we’re governed at all?

We the People, the citizens’ assembly, looked at the political process and the best they could come up with was gender quotas – on a not-that-terribly-overwhelming 51-49 majority. Gender quotas. Dear God in Heaven. Would the nation not be much better off looking at the mechanism of government, enhancing what works and stopping what doesn’t? Would that be so hard?

In the meantime, the Presidential race rolls on without David Norris. Paddy Power’s 5/1 about Mary Davis looks very tempting. She got her nomination with ease, seems to have a war chest and most importantly of all, Mary Davis seems the least objectionable of the candidates currently in the field. In Ireland, the people who, in Pearse’s words, are august despite their chains vote for the person whom we despise the least. Put a shot of sodium pentathol in the next pint there Joe. I’m not sure I can take much more of this.