Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

A president fit for office should be fit for purpose

We have reached a significant point in the presidential election with all candidates stretched in their campaigning and with the public increasing its demand for openness and transparency. As I see it the situation is something along the following lines.

Three of the candidates have discredited their standing and their position in the campaign by evading the truth, deliberately misleading the public, refusing to be transparent and dismissing as irrelevant the public and media reaction to these shortcomings. They are David Norris, Sean Gallagher and Martin McGuinness. There are additional offences that can be laid against them.

In the case of McGuinness, these include his criminal convictions and his responsibility for organising terrorist acts. In Northern Ireland, in the interest of reconciliation, a compromised view is being taken with the express purpose of achieving the sharing of power, and for no other reason. It does not and has not excused what he has done. It has set it aside.

A different situation prevails in the south where the murders and maiming remain unjustified and technically liable to criminal prosecution. As David Kelly, who confronted Martin McGuinness with the fact that his father, a member of the Defence Forces, was killed by the IRA, said on Monday: "Before we can have reconciliation there has to be truth, especially for people running for the presidency".

In the case of Sean Gallagher, he has totally misrepresented his position, accepting covert and organised support from the Fianna Fail Party while at the same time concealing this behind a pretence of independence. He has gone further, in misleading statements about his position and what he has said on the public record. And he has claimed as 'a non-issue' the recent revelations of the true picture concerning his support for, and membership of, Fianna Fail, a position that has to be questioned.

As has been reported, Fianna Fail canvassers from the last election have been canvassing for Gallagher in Cork.

Anyone who has misrepresented the truth and then describes this as 'a non-issue' has something to hide. They must be regarded with scepticism.

In the case of David Norris, he concealed from the Israeli legal authorities his true status and used his membership of the Senate to plead for leniency on behalf of a sexual partner who had committed underage sodomy, a serious crime in both the Israeli jurisdiction, where the crime took place, and in Ireland.

Additionally he has publicly espoused the condoning of sexual relations between an adult and a minor, contrary to the State's laws and has not rescinded this. On all of these issues he has misrepresented and concealed important details demanded by the public, notably the series of letters written on behalf of his lover, Nawi.

Though less serious than the above, a fourth candidate, Dana Rosemary Scallon, occupies dual citizenship (Irish and American) throwing doubt on her ability to take the oath in the event of her election. This situation has brought out an unseemly wrangle within her family over where she stands and what she has done. The Constitution requires her to be an Irish citizen. It says nothing about dual citizenship.

Two of the remaining three candidates are nominated by political parties. This absolves them from comprehensive presentations of what they stand for since they stand for the beliefs of the Labour Party, in the case of Michael D Higgins, and of Fine Gael, in the case of Gay Mitchell. Even if they were disposed to do so, they do not need to tell lies. In fact, as both have shown, the onus to tell anything at all does not bear heavily on them and, in the case of Michael D Higgins, he has managed to campaign so far without saying much about any aspects of his past career.

What can be said is that it has not been a presidential or a vocational career. It has been about political careerism and the compromises that parties put upon individuals. The same goes for Gay Mitchell.

As I have already said in articles in the Irish Independent, Mary Davis is the only vocational candidate.

She has told the truth. She has done so under serious provocation aimed at suggesting a different, hidden agenda. There is none. She has said so. This has not stopped the implicit criticism and sly suggestion that she has benefited somehow because of the money received as a member of various boards.

The board system is how the country is run. It is there. It is legal.

She has been straightforward about Denis O'Brien. He is a friend of hers and has helped her, that is his right to give and hers to accept.

This has also been the subject of media distortion and pressure, with unjustified innuendo. The use of tribunal views on O'Brien, which have not led to any criminal investigation or prosecution, is being improperly added to this pursuit of her integrity.

The Irish public, at this point in the campaign, is justified in expecting the personal reclamation of their positions by all the candidates in the campaign.

Within the garish but sustained support for David Norris the argument was put forward that no one is without blemish and that the people should be allowed to decide.

This is not part of the Constitution. Even modest blemish is not part of the constitutional definition of the role.

This has a mechanism for imposing on our elected leaders the decision as to who should run. And this involves judgment of their suitability. Mary Davis, along with all the other candidates, has to believe herself fit for purpose and not guilty of error of judgment or dishonesty.

That is now the central test at this mid-point in the campaign.

THIS is the truthful summary of where we now stand in this election and the electorate must act on it. The people have been ill-served by many in the media. RTE has been guilty of substantial bias. The treatment of Gay Mitchell, by Richard Crowley in a 'Prime Time' programme, was harsh and unfair.

In the same programme, an interview by Miriam O'Callaghan with Martin McGuinness was bland, landing not a single punch on him.

The election, in my view, is showing -- as it did during the general election earlier this year -- how feeble the State's regulatory machinery is during an event of this consequence to the whole country, in respect, particularly, of RTE.

The second fault, so far, is the arbitrary and excessive governance by opinion poll. Polls have played a substitute role in the nomination procedure, causing public representatives to yield to them instead of exercising their own judgment. They have also replaced considered opinion and argument with elementary mathematics.