The bid for the Irish Presidency has instigated so much media hype that it has trivialised somewhat the historical significance of this position. The Head of State of the Irish Republic that is Éire is a symbolic achievement for centuries of Irish who rejected the monarchy as their own. Ireland's previous Head of State was King George VI of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, but this ended conclusively in 1949 with the Republic of Ireland Act 1948 - between 1937 and '49, the Constitution had not clarified whether the Irish President was Head of State rather than the British head of the Empire. Regardless, Irish freedom to elect its own President has come at a price; the Irish War of Independence led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty (ratified in January 1922), which in turn sparked the Irish Civil War.
With the 2011 election looming, there has been much speculating about candidates. Since the characteristically dramatic exit of Senator David Norris, and the brief but worrying consideration of Gay Byrne as a realistic prospect, populist debate has spawned across the internet. Now there is talk of GAA legend Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh and a desperate Facebook push by thousands for Ireland's adopted son, Martin Sheen (who used to live in Galway!!), to take the mantle. Realistically, though, only someone with as much gravitas, integrity and dignified vision as Michael D Higgins should be in the running. His inspirational, impassioned speeches in the Dáil are truly worthy of youtube hits.
My biggest problem with this year's Presidential race is that I cannot vote. I am an Irish citizen, resident in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I have benefited from a British system of health provision, education and economy. However, my head of State is not Queen Elizabeth II. My Head of State brandishes the same harp on their passport when they travel as is printed on mine. And nobody can tell me otherwise (if you've difficulty with that, my argument is legally sanctioned by the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement of 1998).
Sinn Féin is expected to confront the exclusion of Northern Ireland residents from voting for the Irish President via a Private Members' bill in the Dáil. Sinn Féin has my full support on this issue, and I am glad that SDLP Youth and Fianna Fáil's youth wing have agreed with this motion.
I hope that my right to have my voice heard on this issue is respected. Otherwise, I will continue to lend my active support to this campaign. My next hope is that a genuine Irish Statesman is elected. After the fantastic example set by Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese (a northern Nationalist herself), the incoming Irish President has a whole lot to live up to. I hope s/he can. Tá súil agamsa.
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