Michael D. is up against the notions brigade in his bid for a second term as president 5 years ago

Michael D. is up against the notions brigade in his bid for a second term as president

October is set to be a banner month for Irish democracy.

As we inch ever closer to the upcoming Presidential election, more and more potential candidates have entered the public's consciousness: businessman Gavin Duffy, mental health campaigner Joan Freeman, Eamon De Valera-descendant Éamon Ó'Cuív and, of course, Mystery Sinn Féin Candidate.


Besides Sinn Féin, there's no push from any party - or indeed any interest group in Irish society - to depose President Higgins.

No, the main motivating force that Michael D.'s opponents can bank on is the grand tradition of good old Irish contrarianism. That unstoppable impulse to do the exact opposite of what we're told.

Of course, at this stage, it's in our DNA. 800 years of rebellions and risings mean that we mistrust any kind of status quo, and we certainly don't tolerate any kind of superiority. There's probably nothing that would hurt your chances of being President more than saying, "I think I'd make a fairly good President." If you said that down the pub, you might get a pint hurled at your head.

We're talking about the country that voted against the Lisbon Treaty for no reason other than the government told us we should vote for it. It certainly wasn't because we understood it.


The primary opposition to Michael D. is a punishment for that heinous crime of notions. When Michael D. threw his wee hat in the race against David Norris and Gay Mitchell and Martin McGuinness, there were no notions about him. Sure, Dana was running. It was a free for all.

But when Michael D. decided after seven years in the role that maybe he actually was the best man for the job, and he'd quite like to do it for another seven, he broke the law. Not any real law, mind you. He breached that rarely spoken stricture binding Irish people that we're not really meant to like ourselves very much. You know, the same quality that makes us all feel so desperately uncomfortable with dating and job interviews, for fear we accidentally make ourselves sound good.

As such, to re-elect Miggledy is actually a grand opportunity for the Irish people. Not just because he's the best man for the job, but because knowing he's the best man for the job shouldn't disqualify him. In fact, it should tell us all we need to know about the soundness of his mind.


You see, Michael D. wouldn't be seeking a second term if there was somebody else just like him — as strong a proponent of human rights, of public service, of poetry, of the Irish soul — who could take his place.

There is no denying that, on a physical level, Michael D. could be categorised as "adorable." But he has repeatedly proven that his mind is sharp. He's no fool. He knows that the contenders he can expect in October are unqualified to fill his shoes, small though they may be.

President of Ireland is not a political job. It doesn't involve drafting or making laws. It doesn't involve brokering trade deals with other countries. It is a job of public service. Many of the names mentioned so far can't matched Michael D's history of public service between them.

Much like Sean Gallagher in 2011, Gavin Duffy has been undeniably successful in business. That does not mean that there is anything to suggest that he can succeed in public representation. Business owners do not represent the public. The overall betterment of society is not among their explicit interests. Their primary function is to make decisions that increase profits for their investors and shareholders. To do anything else would be a dereliction of their duty.


But the Presidential election is not the only choice Ireland will be faced with come October. The country will also vote on two constitutional matters — the removal from the constitution of a line advocating for the woman's place in the home, and a provision that requires a law against blasphemy.

And while all these issues are important, they are almost entirely symbolic. The woman's place in the home makes no difference whatever to the employment prospects or salaries of women in Ireland. It doesn't prevent the government from introducing laws on reproductive rights, equal pay, gender quotas or subsidising women's healthcare.

The blasphemy law, as it exists, is widely regarded as unprosecutable, and has never been prosecuted.

On the face of it, they are two almost preposterously lopsided issues. In 2018, is there really any argument to be made that a constitution should codify that a state prospers best when women perform duties in the home? It's an idea that was outdated even in the days of Father John Charles McQuaid. Is there any argument to be made that our founding document should still hold that God can never be the victim of a joke?


Even the presidency, as much as I believe Michael D. should continue in his role, is largely unimportant beyond its symbolism.

There are tight constitutional limits on what the Irish President can do, and the role is mainly one of spiritual and moral leadership — which is to say, the kind of leadership that nobody is actually compelled to follow if they don't want to.

Is there any real complaint to be made about the job he's done for the last seven years?

It might not seem that there is. Still, I can guarantee you that we're about to hear those arguments. RTÉ will make sure of that. But it's not going to be from the typical lobbies (read: Catholic fundamentalists). Having been walloped so thoroughly in Marriage Equality and again on Repeal, they probably know better. It's going to be from the contrarians. The devil's advocates. The "I'm-just-sayings" of the world.

You'll hear it down the pub and from taxi drivers and barbers and cantankerous uncles at family gatherings. The kind of conversations that tend to happen when you're captive. All of them driven by a force that cannot be measured. Irish contrarianism. It might even be coursing through your veins right now. "Look at this columnist with his opinion - who the hell does he think he is?" Am I right or am I right?

Nobody should anticipate that contrarianism is about to win the day come October - but we might be about to get the most scientific measure yet of just how many contrarian bastards we've got out there.

Just how far does Irish contrarianism go? We're about to find out.