In a somewhat hysterical closing speech to the recent Fianna Fail Ard Fheis, party leader Micheal Martin accused the Government of being ‘elitist’ and ‘out of touch’.

This is somewhat ironic given that in many ways it was the Fianna Fail leader himself and his party which seemed out of touch with the general public and, indeed, with his own supporters.

Three examples particularly come to mind: one was the continuing efforts by the party leader, and his party, to push the party further to the left, exemplified by the socialist language of his closing speech.

But more concretely, we saw it in FF’s contribution to the budget where incredibly it supported increasing jobseekers allowance (at a time of almost full employment) but yet stopped any meaningful tax relief for actual workers and families who continue to hit by a near 50% tax rate on earnings over 34,000 euros.

This policy of supporting welfare over work has been causing despair among ordinary FF members and voters, many of whom are in retail or SMEs or trying to get along in a high cost economy. Such rhetoric just allows Fine Gael to portray itself as the only party standing up for the squeezed middle.

The other ‘out of touch’ moment was the rejection by the Ard Fheis, by a big margin of any move to Repeal the Eighth amendment and bring in abortion in limited circumstances. The motion followed a full conference debate on the topic, but it flies in the face of popular opinion which shows an appetite for addressing the thorny issue in some form.

The third ‘out of touc’h example was the passing of a motion for the party to run a FF candidate at the next Presidential election and thus deny our incumbent an automatic second term, like Mary McAleese got.

This shows a total deafness to the mood of the wider electorate who feel that Micheal D Higgins is doing a fine, and indeed, at times, a very fine job and who want him to carry on in the Aras. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is the public’s view and opinion polls shows that two thirds of voters are happy to see the Galway man get a second term.

But down in the echo chamber of the RDS, amidst the mutual backslapping of the Soldiers of Destiny, this national sentiment is not heard – just as the squeezed middle is not heard – and instead we have the party thinking of itself before country, not for the first time.

Giddy with conference fever, we had the tribal FF instinct of fighting for the spoils of any electoral dog fight to ‘get their man in’. Or ‘their woman’, although on the evidence of recent history that requirement will be in short supply !

Why should we have an election just to satisfy FF desire for an electoral run-out ? FF, of course, stood aside at the last Presidential election, as the party was still in the sin bin after its boom to bust responsibility. But that is a guilt which seems to have magically departed.

It would be different if Fianna Fail actually had someone significant and valuable ready to run for President. But there is no one. The candidacy of Bertie Ahern, as mooted, would be a disaster. Bertie has been unfairly demonised, in many respects and still has much on offer but running for the Aras would unleash huge controversy and negativity.

As for those who say we need a Presidency to reinforce democracy and give us choice, this is baloney and is only said by journalists or political hacks hungry for drama and something to get exercised out. The busy public do not care, and in fact they are fatigued by polls and electoral contests and are already facing into a few long years of endless referendums and then the European, local and a possible general election in 2019. Enough already !

The fact that, other than FF, the calls for a contest have come from the likes of Senator Gerard Craughwell and Michael Fitzmaurice TD, well-meaning but publicity-hungry independents with no clear agenda, speaks volumes on the subject. Interestingly, Micheal Martin was originally not supportive of a contest and supported Higgins getting a second term (as does the Government) but his party clearly feels differently.

The bigger picture is that Michael D Higgins has been doing an excellent job in the Park, and as with Mary McAleeese after one term, he is only getting into his stride. He is as good as many of us expected and I say this as someone who does not generally share his left wing politics.


However, many of us would feel that this is precisely why we need such a seasoned radical, who represents a different side of our national character – someone with a radical activist background, who is poetic, passionate and outspoken, and thus in marked contrast to our more centrist and conformist Government and often play-safe and lacklustre Leinster House culture.

He is that rarity in Irish political life, someone with a deep and passionate interest in the arts, but also in philosophy and thought, in history and even theology – even if mercifully he has long scorned the fake religious piety that so many of our political classes displayed.

On the contrary, Higgins has been unashamedly and almost exuberantly maverick, and free thinking and. in the social sphere, highly progressive and prescient. Ideas now mainstream were once only voiced by him and a few others. He thus represents the best of the Labour party tradition. And he put himself on the electoral line, standing repeatedly in Galway West, where such radicalism was appreciated, and blossoming and enhancing Government as a team player.

It is the same with the Presidency. His radicalism has mellowed into gravitas and sincere intelligence. Indeed, his occasional political utterances offer a useful and reassuring balance for those concerned by the uncertainties of globalism and international upheaval. We expect this from the Presidency.

Like his predecessors, he is popular abroad, where his charm and intelligence, but also his radical background, is respected and impressed. Around the centenary of 1916, foreign audiences would be disappointed if we sent them another stuffed shirt, mouthing official platitudes. His wife, Sabina, is also a valuable and energetic asset in the role.

We’ve been lucky with our Presidents – luckier than we’ve been with our other politicians. This is why it is alarming and ironic that our busy-body political culture is trying to get in and upset this impressive pattern. Fianna Fail should concentrate on easing the lives of working families, respect the continuity of a hard-working President and put the country before party for a change.