Return to Irish politics menu
The presidential election that wasn’t

Andrew Johnson

25th October 2004

Well, Mary McAleese was re-elected for another seven years as Uachtaran na hEireann this month without having to go through an election. In the absence of any opposing candidate the sitting president was returned unopposed.

What does the no-contest tell us about southern politics today? After all, the presidency is a fairly irrelevant post in terms of the powers of the office. However, its symbolic value does mean that presidential elections can give a pointer to the way the wind is blowing politically. The 200,000 votes for independent republican Patrick MacCartan in the 1945 election paved the way for the formation of Clann na Poblachta two years later; Mary Robinson’s victory in 1990 presaged Labour’s Spring tide in 1992.

What we can learn first and foremost from the presidential non-election is that there is to all intents and purposes no opposition in the south. The major parties have no serious differences over the serious issues. McAleese’s grand coalition of backers – Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the PDs and Sinn Fein – stands as a monument to the neoliberal consensus.

The little fun to be had in this non-election was in watching what passes for an opposition in the south backing out of opposing the grand coalition. The non-candidacies of Michael D Higgins, Eamon Ryan and Denis Halliday, not to mention the last-minute attempt to draft Patricia McKenna, were dead in the water from the start, it being absolutely clear that Labour and the Greens were not going to run a campaign.

In fact the nearest thing to an opposition campaign came from Dana. But the voice of clerical reaction failed to even get nominated, a third defeat after her failure at the last general election and loss of her Euro seat. Partly this is because a fair number of Dana’s Catholic Taliban have died since her last tilt at the presidency. But more significantly, Dana’s failure demonstrates that the Irish ruling class does not need a far right. Things are going nicely enough for Irish capitalism that the bosses do not have to rely on clericalist yahoos to enforce their agenda.

So what can we learn from this non-event? Let us turn to the 6th October issue of Socialist Worker for enlightenment. An SW editorial berates the “Left parties” – this apparently means Labour, the Greens and Sinn Fein – for failing to seize the “glorious opportunity” to put forward an anti-war candidate. In a wonderful non-sequitur, the article ends with the now standard appeal for the Socialist Party to form an electoral bloc with the SWP.

Up to a point, this is fair enough. An anti-war candidacy might have been a useful propaganda vehicle. But the left’s obsessive focus on electoralism, coupled with the belief that Irish politics revolves around the US use of Shannon airport, is fast becoming a block to progress. We do need an opposition, one rooted in the working class across the island, an opposition to the imperialist pacification process and to social partnership. That opposition has yet to be built.


Return to top of page