It’s probably too early in the race for Áras an Uachtaráin to pay overmuch attention to the mixed slate of potential candidates who’ve emerged in recent weeks. Most of these men and women are singularly uninspiring characters: veteran politicians, narcissistic entrepreneurs or puffed up do-gooders whose soundbite blandishments reflect a degree of contempt for the intellect and acumen of Irish voters. Standing out from this posse of mediocrity is the investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty, the would-be scourge of the Golden Circle, who claims that she will use her candidacy to challenge some of the acknowledged political and social ills which afflict modern Ireland.
Unfortunately, I’m not entirely convinced that this intention, however laudable, is enough to win my vote. To be honest, I’d prefer someone more in the mode of the present office holder, Michael D. Higgins (though without his party political background or penchant for reneging on election promises). Given its ceremonial constraints, an “activist presidency” would probably be perpetually on the cusp of a constitutional crisis as the heads of state and government vied with each other. With Bunreacht na hÉireann clearly – and correctly – leaning heavily in favour of the latter.
O’Doherty’s unconventional declaration of her candidacy matches her anti-establishment persona. And it’s fascinating to watch some in the establishment press have a mini-meltdown on social media over her potential participation in the presidential contest. Especially those who carry water for the Labour Party, including certain newspaper columnists who were among the most vociferous supporters of Michael D. in the previous race to the Áras. There is no doubt that the journalistic inquisitiveness of the former reporter with The Irish Independent newspaper irks many of her professional peers. Some do not appreciate her efforts to shine a rather uncomfortable light into the darker corners of the nation, where the competing interests of politics, business and justice merges into mutually beneficial shades of grey. And in this particular case, they do not like the possibility that she may drain away some of the electoral support or adulating publicity of their preferred nominee.
While O’Doherty can be given to the odd bit of hyperbole in her online postings when describing the history of corruption and patronage in the higher echelons of Irish society, and her supporters even more so, in general she has a fair track record on such matters. During her career she has displayed an admirable tenacity for seeking out the truth.
Dismissing her as a “conspiracy theorist” or a “fantasist”, as some corporate commentators have tried to claim over the last week, is a questionable response to her candidacy. Again, while I tend to shirk from her occasionally excessive rhetoric, I’m more inclined to pay attention to the person crying “Fire!” while gesturing wildly to the crowd than to the several persons standing nearby who deny the very existence of the conflagration in the first place, despite the smoke and flames billowing up behind them.
Though, as I already indicated, one might legitimately question if Áras an Uachtaráin is the right venue for such things. However well intended.