Well that was a bit of a waste. With the incumbent, Michael D Higgins, refusing to attend last night’s presidential candidates’ debate on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live, and with the crypto-Fianna Fáil nominee Seán Gallagher consequently following suit, the televised event was pretty much a wash. Sure, there were a few interesting moments, mainly down to some heckles from the audience, but otherwise it was a bland affair with everyone on their best behaviour. Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada adopted the most professional pose of the four attendees, outshining her rivals, Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy and Joan Freeman. Though it was pretty obvious that the MEP had gone through some intense, stick-to-the-message pre-debate tutoring.
That said, Ní Riada’s admission that she would wear a Royal British Legion Poppy while attending annual events to commemorate the Armistice or the formal end of the First World War was a surprise, albeit a rather unpleasant one. Frankly picturing the President of Ireland wearing a symbol honouring Britain’s militarist and imperial past makes me very uneasy, whatever the occasion. There is a highly questionable history and message behind that symbol and one which has partly manifested itself in the Brexit madness gripping our neighbours to the east. But then again, there are going to be many uneasy things we’ll have to accept after reunification if we are going to successfully accommodate the complex loyalties of the unionist minority on the island. So I suppose it’s better to start now rather than later, however queasy it makes one.
As for Michael D Higgins, his decision not to appear before the nation to discuss the merits of his time in office and his candidacy for reelection illustrates how far he has strayed from his man-of-the-people origins. The only contribution he made to the TV debate last night was a message sent in by his PR team to rebut some of the criticisms made of him by the other candidates, which was read out live on-air. I may have voted for Higgins in 2011 but I doubt that I will be voting for him again. The former Labour Party TD and his online groupies have adopted a rather repugnant attitude in recent months, a supercilious highhandedness as if offended by the very idea of the Great Leader having to contest his second term in office.
Someone should tell the Higginistas that we live in an Irish republic not a banana republic.