Fergus Finlay: Rivalry over Presidency is good for democracy
WITH nominations closing today, the process of selecting a Labour Party candidate for the Presidential election has been a fascinating one so far.
It's hard to be objective about it, of course, because I'm one of the three candidates who are seeking the nomination, and I'm going flat out to win.
The three of us -- Michael D Higgins, Kathleen O'Meara and myself -- are all fighting it out in a kind of American-style primary election.
We have each been nominated by at least one constituency -- I'm really honoured actually by the number of constituencies that have agreed to nominate me, from all parts of the country. So now we have 16 days to impress the internal party electorate, before one of us is chosen to represent Labour in the overall election.
I'm thinking already that all the parties should be doing this. It's a really democratic exercise. Although the party rules confine the decision to the Parliamentary party and the executive board (that's about 60 people altogether) each of the people entitled to vote is in tune with the members and voters in their own constituencies.
So the more party meetings you can address, the more chance you have of influencing the key votes.
The three of us are criss-crossing the country, meeting each other in different constituencies as we go, each of us trying to persuade as many people as possible within the party that we have the skills and the energy to win the overall election.
If Michael D makes a great speech one night, the other two candidates go home a bit deflated. On the other hand, if I feel I've held my own (or better) with the other candidates, I float home on a high.
But it's been pretty civilised. The three Labour candidates know each other pretty well and we all respect each other. We're coming at our candidacies from different perspectives, and we each think we have something different to offer.
So I'm reasonably confident that whoever wins the internal contest, it won't be too hard for the other candidates to form a united front. It's a healthy rivalry -- the sort of thing that doesn't do democratic politics any harm.
And of course, we're all united around the gossip that this campaign has thrown up so far. What are Fine Gael at? Can Fianna Fail mount a credible campaign?
Will any of the independents get a nomination (actually, I genuinely hope they all do -- the more choice there is in this election, the better for the office of the Presidency). And will Sinn Fein have the courage to put Gerry Adams forward?
I have a day job as well, of course, so a lot of this politicking is done at night. But in the course of my daily work, I meet hundreds of people.
This past few days, for instance, I've been asked to speak at the commencement in a secondary school in Dublin, at the prize-giving for a famous oul secondary school in Tipperary, and at the graduation of a brilliant group of student nurses in one of the great teaching hospitals in Dublin.
They were all wonderful events -- and everywhere, the subject of the Presidency is coming up.
You can detect the beginnings of a bit of a buzz. It's early days in this election, but it's clear already that the people of Ireland expect their next President to deliver a lot of hope and trust. At every level of Irish society, there is a strong sense that a huge amount of damage has been done by the policies of the past.
There is a hunger, I think, for a sort of reconnection between the people and the broad political process.
Mind you, there's also a sense that the next President of Ireland has a hard act to follow!
Anyway, that's all for another day. Today is the closing of nominations within the Labour Party.
On Sunday June 19 -- just 16 days from now -- the party will pick one of us to go and do democratic battle with all comers, so the people of the country can make a choice in the only office in which every single citizen has a voice.
May the best man or woman win!