Mary Robinson famously placed a candle in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin as both a symbol of the Irish diaspora and as a welcome home beacon.
Mary McAleese wasn’t given to such overt acts but her two terms as Irish president were symbolized by an open door in her official residence and a welcome mat that saw many feet cross it, not least unionists and Orange Order members from the North.
Given the restrictions placed on it by the Irish Constitution, the presidency does rely a fair bit on symbolism, the ability of the incumbent to draw on such symbolism and explain it to a broad audience.
Robinson was very good at this, McAleese was a master of the art.
Michael D. Higgins will not be at a loss for words. But if he is thinking of placing anything in his bedroom window, literally or figuratively, IF would suggest a ballot paper.
The Higgins campaign was notable for his paying attention to the issue of votes for diasporites. He set out his stall in a speech in London early on in the campaign. Part of that speech was reproduced in this paper a couple of issue ago.
Of course, Higgins will not have executive control over the issue during his seven year term. But he knows Irish politics well and should be able to keep the matter of extended voting rights front and center as the process of a constitutional review gets underway with the intended target of having a 21st century version of Bunreacht Na hÉireann in place by 2016.
Watch this space/window!
SMOKIN’ IN BELFAST
The world of boxing and sports in general lost a giant this week with the death of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. It should be noted that Frazier, unlike his great rival Muhammad Ali, never fought on Irish soil (Ali fought Al Blue Lewis at Croke Park in 1972) but he stepped on it a few years back when he visited Belfast as a guest of then mayor Alex Maskey.
“It is easy to forget, with unemployment at 14.6 percent and 100 people emigrating every day that similar challenges were overcome in the 1980s. As the economy gathered pace after 1987, the number of returning emigrants rose rapidly each year and peaked at 27,000 in 2002. In those same years, unemployment fell from 15.9 percent to an historic low of 3.6 percent.
“What was achieved once can, with determination, investment and discipline be repeated. There does not have to be a return to negativity and to long-term underachievement. A recent Irish Times opinion poll indicated that public confidence was severely damaged in the economic downturn. Nearly three in five respondents now believe those people leaving will not return. The government faces a huge task in lifting that gloom and in generating growth in the economy. In the meantime, keeping in touch with far-flung exiles and making them feel wanted at home should be a priority.” From an Irish Times editorial.