Áras18: A student’s perspective on the Presidential Election
16-year-old, Conor Ruth has his say on the 2018 Irish Presidential Election
7 years ago, I was a fourth-class student. I have some vague recollections of the last presidential election. I was a big supporter of David Norris, although, I can’t remember any great reason for that. I’m now a fifth-year student. You mightn’t expect me to have any interest in the current Presidential election. You’d be wrong. I’m an avid politico who can’t get enough of elections, referenda, etc.
The same can’t be said for my classmates and the majority of fifth-year students across the country. The youth of today seem to be completely disengaged with the Presidential election, and the day-to-day happenings in the world of politics. This isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been the case for years. You might point to the recent referendum on the 8th Amendment or on marriage equality as a sign of a politically engaged, interested and motivated youth, but I beg to differ. Those were massive, once in a lifetime social issues of the day. I personally think that it would be more worrying if our youth weren’t engaged on those big issues which directly affect them. The question has to be posed: does the Presidential Election have any effect on the youth of today? I don’t think so. The Office of the President hasn’t got any direct effect on the lives of young people today. The Gaisce award and other initiatives have made progress to fill that gap and bring the President to the people, but, these can only go so far.
I have followed the current Presidential campaign closely from the nomination stage to the current stage. I truly believe that an election was necessary so the people could have their say; the polls may suggest a landslide victory for the incumbent but this doesn’t mean the election was unnecessary. I also wasn’t impressed with the efforts to stop the people of Ireland from having their say but thankfully those efforts weren’t successful. I have enjoyed the campaign so far although it hasn’t been the most action-packed. The incumbent, Michael D Higgins has been polling on figures as high as 70% which must damage the other candidates resolve.
Peter Casey, one of three Dragons in the race, has run a campaign which can only be described as bizarre. His Trump-esque tweets and videos on a range of different issues from Brexit to golf balls have been a source of great entertainment on the campaign. His performance in the Claire Byrne Live debate suggests he’s running in this election for his own enjoyment. Bizarre.
When Sinn Féin announced that they were to run a candidate, it was thought that they had wrongfooted both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. This hasn’t been the case. Liadh Ní Riada’s campaign hasn’t gotten off the ground as planned. She has struggled to gain traction. Her promise on leading the conversation on a United Ireland hasn’t caught the public’s imagination; I’m with Gavin Duffy on this issue who has made it clear that this isn’t the right time for a conversation on a United Ireland. Her vow to wear a poppy on Armistice Day risks alienating her own party which she can’t afford to do. She received a boost in polling figures today but she is still struggling and I can’t see that changing.
Gavin Duffy, the second Dragon in the race, has had a mixed campaign. After getting bogged down in various interviews surrounding his motoring offences, Duffy’s campaign now looks to be back on the right track. His performance in the debate was impressive, the star performer in my opinion. His attacks on Sean Gallagher and Michael D Higgins were strong, although his closing speech has been criticised for focusing on them instead of his own message. Duffy also has an interesting idea regarding the youth but his message has also failed to gain much support.
Joan Freeman, the founder of Pieta House, has run an assured campaign but just like the majority of candidates in this race, she hasn’t gained much traction. The media seemed to target her at the beginning of the campaign, attacking her on her loan from Des Walsh. I believe Joan’s message on putting Mental Health to the forefront of her campaign is a good message, but she has lingered in the single figures during this campaign. She showed herself to be a calm and knowledgeable candidate in the debate on Monday night. Although it’s looking very unlikely, however, I’m supporting Joan to become the next Uachtarán na hÉireann.
Sean Gallagher, the third and final dragon, to enter the race has struggled to get his message across. He doesn’t seem to have any real reason or message behind him and he has been exposed for this over the course of the campaign. His failure to participate in the Claire Byrne Live debate hasn’t done him any favours either; a bad move in my opinion. A disappointing campaign from the man who was runner-up last time out.
Michael D Higgins left it very late to announce his intentions to run for a second term, although it was clear which way he was going to go for some time. The revelations surrounding expenses in the Áras doesn’t seem to have hurt his campaign in any way and it looks like he will go on to win this presidential election in a landslide victory. As a Gaeilgeoir myself, I admire his work promoting our national language and culture, but I would like a change in the Áras.
I admire all of the candidates for putting themselves forward for public office as it requires great courage, dedication and most of all financial commitment; especially for a presidential campaign. Although I don’t have a vote, I’m supporting Joan Freeman to be the next president of Ireland with Gavin Duffy and Michael D Higgins getting my next preferences.