"A President for all of the Irish Nation" Opinion Piece from Michaela Boyle MLA
Published: 13 September, 2011
Mary Mc Aleese is universally applauded for the manner in which she has embraced the office of Presidency -not least because of her mould-breaking efforts which have seen the culture of the Office moving away from merely a staid official functionary role to one which endeavoured to reach out to every section of the Irish nation as opposed to the Irish state -
This change was amply illustrated by her pro-active outreach to communities previously marginalised north and south, to the Irish diaspora worldwide and not least to her outreach within the unionist community and to the unionist tradition on this island.
It is ironic therefore, that those within the 26 county political establishment who are now tripping over themselves in praise of the mould-breaking and inclusive nature of Mary Mc Aleese's Presidency to embrace the concept of the Irish nation as opposed to the Irish state were the same people who, down through the years, have been constantly frustrating efforts to give practical expression to this concept by refusing to legislate for the extension of voting rights to Irish citizens in the north and to the Irish diaspora worldwide.
For example in 2006, when Councils in the 6 counties backed a Sinn Féin motion which included a call for An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD to give immediate effect to the Constitution's recognition of the entitlement of every person born on the island of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation by legislating for among other things the right to vote in Presidential elections, Bertie did not even bother responding. So much for cherishing all the children of the nation equally, so much for Fianna Fáil - 'the Republican Party.'
Sinn Fein has persisted in the campaign to move the Irish Government to give practical and institutional expression to the political and cultural identity of Irish citizens in the six counties in line with the commitments it entered into under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement to provide be equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities in this part of Ireland
We now have had a pre-election commitment from Fine Gael that if elected to Government it would hold a Referendum to amend the Constitution to extend voting rights for Presidential elections on an all-Ireland basis and for Irish citizens overseas. We welcome this commitment but this pre-election promise must now be followed through by setting a definitive date for this Referendum.
Extending the electoral franchise for Presidential elections is but one of the essential steps needed in forging national reconciliation and unity and I would call on every candidate in the current race for the Presidency must state if their vision of inclusiveness includes affording all Irish citizens the right to fully participate in the democratic and civic life of the nation.