How to elect Governor General in Canada .. study poet Michael Higgins’ victory as new Irish President!

Oct 29th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

President-elect Michael D Higgins celebrates on stage with his wife Sabina Coyne and his children. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien/The Irish Times.

BBC News Europe is reporting that: “The Labour Party’s Michael D Higgins has been officially confirmed as the ninth Irish president after one of the most remarkable comebacks in the state’s history … The poet and campaigner received 701,101 first-preference votes – almost 40% of the total … His victory over one-time favourite Sean Gallagher was evident within an hour of the ballot boxes being opened … He was elected on the fourth count with 1,007,104 votes … Mr Gallagher received 628,114 votes.”

As reported by our own resident Ontario historian, Dr. Randall White, just two days ago, the contemporary Irish Presidency is a legacy of the old office of Irish Governor General. And it is an important precedent for we Canadians who believe in the kind of “implementation of instituting a Canadian head of state popularly elected and sever formal ties with the British Crown,” currently proposed by the Young Liberals of Canada.

Outgoing Irish President Mary McAleese chats with Queen Elizabeth II during “the first visit by a British monarch to the Republic of Ireland” this past May.

One aspect of the Irish precedent worth underlining is that the victor in popular elections for ceremonial head of state in Ireland (ie a more democratic replacement for the appointed office currently held by the Governor General of Canada) must finally secure at least a bare majority (50%) of the country-wide popular vote. For more on just how this works – in a field of seven initial candidates, as Ireland has had in its 2011 presidential election – see “Story of presidential election count” in the Irish Times.

It is worth stressing as well that even though President-elect Higgins has at least something of a partisan political background (alongside his career as a published “poet and rights activist”) he  “announced he would resign immediately as president and member of the Labour Party, the junior member of Ireland’s coalition government, because  his new role as ceremonial head of state meant he must be ‘a president for all the people.’”

Outgoing Irish President Mary McAleese with Barack Obama, in Dublin also this past May.

President-elect Higgins also “said he wanted to help revive the public’s faith in politicians at a time when Ireland faces record debts, a property market collapse, 15 percent unemployment and a fourth straight year of severe spending cuts.”

(And, as the BBC reported several days ago now, even though the “Irish presidency is largely a symbolic role,” it “in recent times can be seen as foretelling the direction the republic is moving towards … That may help to explain why Mary Robinson’s election in 1990 heralded a more liberal and less Catholic country while seven years later Mary McAleese’s ‘bridge-building’ theme foreshadowed … [the north-south] reconciliation of the Good Friday Agreement a year later.” If this kind of foreshadowing remains intact, the election of Michael Higgins is a welcome optimistic sign for the current struggles of the wider Irish future.)

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