03 October 2011

Gay Mitchell Presidential Campaign Launch Speech

As the youngest of nine children, I know something about challenges. My father died when I was five. My mother was 47-years-old. It was a time when women didn’t work much outside the home. She had no choice. So she did it. Every day.
As a parent myself, I know now what she thought about on the way to her cleaning job, at four o’clock, on those pitch-black January mornings. She thought about us, her children. About giving the best example. Leading a good life. Making the best future she could for all of us. She knew that occasional flashes of brilliance wouldn’t be enough to see us through. She knew it was being steady, reliable, honest, hardworking, interested in others, that would win the day for her and for us all. It did.

The next Presidency must be like that, it must be unlike any that has gone before, and we have an in-built target date. As we face the centenary of 1916, the next President is gifted the task of leading a renewal of our Republic. The task of rescuing it from dereliction. Dereliction of the courage, the idealism, the nobility, the equality, the very heart and soul on which it was founded.

On a practical level my first proposal is that the next President have overall responsibility for the planning and organisation of the centenary commemorations. Commemorations that must be sensitive, sophisticated and inclusive of all the traditions on the island of Ireland. I would use my national and international know how to work with the Government of the day, to create a commemoration that is truly inclusive. That will inform and inspire the new generation with a real sense of the passion, humility and bravery of those who gave their lives in 1916.

Vaclav Havel, no stranger to any of those qualities, writes that ‘Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political gain can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain political significance.’

The Office of President is above party politics. But as part of the Oireachtas, it is a political office. Therefore, my second proposal is to use the Office to work with those people and agencies whose moral acts, done quietly and respectfully, save lives every day. I’m talking about suicide. A horror that stalks this land claiming 600 people a year. A suicide counsellor told me recently that as people reach the point of no return, it’s like they’re in a very dark room with no door. We have to open such doors. Bring light to each other’s darkness.

My life’s experience would empower me as President to reach out, especially to our young people and say in this country you don’t have to be anything or anyone, other than yourself. In a future Ireland, we must not value you because of where you come from, who your father was or because you’re incredibly smart. We must value you simply because you are here. One of us.

And if we are moral, our concern for children cannot end at our own borders. I want to extend that concern to the children in other parts of the world. As President I would set up a new initiative, working with other Heads of State to address the horrific figures of death among these children. 36,000 children used to die in the developing world each and every day, we’ve made great progress but it is still 22,000 children per day.

There’s the old saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child. But it takes the whole world, to make sure that child lives for raising. We can lead the world on this. And we have form. Our missionaries and NGOs have led the way. Our own experiences of famine, our instinctive compassion, our renowned humanitarianism have taken the name of Ireland around the globe. Now, it’s time to work on that, to extend it, this time with a leading role for the Office of the President. Working for the developing world, working with the Irish Diaspora.

In a few days, there’ll be a meeting on the Diaspora in Dublin Castle where the Taoiseach, President Clinton and others will attend. As President I would work with the government of the day to build on the work of the Global Economic Forum and other networks, to encourage innovation at home and harness the moral and material backing of our ‘people’ wherever they may be. This has to be a two way street, we have to give, to recognise as well as to ask and to receive.

Why not a Gaisce awards for the Diaspora? Or a Presidential Council to identify ways of honouring those of the Irish Diaspora? Indeed, the Constitution permits the appointment of 7 persons (not necessarily citizens) to the Council of State. I would like to appoint an Irish person living abroad or one of their descendants, to the Council of State, on a rotating basis, one each year for 7 years.

The Presidency of Ireland is a one-person institution part of our National Parliament (The Oireachtas) along with the Houses of the Oireachtas. The President swears to uphold the Constitution and law, and to serve the welfare of the people. The three past Presidents are those with whom I am most familiar. All have served the Nation well and have developed the role of the presidency. They have shown how a President can make a difference.

The continuing economic challenges we face also present us with an opportunity to reflect on how we got here, how to get out of some of our difficulties and where we want to go to from here. Where I want to go is to rekindle Declan Costello’s philosophy of a just society and to promote real unity in diversity. Together with my late brother Jim, I joined Fine Gael mostly because of Declan Costello and Garret FitzGerald but also because of the integrity of Liam Cosgrave. The death earlier this year of Declan is a reminder, if we needed one, that the objective of a just society was once a burning hope in the hearts of many Irish people. I want to rekindle that hope.

For some this will sound like soft sentimentality. The problem is that we have become too ‘cool’ and lost our sense of awe and wonder. A Republic which nurtures a just society is one, in my view, where the principles of rights and responsibilities, and enterprise and social justice are intertwined. It is easy to talk of rights and social justice but rights bring with them responsibilities for ourselves and others.

Social justice through accessible education and health, for example, can only be provided if the enterprising spirit is encouraged so as to create the wealth to pay for these services. This is not a question of unregulated greed – we can see where that got us – there must be rules for enterprise to thrive. A person who by the sweat of their brow makes a real effort should harvest the product of that effort.

Most people say they want an inclusive and tolerant society. However, some have applied politically correct measures as to what inclusivity and tolerance means. I want an inclusive and tolerant Ireland where religious believers are respected as are non-believers. Where who your parents were, where you were born or the colour of your skin does not delimit your opportunities. That tolerance has to extend to our fellow Irishmen and women North of the border. Some of these are Nationalist and some Unionist. If we are to be united as a people we must first end our partitionist mentality and grasp some nettles.

What sort of Ireland do we want North and South? How is this to be accomplished? Are we prepared to celebrate our Irishness, inclusive of those who are Irish and British as well as those who are just Irish or Irish and European? Without diminishing the role of our Head of State, what can the President and the Queen do jointly in Northern Ireland to unite hearts and respect cultures?

From my studies of Irish politics at Queen's University, Belfast, I really believe that we can do much more together if we put our hearts into it and respect our differences. The Africans have a saying: If you want to go fast, run on. If you want to go far lets walk together. In Europe, 60m people died, in the two world wars of the first half of the 20th century. We have learned to live together, it is not a perfect arrangement and at times it is overpowering.

We can restore that power balance by taking time, networking, persuading, meeting and greeting, impressing and by intelligent argument. I want to play my part in ensuring that Ireland's views are heard where it matters and that they are heeded. This may take more perspiration than inspiration and I believe I have the experience, the fighting spirit and the stamina for the job.

Right now we need solidarity, belief, direction, confidence, energy, integrity, experience and can-do. I believe my set of skills can be put to good use serving the real welfare of the people. I want this job (and not just to be in office) because it gives me the opportunity to serve, to recommit to what brought me into politics; a desire to change things for the better. My life’s experience tells me this is possible.