The discretionary powers of the President of Ireland are said to be very limited.  In fact, our President does have important powers, and our lack of appreciation of this is attributable to the fact that (thankfully) we have enjoyed relative political, economic and social stability since the Constitution was enacted.  Accordingly, the constitutional “safeguards” of which the President is guardian have only rarely been used, if at all.

These safeguards  include:   referring a bill to the Supreme Court under Article 26 to test its constitutionality; convening a meeting of either or both of the Houses of the Oireachtas (after consultation with the Council of State); deciding whether to accede to a request under Article 27 (joint petition by a majority of the members of Seanad and not less than one-third of the members of Dáil requesting the President to decline to sign into law a Bill before a referendum or election is held).

But there is one additional power which I feel may become relevant at some time in the near future.  I refer to the right of the President (under Article 13.2.2) to refuse to dissolve the Dáil when requested to do so by the Taoiseach of the day.  This request would arise where that Taoiseach has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann, usually evidenced by the loss of a vote of confidence.  The President can refuse the request if she believes it to be in the interests of the State that the Taoiseach instead goes back to the Dáil and attempts to form a different government.

In the economically and politically stressful months that lie ahead, it may well become appropriate for the next President to exercise her  (or his) discretion in this manner.  I can readily foresee a breakdown in relations between the Fine Gael and Labour partners in the current coalition government.  In a situation where the next budget is set to make cuts of, and/or increase taxes by, a total of €3.6 billion or more, there is plenty of scope for the two parties to fall out.  In particular, it is yet to be seen whether Labour have the stomach for the sort of cuts that are necessary for our economic recovery.  The signs are not good.

So how about this for a scenario:  Enda Kenny’s government falls apart after Labour withdraw their support for certain cutbacks; Enda goes to the Park to look for a dissolution and a general election; President McAleese (or her successor) says “Hang on a minute, we don’t need an election, and in fact it would be bad for the country to hold an election given the prevailing economic crisis.  There are 19 Fianna Fáil TDs on the opposition benches and you should go and talk to them.  With FG and FF combined, there is a comfortable majority, and FF under Micháel Martin can surely be persuaded to do the right thing by the country and allow the economy to be sorted out, however difficult the short-term pain might be. So, on your bike, Enda”

And with that, civil war politics might just come to an end.

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If David Norris does succeed in being nominated to run for President of Ireland, he can expect a great deal of focus on two aspects of his personality.
The first, his homosexuality, is of course a matter of great interest and debate. Ultimately, I don’t see a problem here, unless there is highly unusual stuff in his past life which has yet to surface, and which would be used in an attempt to derail his campaign. There would be some protocol issues if President Norris started a new relationship or particularly if he concluded a “gay marriage”, but these protocol issues have to be worked out sometime, somewhere, so why not now, for an Irish President?
There might be some difficulties if President Norris needed to represent Ireland vis-a-vis Middle Eastern or Muslim states, and it is said that he would not be welcome in many such countries. This could be a problem insofar as the President needs to be a trade ambassador for Ireland (as well as every other type of ambassador) and some of these countries are important actual or potential customers. My first reaction to this is to say that we shouldn’t let oppressive tyrants with medieval mindsets dictate who can be our elected President. But my second reaction is that we are a small country that is highly dependent on trade for our survival, and perhaps it would be better to let bigger and stronger countries fight this battle first?
The second aspect of Norris’ personality that will get a lot of attention, and the one that worries me more, is that he has a history of intemperate statements on various subjects, particularly the Middle East conflict.
For instance, in a 2006 Senate debate on the Palestinian conflict he said: “I know the level of degradation to which the Israeli Government is trying to drive these people by destroying sewerage facilities, water supplies and health clinics through measures such as planning permissions and judicial restrictions in an area over which it has no legitimate control. However, nobody in Europe utters a squeak. Why is this happening? It is because of the dark shadow of the criminal regime entrenched in Washington which has spread its plague all over the world, tearing up the Geneva Convention, rubbishing human rights and claiming might is right. Of course, we lickspittle to that regime because we only have dollar signs in our eyes.”
Whatever one thinks of the US during the George W. Bush era, it is bonkers to call it a “criminal regime entrenched in Washington” and Norris will have plenty of time to regret this and other over-the-top statements.
The bottom line is that I don’t see David Norris as a suitable President for Ireland, not because he is gay, but because he is a volatile attention-seeker who will cause us no end of problems.