The Presidential Illusion

Irish FlagThe President of Ireland commands a largely ceremonial role. Her influence in areas of foreign affairs is constitutionally limited by the advice of the government. Her discretionary powers are rarely used by a combination of circumstance, and those which are important can be farmed out to other actors without loss of integrity.

However, her role as Head of State seems important to citizens. Let us consider the reasons behind this, and exactly how the position has been cultivated.

The truth is that the President of Ireland’s role in the constitution is largely unnecessary. This could be easily demonstrated. Her main duties appear to be travelling abroad ceremoniously on behalf of the country, and greeting foreign dignitaries.

As long as we maintain the illusion of the President’s importance to foreign nations though, this can be advantageous. It allows Ireland to send an important representative of the state to occasions like funerals of foreign heads of government, etc. without taking up the valuable time of the Taoiseach.

If you told your friend he could take any of your most precious possessions, the President is the marble that you polished beforehand in order to distract him from the object that you’d rather keep for yourself. Hopefully, it’s money polishing well spent.

She presents the impression to the world that Ireland cares, and that we sent our Head of State to represent our condolences. There would be no doubt that an Ireland without a President would spend time worrying about offending foreign nations, and waste the time of elected politicians with work to do.

It would be much nicer if the Taoiseach observed this rule religiously and only travelled abroad for occasions that merited his specific attention in matters relating to government – rather than attending events that are not worthy, and only demand a figure-head. Unfortunately, Irish politicians are loathe to refuse a junket.

Let us hope that his journeys do not betray the reality of his superior importance, because it’s a self-replicating process if so. The President might not do much to earn her keep, and Áras an Úachtaráin might seem extravagant. But it’s a handy lie if expensive.

© The Free Marketeer 2009

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