I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today. This is a county I have been familiar with since my childhood holidays, which I used to spend in Inch.
I have only fond memories of Wexford and I hope that today will bring me even fonder ones. I stand before you here today, as part of my application to become the ninth president of Ireland.
I realise that I am coming here in the shadow of charges put against me arising from some interviews I have done over the years. The inferences behind these charges I utterly reject and would be glad to clarify for anyone during this meeting.
I understand the confusion that has arisen and regret my part in allowing that confusion, but, on the issues that I have been charged with, I am clear and my conscience is clear. My request of you today is that you grant me the opportunity to enter the race for president.
Under our constitution, the people have given you the key to my candidacy as local legislators. I believe that local democracy is central to every county in Ireland and the work of councillors such as yourselves is crucial in ensuring that the local voice is heard on issues that affect your communities.
You represent the people and I know that you take this obligation very seriously. I hope that, when my case is made, you will use your democratic voice to allow my inclusion in the presidential race.
I realise that I am no ordinary candidate and that therefore my views on a range of issues will attract more attention than others’. As a campaigner of 35 years, those views will be on the record and have sometimes been contentious.
They have had to be. My views are informed by my role in the legislative process, often dealing with complex issues. That has been my job as an independent senator.
As my record will show, my focus has always been on ensuring that the marginalised, the oppressed and the isolated are represented and that this often means taking on the status quo because, in my opinion, unless one does that in politics, it is difficult to achieve real change.
Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese had detractors during their campaigns but those detractors have been silenced by the superb job that both presidents have done.
My work has forced me on many occasions to challenge the consensus on behalf of those without a voice, but I do not regret any battle I have fought as they have been guided by my principles and my conscience as an Irishman and a public servant. However, that was then and this is now.
I am applying for the position of president of Ireland. I am keenly aware of the qualities needed in a president for today and I am fully confident that I will represent the people of Ireland with dignity and decorum.
As I have said, every candidate will have expressed views or opinions on a range of issues that they must put aside as president in order to serve all the people. My candidacy and, in the eventuality of a positive outcome, my presidency will be no different.
As an Irish senator in this country, I have seen many imaginative and progressive leaps being made. Leaps that have let people in who were previously excluded from the national debate. As somebody who campaigned for these great changes, I am proud to stand before you on my record. I think that record will show that I am passionate about what I believe in and that I have the energy and determination to strive for it.
I also believe that it will show that I am a credible and deserving candidate for this office and that you will not regret your decision should you allow me to run.
Let me reiterate, I am not asking you for your support as president, I am only asking for permission to be able to subject myself to the will of the Irish people. In this great, diverse society of ours, we can differ on many things. But there is one thing upon which all of us here would agree on and that is the love of our country.
As a politician and campaigner for all my life, it would be my greatest honour to express my love for this country by serving as president. The power of the presidential office is like no other. It is a symbolic and representative office and I feel it is where I can serve the country best.
There are some that have questioned my suitability for the office and they are entitled to their opinion. But what I will say is both Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese had detractors during their campaigns, but those detractors have been silenced by the superb job that both presidents have done and the pride that they have instilled into all of us as citizens.
In the election of the two previous presidents, Ireland took a leap of faith. With these leaps we have grown as a country and matured as a nation and I am certain that my election would further our country in a similar positive way. This is because, just as the last two presidents represented their time, I believe I can effectively represent us at this time.
We need a champion for all the people now. Someone who can articulate our current position and has the energy and enthusiasm to help us create the dynamic New Ireland for which we are all striving. I have spent a lifetime fighting for the underdog, be they travellers, children, the elderly, carers, the disabled, the disenfranchised. In some ways, we are all a little disenfranchised now.
I have repeatedly demonstrated that I can accept a challenge and triumph over it and that I can learn valuable lessons from the turbulence through which it has been my fate to fly. I have mentioned the symbolic and representative nature of the office of president. That does not make it powerless, as some people suggest. In fact, it is the opposite.
By using that symbolic power, the president can help unite the nation as a family and reflect the varied views all families hold. The president can use the office to bring attention to those issues that affect all of us in a more considered, reflective way, not always a luxury afforded to those who have been restricted by party politics. There are very few people or places in this country that have not been affected by this recession.
The next president will have to play a full part in our recovery and I pledge to do exactly that. I have therefore chosen three pillars to focus on during my campaign and hopefully as president. These pillars are mental health and well being, culture and enterprise. How we feel about ourselves and our predicament is crucial to how we deal with it. As has been said, the pain of losing things is often greater than the job of gaining them and we have all lost over the past few years.
This has caused strains and stresses that are reverberating deeply across the land. Every family in every corner of the country has in some way experienced the impact of mental-health issues. These issues do not discriminate; they visit us all from the top to the bottom of society.
For a nation of talkers, this remains a subject that is often avoided. However, recently we have seen an opening-up in the dialogue around these areas and I want to acknowledge the bravery and courage of those who have spoken out. I will be a vital part of the process of bringing these issues to the surface and dealing with them.
All my life, I have been on the outside, knocking to be let in; not just for myself, but for those I represent.
During my campaign and if I am successful in being elected as the next president of Ireland, I will continue to shine a light on this issue within Irish society. More people die by suicide in this country every year than die on our roads. I believe we can all learn how to reduce this appalling statistic and I would be privileged to play a leading role in this process.
Our culture and its expression will be one of our greatest assets in this rebuilding. In culture, we find the spirit and soul of every nation. A recent study from Trondheim University outlines a clear and positive relationship between mental health and well being and involvement in cultural activities at local level across all age groups.
Our unique culture is what defines us as a nation. It has given us a recognition way beyond our size and has made the Irish voice a global one.
The seeds of this republic were planted during the cultural revival at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Now once again we must re-imagine our republic and rebuild it for the future. I have seen in my own work with James Joyce the appetite around the world for the products of our cultural and creative geniuses.
If I am elected, I will build on my lifelong commitment to champion Irish culture, both domestically and internationally. The benefits of the promotion of culture will help boost the self-esteem of the nation and personify all that is great about us as a people. It will also attract people and investment to our country by those seeking to share in this enrichment. The entrepreneurial experience is also one of creativity and imagination.
A nation that has been through a crisis needs enterprise and energy to recover. I am confident this recovery will happen. In my visits around the country, I have seen huge evidence of this going on in county enterprise boards, in universities, institutes of technology and in local start-ups. People building unique Irish products to sell to the world. I will be their champion.
From the frozen earth of the recession, new growth is emerging. If I am elected, I will ensure that the promotion of both indigenous industry and foreign direct investment will be to the fore of my presidency. Every presidential trip that is undertaken will have a strong focus on enterprise and will include meetings with those in a position to provide inward investment into Ireland or support our export markets.
At home, I will focus on the promotion of indigenous enterprise and on fanning the flame of the entrepreneurial spirit. So my presidency will be one of imagination – the imagination of ourselves as a confident people, the expression of that imagination through culture, innovation, science and the arts and the enterprising imagination needed to create the society to which we all aspire.
All my life, I have been on the outside, knocking to be let in; not just for myself, but for those I represent. Now again I am knocking. I wish to be allowed to run for the office of president so that I can be a president for all the people. You have the keys, you can let me in, I ask you now to do so.