Irish presidential election, 2004

Irish presidential election, 2004

The Irish presidential election of 2004 was set for 22 October 2004. However, nominations closed at noon on 1 October and the incumbent president, Mary McAleese, who had nominated herself in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, was the only person nominated. Accordingly she was re-elected for a second seven-year term of office without the need to hold a election. This is the third time a president has been returned unopposed, following Seán T. O'Kelly in 1952 and Patrick Hillery in 1983. Mary McAleese's re-inauguration took place on 11 November 2004.

Party positions

Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil supported its former candidate Mary McAleese in her bid for a second term. Technically, however, the President, Mary McAleese nominated herself rather than seek a nomination from Fianna Fáil.

Fine Gael

Fine Gael also supported Mary McAleese's bid for a second term.

Labour Party

In early 2003 the Labour Party said that irrespective of the attitudes of other parties, and even in the event of the President, Mary McAleese seeking a second term, the party would run a candidate. But party leader Pat Rabbitte appeared less committed in a television interview in November 2003, pointing out that all its attentions were focused on the two Irish elections already guaranteed in 2004, the European Parliament election and the local elections to be held on 11 June 2004. Following the significant losses of the ruling Fianna Fáil party in these elections, Labour Party sources have suggested the presidential election should not be contested, if it were to allow a decisive Fianna Fáil victory so soon after earlier election woes. Possible candidates were:
* Former party chairperson and Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D. Higgins
* Former Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Dick Spring
* Former leader Ruairi Quinn
* Independent Senator and gay rights campaigner David Norris
* Former Social Democratic and Labour Party minister in Northern Ireland and deputy SDLP leader, Bríd Rodgers

On 16 September 2004, the party's parliamentary party recommended against running a candidate. The final decision was taken by the party's executive body, the National Executive, on 17 September 2004. In a surprisingly tight vote, the party's executive decided against running Higgins by a majority of one, even though the party leader and parliamentary party had come out strongly against running a candidate.

Green Party

Green Party TD Eamon Ryan let it be known that he was interested in seeking a nomination to run. However, practical difficulties included a lack of support from non-Green Party parliamentarians (fourteen of whom would be needed to nominate, as well as the six Green Party TDs), Mary McAleese's personal popularity and funding issues. Having been endorsed by the party leadership, Ryan subsequently withdrew his name before a meeting of the Green Party National Council [cite news
title=Ryan withdraws name as Presidential candidate
work=RTÉ News
date=18 September 2004
] and the Green Party ultimately did not run a candidate.

inn Féin

Sinn Féin also supported the President, Mary McAleese's bid for a second term.


Independent TDs and/or Senators could have nominated an independent candidate, although they would have difficulty securing the support of the necessary twenty TDs and/or senators. Possible candidates included:

* Senator David Norris – who did not receive a Labour Party nomination
* Kevin Lee – Former emigrant who had a campaign and contacted local councillors
* Vincent Salafia – Environmental activist and anti-motorway campaigner
* Dana Rosemary Scallon – Family rights campaigner, candidate in 1997, and former MEP
* Mary Robinson (President: 1990–97) – Former presidents who have not served two terms may nominate themselves for election at any stage.

Independent candidacy

Following her defeat in the European Parliament election of June 2004, 1997 presidential election candidate Dana Rosemary Scallon indicated that she might also run as an independent presidential candidate on a platform of opposition to the adoption of the proposed European Union constitution. She initially attempted to repeat her 1997 strategy of seeking nominations from four county councils, and approached all the county councils in the country but was rebuffed. Shortly before the close of nominations she turned her attention to attempting to obtain nomination by 20 members of the Oireachtas, but was similarly unsuccessful.

History of electoral contests

The electoral wins in contested polls are as follows
* Fianna Fáil: 1945, 1959, 1966, 1973, 1997
* Fine Gael: none
* Independent supported by Labour: 1990

Only one contest has taken place involving an incumbent president. In the 1966 presidential election President Éamon de Valera defeated Fine Gael's Tom O'Higgins by less than one percent.

Alternative electoral prediction

McAleese was always the likely but not certain victor in the presidential election. Given the near defeat of a legendary nationalist figure like Éamon de Valera, President McAleese could not be certain of victory. In an electoral contest under the Single transferable vote (in effect instant-runoff voting since only one person can win), the greater the number of candidates, the greater the likelihood that an incumbent could be beaten, if all other candidates transfer their preferences to each other. McAleese, according to opinion polls, would have gone into the election with a popularity level in excess of 80%. The then electoral unpopularity of Fianna Fáil might have hindered her electability, but with her popularity so high, it would have been extremely difficult, though not impossible, to beat her.

Criticism of the election

In the event of a public vote, it is likely that some of the public would have voted against the incumbent, although there is no firm guideline as to how much support would have remained for McAleese, as this would have depended on what other candidates were presented. (As mentioned earlier, McAleese's support was however, exceedingly high). For those who desired a public vote, the main culprits in defeating efforts to nominate other candidates were the main parties, who blocked any support from county councils. In particular, Fine Gael's alliance with Fianna Fáil was instrumental in blocking candidates such as Dana Rosemary Scallon. Critics of the system argue that this "agreed election" called into question the need for a supposedly non-political office where only politicians can nominate a candidate, with few powers, that is detached from the people, and to which elections take place only every 14 years.


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