Irish political history is at its most inspiring when it highlights the visionaries, whether it was lone voices championing contraception and equal rights for women in the 1970s, or those who stood up for the rights of Protestants to raise their children as Protestant in the 1950s. They were condemned in their day, but history proved them right, and condemned their detractors as political pygmies to be scorned and forgotten.
He had the choice. Finally a member of the Oireachtas, he had the power, the personal power granted under the constitution, to make a difference, and sign the nomination papers of a candidate for president. He did not agree with her political views, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that not only did he not agree, but he believed that no one else should be permitted to agree either, and so withheld his signature. The people should not have the final say, in his mind. He should.
It was his legal right. The sad thing is, this was the moment he was going to play his greatest role ever, and he failed. The one unique power the constitution gave him, and despite all the years of pontificating and taking stands and calling for this and that, when he finally had the power to act, completely unhindered, he dropped the pen and ran away, as if to say “Please, take this power away from me! I didn’t realise that having that lovely title and the lovely salary meant I would have to actually take responsibility for things!”
Funny thing is, history won’t even condemn him, because it won’t remember him, except maybe as a minor footnote, one of those people who voted against rights for Protestants or blacks for some obscure reason that they used to justify at the time but is now lost in the sands of time. When they looked for a champion, he stood up to say no. That’s what will be marked beside his name when his grandchildren look up their grandfather for a school project, tabbing the delete key before their friends see it, because granddad wanted to stop everybody else from voting except for the people he approved of.