My questions for Irish Presidential candidates went out to candidates a few weeks ago now, and we finally have a response, with the office of Sean Gallagher sending me his answers the other day. Printed below are Gallagher’s comments, in bold, with my own notes written afterwards in italics.
-Would you ever refuse a dissolution of the Dail if a sitting Taoiseach, having suffered a “loss of supply”, requested it?
If the Taoiseach has the support of the majority of the members of the Dáil, and he or she advises the President to dissolve the Dáil, the President must do so. If the Taoiseach does not have the support of the majority of the members of the Dáil, the President may refuse to dissolve the Dáil. The circumstances in which such a situation might arise would have to be examined very carefully and therefore it is impossible to say at this point, whether I would or would not, were I to be elected President.
NFB: I suppose this is a fair answer, though you would hope for something a bit more concrete.
-Would you ever refuse to sign a piece of legislation put to you, if deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court?
If the Supreme Court holds that a Bill is unconstitutional, then as President I could not sign it into law, however if I were to refer a Bill to the supreme court and the Supreme Court deems it compatible with the constitution then the constitutionality of that legislation cannot be challenged subsequently.
NFB: Fair enough, but the point of the question was to ask what kind of issues of conscience would prevent a President from signing something (and therefore resigning).
-Would you be willing to call for an “ordinary referendum” over a piece of legislation in the event of a suitable petition being presented for the same?
An ordinary referendum i.e, one that does not relate to amending Bunreacht na hÉireann can take place if and when the President receives a joint petition from both houses of the Oireachtas, that is, the Dáil and the Seanad. The petition must be passed by the majority of the members of the Seanad and one-third of the members of the Dáil. If and when the President receives the petition, they must consult the Council of State. If the President decides that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people should be found out, the President will refuse to sign the Bill until a referendum has been held.
NFB: I’m not sure this is really an answer, it’s just explaining the power in question.
-Would you ever have an issue with exercise of the Presidential power of pardon?
The President has the right of pardon and the power to commute sentences, but only on the advice of the Government; I believe this power has only been exercised on five occasions (1940, 1943, 1992, 2015 and 2018). As with all matters, if elected, were this to be presented to me it would require very careful consideration and the contemplation of the advice of the Government.
NFB: Alrighty, nothing objectionable here.
-Would you be willing to criticise a sitting government in public?
No, I am very conscious of the role of the President and the constraints placed on it and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to criticise a sitting government. I would however use the Office of the Presidency to set a tone, to inspire discussion and to shine a light on the concerns of the people.
NFB: Hmm. Nothing stops a President criticising a government, and I’m unsatisfied with this response.
-Who would you appoint to the Council of State?
I have not thought about that at present. I have a mountain to climb and my thoughts are on the campaign. I would however, seek to have as inclusive a council of state as possible.
-Would you ever put a time limit on the Seanad for consideration of a piece of legislation if requested by the Dail?
It would not be a matter for the President to involve him or herself in the day-to-day running of Seanad Éireann.
NFB: Well, constitutionally it might well be a matter for the President. Is Gallagher just saying he won’t use the power, or is he unaware of it?
-Would you ever make an address to the Oireachtas or the nation, and if so on what subject?
Should the need or circumstance arise, following advice from my Council of State, I would make an address to the Oireachtas. I believe these instances to be quite seldom in the past, however it is a good opportunity available to the President and one I would most certainly make use of.
NFB: Not exactly big on the details, but OK.
-Would you commit to a pay/expenses cap for yourself and Presidential staff?
I absolutely am in favour of making the Office of President more transparent and I have previously indicated my support for bringing the office under the Freedom of Information Act. I have previously stated, I will continue with the standard of a reduced wage as set out by Mary McAleese.
NFB: Fairly clear cut.
-Would you, if elected for the first time, plan to seek a second term?
No, as I have stated publicly, I would not seek a second term.
NFB: No mistaking this.
Gallagher is the only candidate to actually give an answer to my questions (as noted before, the office of Joan Freeman acknowledged my message, but only that), so I would be lying if I said my appreciation for him hadn’t gone up a little bit as a result. Still a week for the others to make a similar impression.