DUBLIN, Ireland - A representative of the Irish government announced yesterday that all former Irish representatives at the Eurovision Song Contest would be eligible to stand for the upcoming presidential election. This marks a notable change to the existing protocol, dating from 1997, which guaranteed ballot access only to former winners of the annual pan-European music competition.
Facing an unstable economic climate, high unemployment, and a controversial bailout of the country's financial industry by the European Union, the 2011 election is being described by all major political parties as a potential turning point in the country's delicate political situation. "The right candidate could unite the whole country," said Micheal Harris, a representative for the Irish Labour party, the second-largest parliamentary delegation. "He or she could be just the thing that brings us back to those Celtic Tiger days."
Sian Hawkins, press liaison for Fine Gael, the largest party in the Irish parliament, concurred. "We were unstoppable in those days, and the Irish people need a symbol of pride that can get us through these tough times."
Ireland has won the Eurovision Song Contest a record seven times, and clocked four of those victories between 1992 and 1996, before the results bottomed out in the last decade. Political analysts have noted a direct correlation between the Irish economy and the country's average ranking on the scoreboard at the annual song contest.
The election is scheduled for 27 October, and will determine the successor to outgoing president Mary McAleese, who has served two seven-year terms as President of the Irish Republic. Her 1997 campaign was challenged by 1970 Eurovision winner Dana Rosemary Scallon, the first former winner to contest the election under the 1997 law. In 2004, Scallon ran again against McAleese, as did Eimear Quinn and Linda Martin, winners of the 1996 and 1992 Eurovision Song Contests, respectively.
The recent change in election law has been welcomed by many throughout the country, particularly in the popular music scene. Among those former Eurovision contestants planning presidential bids under the new law is Marc Roberts, the Galway-based singer who placed 2nd at the 1997 contest, which was held in Dublin. "For years, I've been wanting to get into politics," Roberts said in a press conference on 13 August. "I appreciate the [Irish Parliament]'s finally recognizing what we non-winners can do for our country."
Also considering a bid for the presidency is Kim Jackson, who performed backing vocals for Ireland's runner-up entry in 1990, before placing 10th in her own solo performance the following year. "Because we've won so many times, I think people tend to forget the other years and songs that represented us just as well," she said. "I'm glad I might now have the chance to highlight the issues that are important to the rest of us. You don't have to win the Eurovision to be important in Ireland."
"But it helps," Jackson added.
The news hasn't been universally welcomed, however. Among the most vocal critics of the new legislation is three-time titleholder Johnny Logan, who won the contest in 1980 as a singer, in 1987 as a singer-songwriter, then penned the winning entry of 1992. Appearing on popular Moldovan chat show Our Magnificent and Modern Country, Logan was quoted as saying, "If we could come up with a song we could be proud of, this would be a good idea, but RTÉ have completely missed the mark on this. They've got the whole thing backwards, and I don't know how I could vote for any of these dolts. If Jedward is elected, I'm moving back to Australia."
Another former contestant who is less-than pleased about the new law is Roscommon-born Cathy Jordan, lead vocalist of the band Dervish. One of Ireland's most popular and acclaimed traditional folk bands, Dervish's performance at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest in Helsinki gave Ireland it's first ever last place. "This is just another thing that won't let us move on with our lives and our music," Jordan said in a brief phone interview. "I really just want to forget about the whole thing."
Added Jordan: "Eurovision Shmurovision."
Since the change in electoral law was announced yesterday, opinion polls have tipped sharply in favor of Niamh Kavanagh, who has the support of winners and non-winners alike, as Kavanagh won the 1993 contest for Ireland, then returned seventeen years later and placed third-last. The 43-year-old Dublin-born singer was unable to be reached for comment at press time, however a spokeswoman from the Institute for Irish Electoral Reform stated that due to Kavanagh's unique Eurovision record, should she decide to run, the electorate would be within their rights to vote for her twice.