Will the new President of Ireland be a Donald Trump-esque artist, a "Dragon's Den" contestants, a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like  or to devil we know and love Higgins?

We are now in the early stages of one of the most popular blood sports here -- a presidential election.  Despite the fact that being president of Ireland is a ceremonial role with almost no power, the media here delight in tearing candidates apart.  

And the public laps it up.  So the next couple of months should be entertaining, given the bizarre bunch who have put themselves forward.

Prospective candidates must be nominated by the end of this month, and the election will then follow at the end of October.  To get nominated candidates need the support of at least four of the 31 local councils around the country or 20 members of the Dail.  That's easier said than done given that all the main parties, with the exception of Sinn Fein, are supporting a second term for Michael D. Higgins.

The big parties say Higgins has done a great job and deserves another seven years.  The real reason is they can't be bothered running their own candidates since they want to save all their funding for the next Dail election, now possibly less than a year away.  

One of the most bizarre aspects of the raggle-taggle bunch who are putting themselves forward is that no less than three of them have been dragons on the Dragon's Den TV show here, the American version of which is called Shark Tank.  This is the show in which a panel of super wealthy investors listens to pitches from entrepreneurs looking for funds and humiliates them with questions before usually refusing to invest.      

It's not The Apprentice but it's similar, so we're into Donald Trump territory here.  Like The Donald, none of the three Irish dragons has any political experience or record of public service.  

Read more: Ireland should not welcome Trump, over 70% of readers vote against President’s visit

And this being Ireland, two of them are not even that wealthy, despite being dragons. One of them is even talking about mortgaging his house to fund his campaign!

The other potential candidates include a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, a guitarist, a mixed race artist (who thinks Ireland needs to clamp down on immigration) and a journalist with pretensions (full disclosure: she used to work for me at one stage).  

Marilyn Monroe impersonator Sarah Louise Mulligan.

Marilyn Monroe impersonator Sarah Louise Mulligan.

It's a most unimpressive crowd of deluded self-promoters and with this lot and the dragons making up the field, the Sinn Fein candidate could emerge as the only serious opposition to Higgins.

Artists and presidential hopeful Kevin Sharkey.

Artists and presidential hopeful Kevin Sharkey.

We will return to assessing candidates when nominations close in a few weeks and we know who will actually be running in the election.  For now the question must be whether a second term for Higgins can be justified, given his age and his record.

There is no denying his popularity since recent opinion polls have shown he has up to two-thirds of voters saying they approve of him.  He is certainly regarded with great affection by many voters, but it is a kind amused affection.  People find his puffed up sense of self-importance mildly comical, and they tolerate his tortuous rants about ethics because, as they say, "It's only Michael D. being Michael D.!"  

But that amused tolerance could change very quickly during the campaign when the other candidates start going over his record. And there is the age issue.  He is now 77 and would be 84 by the end of another term, which is pushing it a bit if we want an active president.  Plus there is the uncomfortable fact that when he was elected seven years ago he promised to serve just one term.  

The age issue, however, is likely to be less important than his record.  Strip away the amused tolerance extended to him by much of the public and some of the stuff he has come out with in his rambling speeches is downright embarrassing.   As is some of his posturing as a head of state of great eminence, unquestionable moral principle and intellectual genius.     

The reality is somewhat different, as we saw when Fidel Castro died and Higgins issued a statement extolling the Cuban dictator's magnificent achievements.  Of course Castro had overthrown a vile regime and deserves credit for that.  But what followed was five decades of a totalitarian regime which brutally put down any opposition.  

Under Castro life in Cuba was miserable for his people, with widespread poverty, no free speech, no real democracy or human rights. No wonder so many Cubans, tired of Castro's failing communism, fled to Miami.   Somehow, Higgins seems to have missed that bit.  

Also as misguided, although less publicized, were his ramblings on the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez who died in 2013 and whose socialist policies have now reduced his oil rich country to a state of collapse with millions fleeing to surrounding states. Among other missteps was his welcome at the Aras (the presidential residence) for certain Muslim leaders in Ireland who have questionable beliefs on gays and terrorism.

All this is part of Higgins’ unchanged 1960s view of the world, in which all South American revolutionaries were wonderful, Israel was evil, Yasser Arafat was admirable, Hamas were freedom fighters instead of terrorists, and so on.  

Many of us of a certain age once had posters of Che on our bedroom wall and believed in socialism.  But most of us from the radical 1960s eventually grew up as real life replaced student dreams.  

We learned the need for efficiency, productivity and self-reliance, as well as the value of democracy.  We learned that revolutionaries had a habit of turning into dictators with little time for democratic rules.

For those, like Higgins, who remained in academia (he was a lecturer in social studies at University College Galway), it was possible to stay in the make believe world where radical thinking and ferocious speeches were supposed to change everything.  He went from academia into politics and is still stuck back in the 1960s when he too probably had a poster of Che on his wall.    

This may well be the root cause why he seems so dissatisfied by the world around him and the way it fails to live up to his ideals, particularly when he is pondering global issues.  Like when he worked himself into a quivering tizzy on several big occasions, such as his address to the UN.   

It's the same when he is talking about issues at home.  He seems to be permanently disappointed in us.  He even started a crusade to teach young people about ethics a few years ago, although this failed to gain any traction.   

These days he always seems to be lecturing us in a way that he clearly thinks is powerfully intellectual, illuminating and uplifting, but which usually comes across as overly emotional liberal waffle.  His constant hectoring about our shortcomings as a nation has become tiresome for many people, particularly when he drifts into economic topics, about which he knows very little.  

President Michael D Higgins.

President Michael D Higgins.

He has spent a lifetime on the state payroll, in one form or another, and the high point of his political career was as arts minister.  So economics would not be his strong point. 

But that has not stopped him pontificating about the difficult issues that Ireland has had to deal with after the crash.  He likes to give the impression that he is speaking from great experience or knowledge.   But it's simply not true.  It’s also very hard to swallow at times because he is a classic champagne socialist himself.   

We all know that he has a massive salary, lives in a mansion as president, has staff and servants and a chauffeur-driven limo, is fawned over wherever he goes and basically lives a luxurious life for free.  Plus he has no less than four pensions to sustain him in the style he has grown accustomed to whenever his time as president is up.  

It's no wonder he wants to continue, although it's more likely to be the prestige of the office than the creature comforts that come with it that he wants to hold on to.  And he has made full use of the office to enhance his personal standing, with so many foreign trips which are highly expensive.   

Journalists trying to dig into this have been frustrated because the presidency is outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act here which allows examination of most public spending.  So we don't know, for example, how much his trip to Australia cost, although we do know he had an entourage of around 30 with him, only a couple of whom were journalists.   

Nor do we know, for example, how much was spent to put him up in one of the most expensive hotels in Geneva (suites there cost over €3,000 a night) when he was on a two-day visit to Switzerland to address (don't laugh) the International Labor Organization.   

You can be sure that when this campaign gets going, all of this and a great deal more will be amplified by the other candidates and no quarter will be given to the "lovable" Higgins.  And that will be right.  One of the dragons has already accused him of simply "keeping the seat warm" in the Aras and being completely out of touch. 

As we said in this column before, all of this would make you nostalgic for the old days and presidents like Paddy Hillery who attended local events where he made a few innocuous remarks to the crowd, told a quiet joke or two and patted kids on the head before escaping back to the golf course.

Hillery, who had a lot of political experience in senior ministries and as an EU commissioner, was modest enough to adopt the limited role of president as it was meant to be instead of forever trying to extend it.

Higgins, and the other candidates who are already talking up their expansive visions for the presidency in the future, would be better off trying to emulate that. 

Who would you like to see voted in as President of Ireland? Let us know in the comment section below.

President Michael D Higgins photographed on St. Patrick's Day 2018. RollingNews