Rory Geraghty profiles Irish Presidential candidate Michael D Higgins, a former university lecturer, a poet and an ex-Cabinet minister.
Rory Geraghty profiles Irish Presidential candidate Michael D Higgins, a former university lecturer, a poet and an ex-Cabinet minister, a microcosm of the core values of a real republic
Ireland isn’t good at everything. However, if we were to pick someone to represent the best of Ireland than few would beat Labour presidential hopeful Michael D.
For a country as small as mine, it is a huge honour that we have had four Nobel Laureates of Literature. As a nation our scholars and playwrights have given us a level of international recognition of which we can be so proud.
This of course is in contrast to more recent events that have brought Ireland to the forefront of international dialogue for the wrong reasons. In the 1990s Ireland underwent a cultural revival, broadcasting our literary success to the wider world. This campaign was spearheaded by Michael D the then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.
Through planned investment he achieved so much success with a ministry often regarded as a joke by the political establishment. Under his tenure there was investment in youth theatre and youth projects giving people of all ages and backgrounds access to the arts.
He created an Irish Language Television station in an attempt to revive and modernise the declining tongue and established the Irish Film Board whose value to the Irish arts world is priceless.
As admirable as these achievements are, they are not the reason why I am supporting Micheal D Higgins. I first joined the Irish Labour Party in 2004 at the age of sixteen. Bleary eyed I felt that I could change the world and I had been attracted to Labour’s ranks because of the position the party had taken on the 2004 citizenship referendum, in opposing what was essentially a racist proposal by the then government.
At the forefront of that campaign were two people whom I now regard as political idols: Ivana Bacik and Michael D Higgins.
In an act of extreme courage the two fought the hard and often lonely fight, against a move to ban people born in the Republic from obtaining Irish citizenship unless one of their parents was the holder of an Irish passport. Despite their best efforts the proposal was, sadly, vigorously accepted by the wider public.
However, I have never forgotten the bravery of these two people who fought an unpopular fight not because they thought they could win or because they thought they had something to gain but because they believed it was the right thing to do.
Over the years since I have grown to witness many other fights, some internal, others external, where the least popular side has often been the path chosen by Michael D. Never have I seen him take a position on an issue to achieve personal gain. When he takes a stance I trust that he does so because he believes it is the correct course of action.
In a time when public trust amongst Irish, and indeed international, politicians is so low, I believe we need a man of integrity like Michael D at the forefront of our fight to rebuild Ireland from the ground up.
It comes as no surprise to me either, that the most recent opinion polls have Michael D well ahead of his nearest opponent, Gay Mitchell. As we enter into the hard campaign over the next seven weeks, I have no doubt Michael D will meet more people and attract more support than any of the other presidential hopefuls.
Notwithstanding his strong values and integrity he is also a genuinely lovely man who wants nothing more than to help those around him.
The office of the President of Ireland is the highest in the land and it is important that whoever wins is someone who can represent Ireland on an international setting as both its Head of State and chief diplomat. I believe that only Michael D has these qualities and that is why I will be voting for him on October 27th.
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