Ed Jacobs rounds up press reaction, overwhelmingly positive in both the South and North, to the election of Michael Higgins to the Irish Presidency .
Having declared that he would serve as a “president for all the people”, the election of Labour’s Michael Higgins to the Irish presidency has been greeted with satisfaction from papers both sides of the border as they look ahead to his seven year term in the Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the Irish President.
At the Irish Times, outlining the likely causes that Higgins will champion during his time in office, the paper’s editorial highlights the issues of human rights and inclusivity, concluding:
“The Higgins presidency is likely to be different from the groundbreaking Robinson and McAleese eras. There is every indication his will be a platform built around human rights and inclusivity that are core to his politics. He is arguably the most appropriate candidate to mark a series of important centenaries up to and including 1916.
“But the biggest challenge will be to embrace the special requirements of his office while becoming a voice for a new Republic; a place where there is a better way of conducting politics and its citizens have regained their sense of purpose and identity.”
At the Irish Independent meanwhile, it was Higgins’s air of authority and ability to tell the truth which eventually won the day. Describing him as “by far the best qualified candidate – arguably the only qualified candidate – in this presidential election”, James Downey argued:
“He broke all the rules of the twitter age and ignored the age-old Irish injunction “whatever you say, say nothing”. He set out the facts in a manner that would have been recognisable to Isaac Butt or W.E. Gladstone. He told his fellow contenders and the nation all they needed to know about the president’s powers and the restrictions on them. By telling the truth, and telling it with authority, he won every debate.”
For the Irish examiner, Higgins’s victory was one for honesty and substance, with its editorial explaining of the president-elect:
“His depth of experience has helped him pass an historic milestone. He is the first person who served in the Seanad and Dáil and went on to be elected President. None of the other candidates had a comparable political record and the fact that Mr Higgins had declared his presidential ambitions long before any of his polling-day rivals ultimately proved to be a significant advantage.
“That this advantage did not come into play until the dying days — if not hours — of the campaign, when his strongest rival, Sean Gallagher, imploded under the kind of scrutiny anyone hoping to be elected President should prepare for, is neither here nor there.
“His experience allowed him remain focused while Mr Gallagher was smothered by the simple fact that the electorate rated honesty far more highly than the catch-all vacuum of irrational positivity. A victory for substance over transparent, vacuous glad-handing.”
“Throughout his long career he has shown and innate decency and honesty, a commitment to social equity and human rights, a recognition of the power of culture to lead and inspire that makes him eminently suitable to be our President.”
In its profile of the victor meanwhile, Ireland’s state broadcaster, RTE has sought to highlight what it is that has influenced President-elect Higgins’s thinking, noting:
“For more than 40 years, Michael D Higgins has been one of the most forceful left-wing voices in Irish life.
“Described on his own website as a campaigner, poet, politician, his social concern grew, he once said, from a Limerick childhood. His father struggled with poverty and ill health and he and his brother being sent to live – fractured lives – with an aunt and uncle in Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co Clare. Playwright Sean O’Casey also influenced his early political thinking.”
In the north also, Higgins’s election success has been greeted with satisfaction, with the Belfast Telegraph concluding that the nation would be “satisfied” with its choice. Assessing how his presidency might pan out in comparison to his predecessors, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese the paper concludes:
“The role may be largely ceremonial and call for his attendance at numerous events as the head of state, but he will have some powers. The most significant role he may carry out is the referral of Bills passed in the Oireachtas to the Supreme Court – although the power is rarely used.
“He will also have to represent Ireland on a global scale at times of historic significance. His job is to reflect the public’s mood, while also caring for citizens’ emotional needs.
“Mrs McAleese and Mrs Robinson are believed to have excelled in these roles – President McAleese in particular during the collapse of the economy and on a global scale, articulating the country’s sadness when the world was rocked by the September 11 attacks, the Thailand tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, for example.
“But, arguably, as the presidential candidate with the most experience, the nation will be satisfied that it has chosen wisely.”
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• Genteel Irish Presidential race cuts up rough – Kevin Meagher, October 27th 2011
• Irish Presidential elections: Martin McGuinness to stand, but can he win? – Ed Jacobs, September 20th 2011
• Michael D Higgins: A real candidate for a real Republic – Rory Geraghty, September 10th 2011
• Irish government prepares formal complaint over Finucane murder review – Ed Jacobs, October 18th 2011