Michael D. Higgins had over a million reasons to celebrate at the weekend following his elevation to the office of Uachtaran na hEireann.
Confirmation of his election came on Friday after a protracted and, at times, controversial campaign, which eventually saw the fortunes of the other six candidates flounder – some rather sensationally.
President-elect Higgins will be installed next week when he takes the Presidential Oath in the hallowed St. Patrick’s Hall.
His acceptance speech was dignified and moving as he pledged to be a President of all the people. He has eloquently articulated his love for this country, his belief in its future and his fervent intention to represent it with grace and decorum both at home and abroad.
His reputation as a voice for the oppressed and disadvantaged is well known, as is his deep commitment to Irish culture and his support for campaigns for social justice. His calm composure during this at times acrimonious campaign obviously endeared him to the electorate and the huge endorsement of his ascension to the highest office in the land is indicative of this.
There were times, right up to last week, when opinion polls indicated that Mr. Higgins would be surpassed by Independent candidate, Mr. Sean Gallagher. However, the wheels came off Mr. Gallagher’s wagon in the final days of the campaign when responses to questions posed to him saw voters abandon him in their droves.
Mr. Higgins was the beneficiary and, when one looks back on the campaign, the controversies and the wide range of issues which emerged – some quite bruising to the candidates in the field – it would seem appropriate that he was the chosen one.
The result was humiliating for a number of the candidates, four of whom did not even garner sufficient votes to have expenses reimbursed. The expectations of David Norris, Mary Davis and Dana Rosemary Scallon were dashed spectacularly but perhaps the most bruised is Gay Mitchell who, on the back of Fine Gael’s huge success in the General Election, could never have predicted such a dismal showing in the Presidential race.
Sinn Fein, on the other hand, were pleased with their performance, coming third in the race and taking over 13% of the final tally.
In the aftermath of the poll eyebrows were raised when Ms. Davis and Mr. Mitchell broke with protocol by not attending the declaration of Mr. Higgins’ success at Dublin Castle. They have both stated that they had congratulated him earlier but in truth they should, in accordance with convention, have been present for the formalities. Not to do so was discourteous and, while they will both have understandably been licking their wounds, the occasion demanded that protocol be followed assiduously.
Mr. Higgins’ election to the office of President has been decisive and the people of this country have given a clear and unequivocal mandate to him to represent Ireland at home and abroad with dignity and stateliness.
He has already indicated his own plan of action and the areas in which he intends to initially concentrate. He will undoubtedly bring his own style to the office and his dedication and deep commitment to this country will patently underpin his every move.
We congratulate President-elect Higgins on his elevation and wish him and his family every success during their term in Aras an Uachtarain.