Crowds throng to Galway for Higgins homecoming event


President-elect Michael D Higgins paid a heartfelt tribute to Galway this evening, describing it as the city where his heart "always was" and always would be.

The Labour Party presidential candidate was elected to succeed President Mary McAleese yesterday following a count which lasted for more than 24 hours. After the fourth count, Mr Higgins - with 1,007,1004 votes - was confirmed as the winner, finishing almost 400,000 votes ahead of his closest rival, the independent candidate Sean Gallagher.

Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness finished third in the poll, ahead of Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell, and the independents David Norris, Dana Rosemary Scallon and Mary Davis.

Speaking to an estimated 5,000 supporters in the city's Eyre Square, the former Galway West TD spoke in Irish of his love for the city and county, and thanked all those who had voted for him and who had worked for him during his presidential election campaign. 

He said those who had also campaigned for him since he first stood for election over four decades ago would not be forgotten, and he paid a special thanks to the Galway Labour Party campaign committee, to the arts community, and to his daughter Alice Mary who had worked "night and day". 

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who had travelled west to mark the occasion, said it was appropriate that Mr Higgins should return to the place where he had secured the largest vote in the State. Mr Higgins topped the presidential poll in both Galway West and Galway East, securing almost 60 per cent of first preferences in his former constituency. 

Fine Gael Mayor of Galway Hildegarde Naughton congratulated Mr Higgins, who was introduced by his successor in the Dail, Derek Nolan TD. 

As the rain continued to fall, Mr Higgins walked through the crowd to greet well-wishers - among them supporters of the Occupy Galway protest at the top of Eyre Square.

Five of the seven candidates were on hand for the announcement of the result in Dublin Castle yesterday, with Mr Mitchell and Ms Davis the only ones absent.

Ms Davis told RTÉ this morning her non-attendance was a genuine mistake and she would have been at the announcement if she had known it was expected of her. “I was unaware of the protocol and didn’t realise that I should have been there,” she said.

Mr Mitchell said tonight that having congratulated Mr Higgins at the first count on Friday, his team told him there was no need to turn up again in Dublin Castle for the conclusion of the count the following day. “The tradition of speaking at the end of a count is gone,” said Mr Mitchell.

Mr Higgins yesterday said he would be a president for all the people and do his utmost to rebuild public trust in the institutions of the State. He was formally declared president-elect at Dublin Castle after securing more than one million votes following the fourth count.

He said his mandate was "for an inclusive citizenship which is about equality, participation and respect in a creative society, creative and excellent in everything we Irish do; making an Irishness to be proud of in a real republic".

In his acceptance speech, Mr Higgins said he had been given a clear mandate by the Irish electorate for a presidency based on a very clear set of ideas that he intended to implement with his heart and his head. "I am particularly grateful to the more than million people who said that I am acceptable to them as the ninth President of Ireland,” he said. "Always in my mind too, will be those who have gone away - and I will be their president too."

Mr Higgins said he would work to reconnect society, economic and ethics as it was a project that Ireland could not afford to postpone.

He said the presidency was an independent office and he had ceased his membership of the Labour Party and stepped down as the party’s president.

Mr Higgins also paid tribute to the six other candidates for bringing forward ideas and said he planned to incorporate some of them in his presidency.

At a press conference following the delivery of his acceptance speech, he promised a “presidency of ideas”.

“You have to think your way into a new space…as someone who was from a farm, a three-roomed house, no-one belonging to me went to third-level [education] or anywhere, I lived by ideas all my life. One thing you can take in the presidency is that ideas will be valued,” he said.

Mr Higgins said he understood how many people around the country were struggling in the aftermath of the economic crash. “People have taken out enormous high mortgages in properties that have devalued and at the same time threatened with unemployment, without very comprehensive childcare, who may have moved out of Dublin city who may be commuting,” he said.

He said trust had to be restored in certain institutions. However, he said he also sensed a positive mood in the country, with people wanting to move beyond recrimination.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was among those to congratulate Mr Higgins on his election success yesterday, saying he believed Mr Higgins would be “an outstanding president for the country and the people”. He added the “authenticity of the result” spoke for itself and the public clearly wanted Mr Higgins to be their president.

NUIG president Dr Jim Browne forecast last night that Mr Higgins will be an “inspirational” president.

Fine Gael Mayor of Galway Hildegarde Naughton said the city is very proud of the president-elect’s contribution to political life and his work in promoting the arts, while Bishop of Galway Martin Drennan extended his “sincere congratulations” to Mr Higgins, his wife Sabina and family in “these great days of happiness”.