'Happy' Higgins poised to win presidential election

 

Labour Party candidate Michael D Higgins is set to become the State’s ninth president when the results of the election count are confirmed.

All six other candidates have already conceded defeat and congratulated him on his victory.

Independent Seán Gallagher, the front-runner until this week, is expected to finish second, with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness in third position.

The results of the first count are as follows:

- Higgins, Michael D: 701, 101 (39.6 per cent)

- Gallagher, Sean: 504, 964 (28.5 per cent)

- McGuinness, Martin: 243, 030 (13.7 per cent)

- Mitchell, Gay: 113, 321 (6.4 per cent)

- Norris, David: 109, 469 (6.2 per cent)

- Scallon, Dana Rosemary: 51,220 (2.9 per cent)

- Davis, Mary: 48, 657 (2.7 per cent)

The total poll was 1,771, 762. The quota is 885,882.

Ms Davis and Ms Scallon were eliminated and their transfers were distributed.

The result of the second count in 40 of the 43 constituencies is:

- Higgins, Michael D: + 29,379 (730, 480)

- Gallagher, Seán: + 24, 437 (529, 401)

- McGuinness, Martin:  + 9,581 (250, 611)

- Mitchell, Gay: + 14,036 (127, 357)

- Norris, David: + 7,057 (116, 526)

Dublin Mid West, Waterford and Roscommon/South-Leitrim are still to complete the second count. These will now take place tomorrow morning.

The count has now been adjourned until 9.00am, when the distribution of Mr Norris's transfers will begin.

Once the election count is completed, the count for the referendums on reducing judicial pay and Oireachtas inquiries will begin.

The official turnout in the presidential election was 56.11 per cent. Turnout was highest in Dublin North Central (64.01 per cent) and Dublin South (61.93 per cent). It was lowest in Donegal South-West (48.42 per cent) and Donegal North-East (48.79 per cent).

The results show Mr Gallagher failed to recover from scandals that broke after a series of polls that gave him a 15 point lead over Mr Higgins.

Disclosures over his ties to Fianna Fáil, culminating in the revelations on the RTÉ Frontline debate on Monday night that he collected a cheque for the party for €5,000 from convicted smuggler Hugh Morgan, prompted a big swing back to Mr Higgins, who ran a relatively low profile but steady campaign.

Mr Higgins (70) arrived at Dublin Castle with his wife Sabina tonight before the first count was announced. ''I'm very happy. I'm happy with the vote and the support," he said. "I'm very glad that it is so decisive, that the transfers also indicate that it will enable me to be a president for all of the people. I pay tribute to the other candidates for their very long, hard campaign, and they had many good ideas which I will incorporate.''

Mr Gallagher, who arrived at the results centre with his wife Trish O'Connor, said Mr Higgins will have his full support as president. “He has given a lifetime of service to this country and I know he will be an outstanding president,” Mr Gallagher said.

Asked if he blamed Mr McGuinness - who raised questions about his involvement in Fianna Fáil fundraising activities earlier this week – for his drop from top of opinion polls to second in the vote, Mr Gallagher said “tonight is not a night for blame”.

Earlier, Mr Norris became the first candidate to congratulate Mr Higgins on his win when he conceded defeat this morning. Meanwhile, in a tweet this afternoon, Ms Davis congratulated Mr Higgins, wishing him "every success" for the next seven years in the Áras.

Mr Mitchell also congratulated his Labour rival, saying he will make “an excellent president", a sentiment which was echoed by Mr McGuinness and Ms Scallon.

Leaving Dublin Castle after the first count was announced, Mr Mitchell said: "I'm delighted for Michael. He'll make a fine president. Sabina will make an excellent first lady. I'm very grateful to my wife and my children and my family generally. The country has made a decision. We all must respect that and I will work with Michael."

Arriving at Dublin Castle at about 9.30pm, after the first count had been declared in the presence of the other six candidates, Ms Scallon said it had been a “challenging” campaign, but she was glad to have been part of it.

Ms Davis said the campaign had at times been “dirty” and was more challenging than she expected. She said she was disappointed with the outcome of the election but was not disheartened or discouraged by the experience.

This afternoon, Tánaiste and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said Mr Higgins ran a “very positive campaign” which the people responded to.

Mr Gilmore said the RTÉ programme on Monday night had a “huge bearing” on the outcome. However, he also noted Mr Higgins “didn’t engage in any name calling and ran a campaign that was based on ideas”.

He said: “We had the honour as a party to nominate what we consider to be the best candidate, we’re delighted that the electorate have agreed with us on that.”

According to an official in Dublin Castle, the final first count will be later this evening. Each further count - depending on transfers - will take up to two hours. The final result is expected to be announced by returning officer Ríona Ní Fhlanghaile some time after midnight provided there is a clear frontrunner.

This afternoon, Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin congratulated Mr Higgins, saying it is an “exceptionally proud day” for him, his wife Sabina and their family.

“I have known Michael D Higgins for many years and he will make an excellent president and ambassador for Ireland," he said. “I want to wish him well in his presidency for which he will have my full support and that of the Fianna Fáil community across the country."

Asked this afternoon if Fine Gael had chosen to run the wrong candidate, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said Mr Mitchell had been selected by party process and the party had to live with the decision. Fine Gael was still performing well in party polls and Enda Kenny remained a popular leader, he added.

Fine Gael’s deputy director of election Frank Flannery acknowledged that Mr Mitchell was not what the public was looking for this time around.

“I think the reality of the election was that the public wanted a candidate in the office of president almost as similar as they could to the two recent ones who they see as people as stature and people of independence, with the presidency an office in its own right and not related to or not the property of any political party,” he said. “In a way the more closely a candidate was associated with a political party...the more difficult it was to fit that public profile.”

Paul Allen of the Norris campaign said the Senator was under “severe pressure” but “he never crumbled” and can hold his “head very high”.

Ronan King of the Davis campaign said “unfortunately it didn’t happen for her” and that she had suffered “extremely negative campaigning" at critical points. Mr King also said he doubted seven candidates would put themselves forward again if there is going to be an “X Factor-type” campaign in future elections.

John O’Keefe of Dana’s campaign said she always had a “niche market” with the electorate and was seen as a “metaphor for the Roman Catholic Church”. Mr O’Keefe said while Dana will be disappointed with the result, it won’t be the end of her politically.