Higgins promises 'energetic' campaign


LABOUR’S candidate for the presidency Michael D Higgins has pledged to conduct a “very energetic” campaign that will bring him all over the State in the coming months.

The former minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht was the clear winner in yesterday’s vote to choose the Labour standard-bearer for Áras an Uachtaráin.

Mr Higgins, who is president of the Labour Party and a former long-serving TD for Galway West, received 37 votes, compared to 18 for former Labour adviser Fergus Finlay and seven for former senator Kathleen O’Meara.

The vote took place at the Oak Room of Dublin’s Mansion House with the electorate consisting of 37 TDs, 11 Senators, three Members of the European Parliament and 11 of the 15 members of the national executive council.

Four TDs – Tánaiste and party leader Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, Minister of State for Trade and Development Jan O’Sullivan, and Meath East TD Dominic Hannigan – are also members of the executive council but could only exercise one vote.

Mr Higgins said everything he would be suggesting for the presidency was within the bounds of the Constitution. “There are limitations but there are also very clear capacities.”

He added: “I am very honoured, very pleased and I intend to have a very energetic campaign that will bring me all over the country.”

On the issue of whether he intended to serve one seven-year term or to stay for the full 14 years, Mr Higgins said: “I haven’t any intention of running for a second term at the moment, no.”

Asked about the “dirty” campaigning that has become a feature of presidential campaigns, he said: “I do hope that everyone will be able to raise their level.”

When it was put to him that, at 70 years of age, he was the most senior of the candidates, he said: “Frankly, it is a real advantage to know, as it were, the architecture of the State.” He had accompanied presidents abroad as a minister and he knew the boundaries of the Dáil and the cabinet in the Constitution. Age was an asset rather than an issue.

In an address before the vote, Mr Finlay said he had been “an active and passionate” member of the Labour movement and the disability movement all his life.

“Politics, if it chooses, can change lives,” he said. Ireland was on the brink of another moment where politics truly mattered.

“If history teaches us anything, it teaches us that presidential elections have the capacity to excite passionate argument about who we are and where we’re going.”

Former senator Ms O’Meara, addressing the electors, said: “The job is a big one. There are big shoes to fill, shoes recently filled by outstanding women.”

Apologising for becoming emotional, she added: “You may ask, and it’s a very valid question, is she big enough to fill those shoes?”

Her decision to run for the nomination came on the morning last November when she heard the governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland confirming that the IMF, EU and ECB troika were in Ireland negotiating a bailout.

She thought of her father who was born in 1917 and who “worked hard like many others to build this country and he loved it” and she said to herself: “Thank God he’s not here to see this.”

Standing beside Mr Higgins after the vote, Mr Gilmore stressed that Labour would not be conducting a “partisan” campaign.

“Today the Labour Party has selected its candidate. We’re the first political party to put a candidate into the field for the presidential election, but I want to make it clear that we don’t see this as a partisan campaign. This is not going to be an election campaign like a general election between political parties.”

He added: “We are going to respect, from today, Michael D’s independence as a candidate in the same way as we will respect Michael D’s independence as president when he’s elected.”