Higgins vows to remain neutral if elected


PLEDGE:PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE Michael D Higgins has said he will be completely independent of the Fine Gael and Labour Coalition if he is elected to Áras an Uachtaráin next month.

Mr Higgins inaugurated his presidential campaign in Dublin yesterday with a vow to be independent in office.

“I will be neither a handmaiden nor an organised opposition to the government of the day,” he said.

He asserted his vast political experience, his track record in human rights and the arts and his vision for creating a new sense of “Irishness” made him the best-equipped candidate for the position.

In the course of the event at the Royal College of Physicians yesterday, the 70-year-old said his age would not be a debilitating factor, indicating it would not affect his ability to fulfil fully the responsibilities of the office.

Labour leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who also spoke at the launch, described Mr Higgins as “not only a true Irishman but also a citizen of the world”.

“Michael D’s contribution to progressive politics, human rights and international justice is immense,” he said.

In his own speech, Mr Higgins said he would strive for inclusive citizenship, a creative society, an Irishness to be proud of, as well as building what he said was a “real republic”.

“There is a huge response in this country for a decision on the kind of people we want to be, the Irishness we want to create, an Irishness that people speak of in those places where they are still struggling for freedom.”

Mr Higgins said he had a sense of sadness when he retired from public life in February after 34 years of service. “In the next seven years [being president] is the best public service that I can give. I know life in the city and life in rural Ireland, and emigration.

“I am an advocate for those who are vulnerable,” he said.

Mr Higgins said his ministerial experience during the 1990s would lend itself to the constitutional role of the position.

He said 40 Bills had been considered by the Office of the President last year and as a former member of cabinet he knew the legislative process.

He said that with the deadline on presidential nomination papers having been reached, there was now clarity on the number of candidates and the nature of the campaign.

“What does the candidate bring to the office by way of experience and commitment? What vision? How will candidates further the role by the use of the discretionary space of picking themes and picking audiences and occasions?” he said.

He said Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese had done an excellent job in this last area, both at home and abroad.

Mr Higgins said he would try to build a new sense of Irishness. “There is a deep hurt in this country but also great potential . . . I will dedicate my service to all the people of Ireland. I will dedicate my presidency to the welfare of all.”

He repeated his sentiments in Irish: “Mo lán-dhícheall a dhéanamh ar son leas agus fónamh mhuintir na hÉireann.”