Micheál Martin: Higgins knows history better than his rivals

Fianna Fáil leader says President is ‘best-placed’ to handle centenary celebrations

Michael D Higgins is the best equipped of those seeking to become president to handle the challenge of the centenaries of the War of Independence and the Civil War, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin said he was impressed with how President Higgins had conducted himself and represented the Irish people during the 1916 centenary, and he believed he was similarly well-equipped to represent the State during the commemorations that lie ahead over the next few years.

“My own view is that Michael D is the best-placed because of his intellectual capacity, his command of history and understanding of the revolutionary period and the various loyalties to preside as head of state over those centenaries in a sensitive and inclusive way,” he said.

“I think he has struck a chord with the majority of people on many of the issues that have confronted us over the last few years and he has engaged with young people, and culturally he is very strong in terms of his command of the Irish language and he gets what makes the country tick.”


Famine commemoration

Speaking at the Daniel O'Connell School in Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, Mr Martin said he had seen President Higgins speak at a Famine commemoration at University College Cork recently.

“He spoke passionately about the Famine and he interrogated the research that the Department of Geography at UCC had done,” said Mr Martin. “He gave a stellar performance and a lot of people afterwards of different political backgrounds were very appreciative of the work he put into that address.”

Mr Martin said he did not agree with all of President Higgins's pronouncements, instancing his praise of Fidel Castro as an example. Mr Martin said he believed the Cuban leader was "in many respects a dictator".

He said Fianna Fáil would not be campaigning for President Higgins but believed he was the best candidate for the job.

We're not against competition in the presidential election and have no wish to exclude candidates

He rejected a suggestion his party needed to run its own candidate to boost its profile after supporting the Fine Gael-led Government since 2016.

He also said he believed it was "simplistic" to assume that general elections follow the pattern of presidential elections, and he did not believe there was any correlation between the two, instancing President Higgins's election to the Áras as Labour candidate in 2011 and Labour's implosion in 2016.


Asked about the candidates seeking nominations to run in the presidential election, Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil did not believe in elections just for elections’ sake but he had no issue with Fianna Fáil councillors supporting candidates seeking local authority backing.

“There’s been a greater number of independents coming forward in recent presidential elections, particularly due to the constitutional entitlements of local authorities to nominate candidates, and that’s proven a more viable way in recent years to get a nomination,” he said.

“That’s why we were keen not to trample on that constitutional provision. We didn’t want to infringe on that – we’re not against competition in the presidential election and have no wish to exclude candidates, so we’ve no issue with councillors facilitating candidates entering the race.”

Mr Martin declined to predict how many candidates might end up in the race against President Higgins, who can nominate himself, but said they were all entitled to enter the race, including Seán Gallagher.

"Seán Gallagher is entitled to enter the race. He didn't give us any heads up in relation to that – that's a matter for Seán," said Mr Martin, who told the audience that people would vote with "their gut for who they think will represent Ireland best on the domestic stage and the international stage".

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times