Michael D Higgins was elected Ireland’s ninth president last Thursday and, as votes were being counted on Friday afternoon at the Clare Inn, just a few miles from where he grew up, it was clear that the Banner County was well behind him.
Higgins took almost 44% of the number ones cast in Clare, more than 6,000 ahead of his nearest rival Sean Gallagher.
The new president’s nephew, Michael Higgins from Ballycar, was at the Clare Inn and was delighted with his uncle’s performance.
“I think not only will Michael D win the election I think the nation are going to win the election. He’s a safe pair of hands and hopefully he’ll steer the country in the right direction. He had a good campaign, didn’t get down in the trenches and stayed presidential,” he commented.
Speaking at the count centre, Seamus Ryan, who acted as Labour Party director of elections in Clare, said the county had been very well disposed to Michael D.
“We had an excellent response. Around the county very few people were in any way hostile to Michael D Higgins. One or two people had ideological objections but very few.
“This being his home county there was always a very positive attitude toward him anyway. During the campaign there was a feeling he was a very strong candidate that people were happy to vote for.”
Independent county councillor, Michael Begley was also at the Clare Inn and he said that he felt Sean Gallagher had done well.
“With an independent candidate you have to assume he starts with no vote so you rely on the polls. That went from a low of six to a high of 40. He’s going to come out at 30ish I hear. On one hand you could say it’s a good performance but how much the television programme and the fall out from that affected him, it’s hard to tell. One thing that’s clear to me from the tallies I’ve done is that the majority of the FG vote has gone to Michael D.”
He said he had got to know Sean Gallagher through business rather than through Fianna Fáil, a party they had both been members of.
“I came in with Sean Gallagher not from a political point of view. I was in Fianna Fáil for a long number of years but I never met him through that. I did come across him at trade fairs with his business. That was why I said I’d give him a hand. Maybe he was thinking he’d get a strong Fianna Fáil vote but having said that the Fianna Fáil hierarchy didn’t see him as their candidate or they wouldn’t have been trying to find a celebrity. He obviously wasn’t their favourite son.”
Fine Gael enjoyed a long honeymoon period after the general election but the performance of Gay Mitchell last week was a huge disappointment.
Clare TD Pat Breen said that a lot of work was done in Clare, but it didn’t translate into votes. “There was an organised canvass in most of the big towns and I never saw as much enthusiasm for canvassing. We had the candidate here twice and the Taoiseach; everything possible was done but people didn’t seem to want him as a candidate. In the last week it was between two people and when people saw that a lot of them opted for Michael D, who has huge connections with this county.”
He said that he believes that Mr Higgins will make an excellent President, while he doesn’t believe the result will damage Fine Gael unduly.
“It was a bad result but there is a difference between Presidential elections and general elections and the Government is still doing well in the opinion polls.”
Mayor of Clare, Pat Hayes said the performance of Sean Gallagher had vindicated Clare County Council’s decision to nominate him.
“At the outset I want to congratulate Michael D Higgins. As the Mayor of Clare I’m delighted that another Clare man will be following in the footsteps of De Valera and Hillery.
“Sean Gallagher did very well in Clare and it vindicated the decision of Clare County Council to nominate him.”
While the performance of Gallagher is generally being interpreted as a positive for Fianna Fáil, Mr Hayes said the performance of its candidate in the Dublin West by election was more significant.