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President Michael D Higgins

Michael D at 80: shaped by Clare

THIS Sunday is the 80th birthday of Uachtaráin na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins.

Now well into the second term of his presidency, he has generally enjoyed very high levels of public approval.

Michael D grew up in Ballycar, Newmarket-on-Fergus and went to the local school there before going on to St Flannan’s.

This week his brother John, who still lives in Ballycar, said he couldn’t have envisaged the success he would enjoy in public life. “That’s true, that’s true. Politics is a funny game and a good game.”

As a boy the future president was a voracious reader, he recalls. “He’d read a lot of books, whatever books were available in the library at the time.”

In 1993 Michael D became the country’s first ever Minister for Arts, and John says that helped bring him to greater prominence, although he had already been a TD for several years. “Eventually Labour got into Government with Fine Gael and that was the start of his movement in the political world.”

While John hasn’t been able to visit his brother for some time, he hopes that will change in the coming months.
“We can’t visit now at all, with this virus, but that’ll change with the help of God.”

Clare TD Michael McNamara is a former Labour representative and he said Michael D was an important voice in opposing policies that led to a collapse in the Irish economy.“He opposed politics that led to a lost decade. He was President for that time, but by that stage the damage was done. He was significant in opposing that and in proposing an alternative to the greed-based system, where people were told if they invested in property it could only go up in value, he opposed that and the over concentration on one sector at that time.”

He also said that as a minister he had done important work on establishing TG4 and understood that the cultural sector could provide an economic dividend. “He recognised it wasn’t just something you funded, that it could generate employment and a return for the State.”

Mr McNamara feels that while Michael D was a TD for Galway his youth in Clare had been significant in shaping his economic views.

“He represented Galway but he has a fairly sharp understanding of rural society and economies of rural society.

“A lot of socialist critique is based on industrial societies rather than the more agrarian ones, but he still maintains a fairly sharp understanding of how rural economies and rural societies function as well, and the inequalities that prevade, and definitely prevaded life when he was growing up.”

The President will be interviewed on this Friday’s Late Late Show, while TG4 will mark the occasion on Sunday with a one hour special, featuring some of the country’s top poets, singers and musicians.

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.
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