FROM humble beginnings to the highest office in the land, that’s the story of Michael D Higgins, President elect of Ireland.
With a CV that lists his diverse roles as a poet, sociologist, author, broadcaster and politician, as well as outlining his interest in sport, it can be truly said that Michael D is a man of the people.
The electorate was quite decisive when it came to the only poll that really matters. Having secured 701,101 first preference votes (39.6%) in last Thursday’s Presidential Election, Labour Party candidate Michael D (Daniel) Higgins went on to amass a total of 1,007,104 votes on the fourth and final count. It was a phenomenal performance by any standard, a tribute both to the calibre of the man and his campaign strategy.
Independent candidate Sean Gallagher’s challenge fell away in the final few days of the campaign, when he failed to give satisfactory explanations for his role in facilitating fundraising for Fianna Fáil, clearing the way for Michael D Higgins romp to victory. Mr Gallagher was the runner-up with 628,114 votes, ahead of Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness and Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell.
Seventy-year-old Michael D’s journey to Áras an Uachtaráin is one of considerable twists and turns but through it all, he has maintained the common touch. It is a journey that involved personal experiences of family hardships and poverty in his younger life and then drawing on this to shape his thinking as an ardent campaigner for social justice at local, national and international level. He has given unselfishly of himself in every cause that he has championed and, as a public representative, has served Galway, the West of Ireland and the country at large with total commitment.
When he is formally inaugurated as the ninth President of Ireland on Friday, November 11 he will become the first President to have served in both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Dáil and Seanad.
Michael D’s election is also significant for Clare in that the county can lay claim to three Presidents of Ireland.
Though born in New York and raised in Bruree, County Limerick, our third President, Eamon de Valera, who served two terms from 1959 to 1973, launched his political career with a famous win in the East Clare by-election of 1917. He continued to serve the Clare electorate until his retirement from politics to become president.
Patrick J Hillery from Spanish Point was elected to the Dáil in 1951 and served in various cabinet position before becoming Ireland’s first EEC Commissioner in 1973. He returned from Europe in 1976 to become our sixth president, following the resignation of Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh. He also served two terms.
While born in Limerick, Michael D’s formative years were spent in Newmarket-on-Fergus where he attended Ballycar National School and then St Flannan’s College in Ennis. He still has immediate family members and close relatives in the area.
Michael D’s long and distinguised academic and political career has been Galway-centred but his special relationship with the Banner County has endured.
Referring to this bond with the Banner County, Mayor of Clare, Pat Hayes said, “He has been a true champion of Clare over the years and no matter what part of the political divide people come from, there is universal respect for Michael D Higgins. With his background in politics, academia and the arts, I have no doubt he will be an outstanding President of Ireland who will put the nation’s best foot forward while in office.
“I have no doubt either but that, as President, one of his most pleasing early visits will be to come back to his home place. I look forward, as mayor, to welcoming him home on what will be a proud day for all of us in County Clare,” he said.
Many other tributes have been paid to Michael D by friends in public life and by Dr James J Browne, president of NUI Galway, which he has been associated with for 50 years.
The honour of becoming Ireland’s first citizen is one that is richly deserved by Michael D in recognition of a lifetime of service to his country. To Clare people, he will always be acclaimed as one of our own.
It doesn’t add up
ACCOUNTING errors do happen occasionally but the fiasco uncovered this week involving the Department of Finance and the National Treasury Management Agency is of mind-boggling proportions.
The department and the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) are at odds over who is responsibility for the €3.6bn accounting error that has reduced the country’s debt by 2.3% of gross domestic product. It came about due to the inaccurate accounting of the NTMA’s borrowings to the Housing Finance Agency, which provides loan finance to local authorities and voluntary housing groups.
The NTMA claims it is the responsibility of the Department of Finance to calculate the general government debt and that the NTMA raised the issue of potential double counting several times dating back to autumn 2010.
The correction will see Ireland’s gross outstanding debt for 2010 revised to €144.4bn rather than €148.0bn but the bad news is that it won’t put any extra money in our pockets. We’re told it’s not going to mean we can expect a more benign budget in December.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan told the Dáil on Wednesday the mistake in the national accounts of €3.6bn was “human error” on behalf of an official in the Department of Finance. He said it was clear there had been a systems failure and it was a very serious issue, which would be investigated.
At a time when we’re hearing day in, day out about financial crises in several European countries, including our own, the last thing were need to hear is that the guardians of the State purse are not too hot with their sums.