If first impressions last, Michael McNamara’s first contact with Michael D Higgins was extremely positive.
Watching Mr Higgins deliver a poetry reading in Mike McNamara’s pub in Scariff back in the ’80s left the young Scariff teenager with a warm glow.
Mr Higgins struck a chord with young people in the audience that day. The introduction of the East Clare Drama Festival fostered an interest in the arts and theatre in the young teenager.
Most of Mr Higgins’ poetry was personal and provided a social commentary on some of the issues facing the poor and underprivileged.
He was the first poet the young teenager heard talking about places he knew such as St Joseph’s Hospital in Ennis, where Mr Higgins reluctantly sent his father when he could no longer be looked after at home.
Maybe it was the fact both of them had a similar upbringing in their formative years. Alice Higgins was forced to send her five year-old Michael and four-year-old John to live on a farm owned by his aunt and uncle at Ballycar, Newmarket-on-Fergus.
Michael McNamara was also raised by his aunt and uncle after his mother died tragically.
Fast forward to May 2010 when Michael McNamara was in Ethiopia working for the European Union. Although Mr McNamara was not a member of the Labour Party at the time, he was invited to attend the party’s annual conference in Galway.
He couldn’t go but once he heard that Michael D wanted to become President, he wrote to him offering his support for the subsequent campaign.
A week after the last general election was called, Mr McNamara invited the retiring Labour Deputy to officially open his Ennis constituency office because he was president of the Labour Party, a Clareman and very well known.
Deputy McNamara recalled the ninth President of Ireland was one of the few Dáil deputies to stand up for the poor, marginalised and underprivileged and had criticised the tax breaks that fuelled the huge property speculation during the Celtic Tiger era.
Acknowledging Sean Gallagher’s bid for the Presidency was seriously damaged following the revelations surrounding fundraising for Fianna Fáil, Deputy McNamara said he began to realise it was not a “celebrity contest” and instead a decision to elect a person to a very important constitutional office.
“Would Michael D have won without the revelations on the Frontline debate, we will never know. We always got a very good reception for Michael D on the canvass trail. I think the opinion poll rating of 40% for Sean Gallagher was a bit soft”, Deputy McNamara said.
“I think experience is very important for anyone assuming the role of President dealing with the constitution, the Government and the legislature. If someone wants to change the role of President, you have to know what is possible and what are the limitations. Michael D is the best qualified to understand these relationships, what can be done and what can’t be done.
“He is very well placed to promote Irish culture, language and music abroad, which will provide an important tourism spin-off. I believe he will inspire a lot of hope and confidence among Irish people in a short space of time,” he added.