Michael D Higgins: “Presidency of Ideas”

Michael Daniel Higgins (1941-) is described as one of the most forceful left-wing voices in Irish life for over forty years. The eldest of seven candidates, on 29 October 2011 he was announced winner of the election to become President of Ireland for a period of seven years. As ninth President of the Republic of Ireland, he will be sworn in at an official ceremony to be held at Dublin Castle on 11 November 2011.
Known to voters as Michael D, the seventy year old is a fluent Irish speaker, poet, politician, sociologist, political scientist and human rights activist who sought international support for liberation movements around the globe as well as highlighting the horrors of famine and death in Africa. He campaigned against the Iraq war and spoke up for the victims of regimes in Pinochet’s Chile and in Cambodia. Amongst his awards, in 1992 Michael Higgins was recipient of the Sean MacBride international peace prize.
His social concerns grew, he once said, from a Limerick childhood. His early political thinking was influenced by Irish playwright Sean O’Casey. Amongst Michael Higgins poetry collections are The Betrayal (1990) and The Season of Fire (1993).
Michael Daniel Higgins
Born on 13 April 1941 in Limerick city, his father struggled with poverty and ill health and he and his brother were sent to live, fractured lives, with an aunt and uncle in Co. Clare. He was the first in his family to attend university. After studying at St. Flannan’s College in Ennis and at University College Galway, UCG (now NUI Galway), he worked as Statutory Lecturer in Political Science and Sociology at UCG, and was a Visiting Professor at the Universities of Indiana and Manchester.
His political ambitions were observed early as President of the UCG Students’ Union from 1964-1965. Originally a member of Fianna Fail, he switched to the Labour Party in the late 1960s. He was Labour candidate in the 1969 and 1973 general elections but was unsuccessful on both occasions. He has been Labour Party TD for Galway West since 1987, having first been elected in 1981-2; he was the First Minister for Arts, Culture, Gaeltacht, and the Islands in 1993-7 and was instrumental in setting up the Irish Language TV station TG4 (TnaG). He also allowed a ministerial order under Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act to lapse.
“Presidency of Ideas”
In his extensive campaign he was sensitive to the concerns of the people of Ireland and questioned the failures of the economic model adopted in Ireland and what he described as the extreme individualism it produced – saying now there would be a collective response to the problems faced by the country. From his constituency as Labour Party TD for Galway West, where he received a hero’s welcome acknowledging his service, he is now called upon to serve the country in a very special way – that of “inclusive citizenship” – where every child counts in a “creative society” based on dignity rather than wealth.
Part of his “Presidency of Ideas” is a proposal to hold a series of Presidential Seminars which would not interfere with the legislative process. One seminar would discuss issues facing young people, such as mortgages, exclusion and mental health.
Ita Marguet Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text.