Meet Michael D. Higgins, Ireland’s Ninth President
Michael D. Higgins, 70, became the ninth Irish President on November the 11th 2011.
Known affectionately throughout the country as “Michael D,” his resume demonstrates the man’s passion for peace, the arts, and humanitarianism.
Elected to the Dáil as a Labor Party representative in 1981 and again in 1987, Michael D. Higgins was an MP for almost 25 years, retiring from Dáil Éireannin in early 2011. He was the first minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht during the 1990s, and is a published writer and poet. The new president of Ireland was also a sociology lecturer at Galway University.
The role of Irish president is more ambassadorship than authoritative. However, during the fourteen years of Mary McAleese’s presidency the now historical visit of Queen Elizabeth the second was arranged.
President Higgins in his inaugural speech acknowledged the current economic crisis in Ireland and stated that immigration has once again driven young Irish to foreign shores in search of work.
Mentioning his own nieces and nephews in England and Australia, President Higgins addressed the issue of forced immigration.
“We Irish have been a diasporic people for a great part of our history,” he said. “We, in our time, must address the real circumstances that generate involuntary emigration.”
Calling himself a, “President for all of the Irish at home and abroad,” President Higgins invited the Irish diaspora to, “become involved with us in that task of remaking our economy and society.”
“Active citizenship,” President Higgins said, “requires the will and the opportunity to participate at every level and in every way – to be the arrow; not the target.”
President Higgins stressed the importance of, “inclusive citizenship; based on participation, equality, respect for all and the flowering of creativity in all its forms,” during his presidency.
President Higgins said 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of the Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, and a constitutional convention is planned by government.
“I encourage all citizens, of all ages, at home and abroad to take the opportunity of engaging with this important review as an opportunity to reflect on where we have come from and on how we might see ourselves into the future,” President Higgins said.
President Higgins also pledged to hold presidency seminars during his seven year term, the first of which is to focus on, “being young in Ireland,” and addressing issues such as, “participation, education, employment, emigration and mental health,” he added. No date has yet been set for these presidency seminars.
The ninth president of Ireland also acknowledged the short comings of the ‘Celtic Tiger,’ saying the period was, “closer to an egotism based on purely material considerations – that tended to value the worth of a person in terms of the accumulation of wealth rather than their fundamental dignity.”
Michael D. Higgins’ humanitarianism was attained through firsthand experience of hardship. Born on 18 April 1941 in Limerick city and raised in County Clare, due to poverty and his father’s ill health, he and his brother were sent to live a “fractured life” with an aunt in County Clare.
Higgins was a factory worker and clerk, and became the first in his family to attain degrees in higher education. He studied at the University College Galway, the University of Manchester, and the University of Indiana.
The role of President in Ireland is ceremonial and has a term of seven years with one opportunity for re-election.
Described by RTE journalist, Jim Fahy, as, “One of the most forceful left wing voices in Irish life,” Higgins campaigned for human rights and the promotion of peace and democracy in Ireland and other parts of the world. He was the first beneficiary of the Seán MacBride Peace Prize from the International Peace Bureau in Helsinki in 1992, which recognized his work for peace and justice in many parts of the world.
In his closing remarks at his inaugural speech in front of journalists, defeated presidential candidates, supporters, and family, President Higgins remarked,
“We Irish are a creative, resourceful, talented and warm people, with a firm sense of common decency and justice. Let us address the next seven years with hope and courage as we work together to build the future for our country -an Ireland we all feel part of, an Ireland we all feel proud of.”
The promise of collaboration among the Irish diaspora to better the economy of Ireland and put an end to forced immigration is indeed a noble pursuit. With the recent success of Ireland Reaching Out in bringing Irish descendants back to connect with the parishes of their ancestors, there is a blossom of hope that by 2018, when President Higgins either runs for re-election or vacates Áras an Uachtaráin, an Ireland we all “feel part of and proud of” will indeed exist.