Michael D. Higgins is to be Ireland’s next president. He emerged with a strong lead at the end of a fractious and contentious election. With most results in, Higgins had a strong lead in seven of the eight constituencies that declared late on Friday evening.
70-year-old Higgins, the Irish Labour candidate, enjoyed a late surge of support that pushed him past former favourite Seán Gallagher. Martin McGuinness is expected to come in third place. Higgins’ rivals were fairly quick to accept his victory as it became clear that he would take more than 40% of the first preference vote. For Fine Gael, which was the main party in the previous government, the election was something of a disaster.
Michael D. Higgins is well known not only as a political figure but also as a poet, peace campaigner and president of Galway United football club. He helped establish the Irish-language TV station TG4, helped end the section 31 censorship regime that barred Sinn Féin from Irish broadcasting, and is credited with helping the Irish museum sector.
A recipient of the Seán MacBride international peace prize, Higgins is seen by many as a breath of fresh air in Irish politics. And he’s experienced, having contested elections since the late 60’s. But the transition from political campaigner to Irish presidency will be a challenge. That he has been given the chance shows how keen the Irish people are for change, but he will need to deliver clear economic growth if he is to retain his current level of popularity.