Europe

New Irish president Michael D Higgins is Mr Safe Hands

Michael D Higgins
Image caption The new president is a household name in Ireland, known affectionately as Michael D

After flirting with the idea of an unconventional new president, the Irish people opted instead for a comparatively safe pair of hands.

The poet-turned-president Michael D Higgins, 70, oozes trust, authority and dignity. What he lacks in charisma, he makes up in intellect.

It is what the Irish people wanted after three years of political upheaval and economic turmoil.

It was too soon for Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness to be trusted with the highest office in Ireland. His IRA past still lingers in the minds of many Irish voters.

Nonetheless, he increased his party's share of the vote. His 14% was well above the 10% the party achieved at the recent general election.

Mr McGuinness said he was "over the moon" with the result and did not rule out another run at the presidency in seven years' time.

The most disappointed man in Dublin after the votes were counted was independent candidate Sean Gallagher, a former star of the Irish version of the TV show Dragon's Den.

His poor performance in the final TV debate cost him the election. He had been the election favourite but he struggled to answer questions about political fundraising and never recovered.

It was a spectacular political meltdown, and made the election a foregone conclusion for Michael D Higgins.

One newspaper headline screamed "Higgins poised to slay the Dragon" long before the votes had confirmed the electoral execution.

'Honourable Higgins'

So what can we expect from Mr Higgins as the ninth president of Ireland?

Cynics suggest a much less energetic presidency than the outgoing Mary McAleese. Rather than Hurricane Higgins, he is seen more as Honourable Higgins.

One Dublin voter remarked on Twitter: "Michael's a statesman. His idea of danger is having an After Eight at 7.45."

It sparked an angry response from one Higgins supporter on Twitter: "Ridiculous. MDH has campaigned 4 human rights in most dangerous parts of world eg. Nicaragua, El Salvador etc."

There is no doubt Mr Higgins will not look out of place on the national and international stage.

He is a household name in Ireland, known affectionately as Michael D.

'National treasure'

Image caption Mr Higgins received a congratulatory kiss from his wife Sabina Coyne after the victory

His friends describe the former arts minister as a 'national treasure'. He is an eloquent public speaker - in Irish as well as English - but like many politicians sometimes uses long paragraphs where a short sentence would suffice.

He has always been more interested in ideas, policies and global events rather than internal party politics within the Irish Labour Party.

In the 1980s, the then party leader Frank Cluskey said: "Trust Michael D to take the easy option, saving the world over saving the Labour Party."

The D stands for Daniel. The Irish presidency is hardly a lions' den, but it does require intellectual rigour when it comes to checking whether bills passed in the Irish Parliament are constitutional.

Few in Ireland are better equipped for that part of the presidency. He should also have no problem with the main part of the job, the ceremonial role - hosting receptions, attending state events and meeting teams on the pitch before major sporting fixtures in Dublin.

The Irish President has been described in the past as the goalkeeper for the constitution. It is unlikely that Mr Safe Hands will let the people down.

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