Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Republic lost its way, laments new Irish President

President Michael D Higgins waves to cheering school children after his inauguration ceremony as Ireland's ninth head of state at Dublin Castle yesterday.
President Michael D Higgins shakes hands with cheering school children after his inauguration ceremony as Ireland's ninth head of state at Dublin Castle yesterday.
President Michael D Higgins inspects the guard of honour after his inauguration ceremony as Ireland's ninth head of state at Dublin Castle yesterday.

Ireland's ninth President Michael D Higgins has urged Irish people at home and across the world to help build a real and inclusive Republic.

After being sworn in during a solemn ceremony at Dublin Castle, the President attacked the egotism and materialism that had wounded the country in recent years.

The 70-year-old poet, politician and philosopher said people were being valued in terms of their wealth rather than their fundamental dignity.

“That was our loss, the source in part, of our present difficulties,” he said.

“Now it is time to turn to an older wisdom that, while respecting material comfort and security as a basic right of all, also recognises that many of the most valuable things in life cannot be measured.”

The veteran Labour member, who resigned from the party on being elected Head of State, arrived at the upper yard of Dublin Castle for his inauguration shortly before midday along with his wife Sabina Higgins.

They had stayed at the State residence Farmleigh the night before and were taken under a military escort of honour in a presidential Mercedes — past Aras an Uachtarain — to the ceremony.

The blustery, wet conditions, which hurled one of the sodden red carpets across the courtyard moments after the couple were greeted by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, failed to dampen the sense of occasion.

The first lady was dressed in a knee-length matching coat and dress, in ceremonial purple, designed by Louise Kennedy, while President Higgins wore a dark suit and silver, Paisley-patterned tie.

Just before his entrance into the grand St Patrick's Hall, Mr Higgins asked for a few moments to reflect in a room in Dublin Castle where the socialist republican 1916 Rising leader James Connolly was held before being executed.

Past presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, both dressed in red, former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, the entire Government cabinet, judicial chiefs, Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness and all the other presidential election candidates were among the guests and dignitaries.

The inauguration began with an inter-faith service, including prayers from Christian, Jewish and Islamic representatives, as well as a Humanist reflection.

Prompted by Chief Justice Susan Denham, Mr Higgins completed the oath of office, the Army No 1 band sounded a salute and the Presidential Standard - St Patrick's blue with a silver-stringed gold harp - was hoisted over the castle and Aras an Uachtarain, his home for the next seven years.

Across the River Liffey, a 21-gun salute rang out from Collins Barracks as the new head of state was handed the Presidential seal of office to warm applause from the packed hall.

Addressing guests, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Mr Higgins would be a powerful healer for Ireland with a mandate of more than one million votes and the warm wishes of 70 million members of the Irish diaspora.

“Michael D Higgins is indeed a noble man of quiet virtue who will bring that nobility of heart and mind and spirit to the office of the President to all his endeavours in the name of Ireland and the Irish people,” he said.

“His authenticity as poet, philosopher, patriot and politician. As a democrat, republican, husband, father will resonate across this country and around the world.

“A real republican. At the head of his greatly desired 'real republic'.”

The newly sworn in President said his term in office would be one of creativity and ideas and he would work towards transforming Irish society until it was profoundly ethical and inclusive.

Again evoking rebel leader James Connolly, Mr Higgins said he believed that Ireland was a work in progress, a country still to be fully imagined and invented, with an exhilarating future.

“The demands and rewards of building a real and inclusive Republic in its fullest sense remains as a challenge for us all, but it is one we should embrace together,” he said.

The ceremony drew to a close as President Higgins inspected a Defences Forces' Guard of Honour in the upper courtyard of Dublin Castle made up of 107 officers.

Around 350 schoolchildren of all ages invited from all four provinces, invited by Mr Higgins, cheered as four Air Corps Pilatus aircraft flew low overhead in a diamond-shaped formation.

The Army No 1 band played several tunes including Slattery's Mounted Foot, Galway Bay, Mise Eire and Finnegan's Wake.

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