Belfast Telegraph

Clean fight helped Higgins win day

Slow and steady wins the race.

Michael D Higgins' ability to steer a clean course through the dirtiest presidential fight in living memory has secured his elevation to Aras an Uachtarain.

The elder statesman successfully managed to distance himself from the squabbling and demeaning scandals that marred the campaign and, to differing degrees, his rivals.

In the end, the diminutive veteran remained regally head and shoulders above the others - figuratively, if not physically. In an often vicious battle, there was little slung at him and even less still that stuck.

Mutterings about the 70-year-old's ability to take on a gruelling seven-year term as head of state, given his age and, some said, frailty, was the worst that was levelled at him. But he dismissed the suggestions out of hand early on in the canvassing as "crude" and - with one eye on older voters - as "insulting" to anyone over the age of 60.

His heartfelt protest at the apparently ageist undertones did not appear insincere for a man who has built his reputation around championing compassionate causes and opposing injustice.

A former Labour Party president, government minister and Galway West TD, he has remarkably and deftly played upon his experience in high office, while remaining aloof enough from his party's coalition Cabinet to appeal to the current anti-establishment mood.

On his official campaign blurb, he was introduced first and foremost as a campaigner; then a poet; and finally, a politician. A university professor, he is an intellectual with bohemian leanings and a passionate defender of the arts, who has vowed to put culture and the Irish language at centre of Irish life.

His track record establishing Irish language television station TG4, boosting the film industry, scrapping controversial broadcasting censorship and campaigns for progressive change on contraception and divorce, should point to the tone of his presidency.

But despite the lofty credentials, there is a widespread, popular warmth among the public for the man known universally in Ireland as Michael D. He is married to trained actress Sabina Coyne, with whom he has four children, and was awarded the first Sean McBride International Peace Prize for humanitarian work.

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