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Higgins aims to build on legacies


Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese

Former Irish president Mary Robinson

Former Irish president Mary Robinson


Mary McAleese

Michael D Higgins's appointment as Irish president signals the end of more than 20 years with a Mary in the Aras.

Given the strong legacies left by his predecessors, the Labour Party veteran, 70, will have big shoes to fill when he steps into the role on November 11.

While Mr Higgins will no doubt put his own stamp on the Aras during his seven-year term, comparisons between him and Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese are inevitable.

His role in international affairs will be held in contrast to that of Mary Robinson (1990-1997). In 1992 she drew worldwide attention to the famine in Somalia and was credited as a major contributor to the country's recovery.

Any attempts he makes as a bridge-builder will always be compared to President McAleese (1997-2011), who famously made history this year when she welcomed Britain's Queen Elizabeth to Ireland for the first time in 100 years.

In addition to the goals he identified during his campaign, the new president will also be responsible for carrying out the usual duties.

The role may be largely ceremonial and call for his attendance at numerous events as the head of state, but he will have some powers. The most significant role he may carry out is the referral of Bills passed in the Oireachtas to the Supreme Court - although the power is rarely used.

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He will also have to represent Ireland on a global scale at times of historic significance. His job is to reflect the public's mood, while also caring for citizens' emotional needs.

Mrs McAleese and Mrs Robinson are believed to have excelled in these roles - President McAleese in particular during the collapse of the economy and on a global scale, articulating the country's sadness when the world was rocked by the September 11 attacks, the Thailand tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, for example.

But, arguably, as the presidential candidate with the most experience, the nation will be satisfied that it has chosen wisely.

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