Sunday 1 February 2015

The steely resolve of a cuddly President

Female racegoers lined up to cuddle the president this week.

Female racegoers lined up to cuddle him last week, and hard nosed EU politicans gave him a standing ovation.

It seems to be a common response to the charms of President Michael D Higgins that women want to pick him up and cuddle him. That was one emotion that could be found among the rapturous messages of support on YouTube after his landmark speech to the European Parliament nine days ago.

It was also evident as the President moved among the crowds at Punchestown Races this week.

A statuesque stranger, still holding a drink, went up to our Head of State insisting on a kiss, and he obliged.

"I'm due to be wed in four weeks," she joked, "but I might be changing that for Michael D."

The two Marys, Robinson and McAleese, caught the popular mood during their terms as president, but they did not move so freely among the people.

For all their occasional folksiness, they maintained a certain regal air that Michael D has been happy to dispense with.

He was quite at ease meeting racegoers and posing for informal photographs.

He told Weekend Review in an interview this week: "I enjoy meeting people. I have being doing it at football matches ever since I became a politician."

He may be cheered at international rugby matches as he is dwarfed by giants.

But as one pundit has remarked, in recent days he has shown that he cannot be lightly dismissed as a mere charming figurine who goes about cutting ribbons.

With his speech in the antiseptic surroundings of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, his presidency suddenly burst into life.

He received a rare standing ovation from MEPs.

Nessa Childers, the dissident Labour MEP who herself lived in the Áras as the daughter of a president, was in the chamber looking on. She said: "We have presidents and prime ministers coming in, but they don't get a reception like that."

He painted a picture of a ruling class, obsessed with dry technical concerns and meeting the needs of speculative markets and credit ratings agencies.

The response to the crisis, he said, was "disparate, sometimes delayed, not equal to the urgency of the task and showing insufficient solidarity".

His critique of the prevailing economic orthodoxy as "the flaw of our times" has been taken up by other more powerful European leaders.

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