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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Fewer perks as our man in Park takes €75,000 pay cut

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

PRESIDENT-elect Michael D Higgins is going to take a €75,000 pay cut -- and is sticking to his pledge to serve for just seven years.

He has confirmed that he will accept the new reduced salary of €249,014 set by the Government. That is down from the €325,507 salary once paid to President Mary McAleese before she voluntarily reduced it to €250,000 this year.

Mr Higgins also repeated his promise to not to seek re-election -- meaning that he will be 77 when he leaves Aras an Uachtarain.

And he said that he wanted to develop a presidency where the ideas and beliefs that led to the State's economic collapse were challenged.

"I have lived by ideas all my life and one thing you can take in this presidency is that ideas will be valued," he said.

After Mr Higgins's dramatic comeback to win the presidential election ahead of Sean Gallagher, Labour strategists hailed his ability to "hold his nerve" as the key factor.

The 70-year-old was once derided by former PD leader Dessie O'Malley as being likely to "go mad" if he was made minister.

But during the campaign, he avoided any outbursts and portrayed himself as the most presidential of the main candidates.

Mark Garrett, chief adviser to Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, said Mr Higgins's composure at all stages of the campaign meant that he was in a position to capitalise when frontrunner Sean Gallagher slipped up during the RTE 'Frontline' debate.

"Like a good striker, if the goalkeeper drops the ball, you have to be there," he said.

Even those close to him admitted that he "got a bit excited" last Sunday week when two opinion polls showed Mr Gallagher in a commanding lead.

Mr Higgins's team did consider the option of getting Mr Higgins to go on the attack during the final presidential debate, but decided against it.

"It would not be Michael D and it would not be presidential," Mr Garrett said.

Mr Higgins's team also knew that it was inevitable that at least one of the other candidates would attack Mr Gallagher -- and so it proved. But there was relief in the party last night given the awareness that if Mr Gallagher had been able to answer the questions about his Fianna Fail fundraising, he could have been president.

Labour made a deliberate decision to have Mr Higgins running as a semi-independent candidate so that he would appeal to more than just Labour voters.

The fact that Mr Higgins had lived in the public spotlight for more than 30 years meant there were no new controversies during the campaign. He did face questions about his ability to serve at 70 but he did not take a single "sick day" during the gruelling campaign.

He injured his knee on a visit to Colombia last year with Trocaire. But he travelled 28,000km after beingnominated -- including the last 30 days campaigning without a break.

Irish Independent

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