Monday 23 September 2019

Pomp, ceremony and laughter as Michael D takes office for second stint in the Áras

President Michael D Higgins receives his seal of office from Chief Justice Frank Clarke at his inauguration at Dublin Castle. Photo: Tony Gavin
President Michael D Higgins receives his seal of office from Chief Justice Frank Clarke at his inauguration at Dublin Castle. Photo: Tony Gavin
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

It is together that we shall go forward, he said. Together into "a future of equality, participation, inclusion, imagination, creativity, and sustainability".

On a rainy Armistice night, amid further pomp and ceremony, President Michael D Higgins resumed office once again with, doubtlessly, a comfortable sigh of relief.

We had been leader-less for approximately 19 hours - with a committee including the Ceann Comhairle running the country for the day. Not that anybody noticed.

With the unaccustomed darkness of a much-later-than-usual ceremony at Dublin Castle because of the Armistice Day commemorations, the inauguration seemed to hold more ritual than normal.

A little more magic, as the mock gas lights outside flickered and shadows were cast on the cobblestones. We could feel the reach of history here quite easily, as our ninth President took his seals.

Perhaps it said it all that the guest list, sent in advance, simply read: "The President's guests at the inauguration ceremony are children and adults from all walks of life."

Dublin Castle: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the inauguration. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Dublin Castle: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the inauguration. Photo: Gerry Mooney

That might have been the hope. But given the cramped confines of St Patrick's Hall, however, it seemed inevitable that this would be a select gathering.

All the Cabinet were there except for Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, who was in London for Armistice Day, and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, who was in China.

Presidential candidates Liadha Ní Riada and her husband Nicky Forde, Peter Casey and his wife Helen, Seán Gallagher and his wife Trish, Gavin Duffy and his wife Orlaith Carmody, and Joan Freeman and her husband Pat, were all seated alongside one another.

Brother Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre, Dublin Lord Mayor Nial Ring, and members of the judiciary, ambassadors, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson were also there. The Taoiseach's partner, Matt Barrett, was seated beside Government officials.

There was a moment just before the ceremony when Peter Casey rose from his seat and sought out the company of Martin McAleese, husband of the former president, seated in the front row near the door beside the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett.

The pair chatted at length and then Mr Casey took his leave. Mr McAleese screwed his face up into a pained grimace before breaking into rueful laughter.

We may have been in the stiffly formal navy and gilt surrounds of the old vice-regal chambers, where balls were held of old, but all that was nothing as a staff member came through with a handheld vacuum cleaner.

Loudly, she began to pick up specks from the navy carpet ahead of the arrival of the President Elect, in an amusing moment that broke the ice amongst the guests seated - though some of the foreign ambassadors did look slightly bemused. And then, the little vacuum cleaner put away, the members of the Government, Council of State and representatives of the religious communities arrived.

An expectant silence hung - and then the President Elect arrived with Sabina, resplendent in regal purple. In her buttonhole was a Global Goals badge, in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

There was a wave of laughter as, in his speech, the Taoiseach quipped that not everybody could be there - referencing Bród and Síoda, the First Dogs - saying they have "contributed greatly to life in Áras an Uachtaráin".

After taking his seals, the President began his speech, reaching back almost 100 years to the principles of the First Dáil, with huge poignancy in the fact that the words still were as urgent and as relevant as ever, as he quoted: "It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing or shelter."

He spoke of violence against women, climate change and of the dangers of "anti-intellectualism".

Plenty, then, to be getting on with for the next seven years.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News