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The incumbent was the beneficiary of a late surge in the 2011 polls to beat Sean Gallagher in the previous Áras race. After the first count he had more than 39pc of the first preference votes and is expected to have an even bigger tally this time when the county votes on October 26.

He ran as a Labour candidate then but is running as an Independent this time after nominating himself and going back on a promise to be a one-term president.

The 77-year-old is only the second sitting president who has had to take part in an election and the first since Éamon de Valera ran for re-election in 1966.

Mr Higgins was a long serving TD for Galway-West, a Senator and was Arts Minister between 1994 and 1997. During his time as minister he set up TG4 (then TnaG).

He was previously a member of Fianna Fáil before switching to the Labour Party in the 1960s. He is a socialist, a poet and a former University lecturer.

He married his wife, Sabina, in 1974. They have four children.

Key messages

Much of the incumbent’s message focuses on deepening participation in society, creating strong communities and working to achieve greater equality. He said he wants to shape the country’s future by encouraging debate and learning from the country’s past to bring about change. Should he succeed in winning a second term in office Mr Higgins has promised to continue in the same vein as his previous term.

He said he wants to create a sense of togetherness and ensure Ireland contributes on challenging global issues such as peace, development and human rights.

Strengths

Mr Higgins is somewhat buoyed by a wave of support and a general sense that he has served the office well over the past seven years. As an incumbent he is familiar with the role, knows the responsibilities that come with the office and is seen as a safe pair of hands.

Despite his age he has been able to count on support from a large cohort of young voters and the ‘Miggeldy’ image that inadvertently follows him has done more to endear him to the public rather than damage his chances at re-election. He is also supported by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and other political groupings without a candidate in the race.

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Weaknesses

He has faced accusations of becoming a ‘champagne socialist’ during his time in office and in recent months has been dogged by questions about his use of taxpayers money in Áras an Uachtaráin (despite not taking the full presidential salary). This stems from him not addressing questions about an alleged €3,000 per night hotel bill during a visit to Switzerland, and accusations of cronyism after his driver during the last presidential election was hired as executive assistant to the Áras.

Bookies odds

Clear favourite priced between 1/33 and 1/50.


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