Sunday 16 June 2019

Kevin Doyle: Will it be the old or new Michael D who shows up for election campaign?

President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Tony Gavin
President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The greatest strength Michael D Higgins will have heading into a fresh presidential campaign is that the public feel they already know everything about him.

His upbringing was tough. His battle to get into Irish politics was tough. And his race to become President in 2011 was tough.

Having come through that unforgiving and unforgettable campaign relatively unscathed, it would be easy to assume Mr Higgins should walk the sequel. But there is a certain enigma to the man that heads our country. TDs who worked alongside him over nearly three decades in Leinster House recall him as being a bit on the wild side.

Since entering Áras an Uachtaráin, however, Mr Higgins has turned into a much more refined figurehead who enjoys a cult-like following among some members of the public.

As a young man, he worked as an ESB clerk before going to University College Galway as a mature student. He would go on to be a Senator, TD, mayor of Galway and ultimately a minister.

He was a working-class politician who fought for women's rights long before hashtags existed.

Securing a reputation as a firebrand, he boycotted Ronald Regan's visit to Ireland in 1984.

Yet if Donald Trump gets bored in Scotland this weekend and decides to take a detour to Ireland, Mr Higgins would have no choice but to roll out the red carpet at Áras an Uachtaráin.

That strange ability to shift from radical to realist has served him well - but could isolate some of his original base support.

Over his seven-year term, Mr Higgins has gone from working class TD to arguably a champagne socialist.

His term has cost €30m but information on how the money is spent is sparse. We do know the Department of Foreign Affairs spent €42,000 last year on hotels during his official trips.

Then there is the Michael D, "the man of people", a regular at sporting fixtures, especially League of Ireland.

In a video interview on the Bohemian FC website, he talks about how the "real test of those who like the beautiful game is to go and watch your local team".

He has been known to pop up at matches on quiet evenings when there's no legislation waiting for review.

But the coming together of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party to ensure a safe passage back to the Áras has led to accusations he is part of the establishment.

It will be interesting to see which Michael D turns up for the campaign.

Irish Independent

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