President drops hint about continuing after his term ends in November
The President of Ireland Michael D Higgins has given his strongest hint that he would like to serve a second seven year term as Ireland’s Head of State.
President Higgins, who was elected in an open competition that included as an opponent the late Martin McGuinness for Sinn Fein, has not formally said whether or not he will stand nor have Ireland’s biggest political parties said yet if they will field a candidate. His term expires on 10 November and although he originally campaigned on a promise of serving only one seven year term in the €250,000 a year post Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would support Mr Higgins should he seek a second term.
This caused some friction within his own Fine Gael party. Mr Higgins, who enjoys significant popularity and support in opinion polls, has said he will only announce in September if he is to run or retire.
Among those said to have an eye on the Aras for themselves, or whose supporters have suggested they should run, are former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams who stands down this week after 30 years, Independent Senator Gerry Craughwell.
The President dropped his hint at the Embassy of Ireland last week when he attended an event to celebrate the creativity of Irish women for St Brigid’s Day and the next visited the statues of famous suffragettes and suffragists in London, marking the centenary of the election of the first woman to the Commons, Irish woman Constance Markievicz. Markievicz chose not to take her seat in Westminster but in the newly created Dail Eireann.
Asked what reassurances, if any, he might be able to give to Irish people in this country who feel left behind by Brexit and the dominance of English nationalism at the heart of the British government, he replied that the President should be a President for ALL Irish people including those abroad – of whatever generation – whether or not they have the vote.
“Since the day I was inaugurated and long before… it’s (been) very important for me how you define Irishness and the Irish family.
“For me it includes everyone who has a connection or feeling towards Ireland it doesn’t matter what generation in which it originally started,” he said adding that half his family lives here in the UK.
“The one assurance I CAN give is that I see myself as a President for ALL of the Irish people.
“I think this last few years I have been coming (to the UK) frequently and looking at the Irish abroad and so forth. Their welfare is top of my mind. Sabina and I recently visited Australia and New Zealand. We didn’t have less than 400 people at any one of the receptions in seven cities in Australia and four cities in New Zealand. It was very important to them that they felt a connection.
“Whatever the government proposes in relation to giving (Irish people abroad) rights such as voting (in Presidential elections) in Ireland, or whatever, will of course come to me for final signature as President and that is as it should be.
“The Irish abroad are not just people there for us to take advantage of, emigrants remittances were very important in the founding and sustaining days of the Irish state, but (so, too) is the contribution that we want to make together globally.
“Whoever seeks the office of President must bring to it all that they have to offer, both in terms of experience, talent and commitment and so forth. “I hope that this is what I have been trying to do for the last six and a half years.
“Having said that, my task is not yet finished and I have a very, very full programme for the rest of this year…and, indeed, my commitment might go well beyond that,” he said.
Mr Higgins also said that he hoped Britain and Ireland would remain as close after Brexit. He also insisted that France and Germany will not dictate the future of the EU after the UK leaves but that smaller countries would have a say.
“We are going to be active participants in the debate, indeed, very, very much so, with other countries in the Union on the future of the Union.
“It will not be a matter of being a reconstituted union from above that is the outcome of a Franco-German conversation, it has to involve all of the members of the Union because really the big, big challenge is building social cohesion in Europe restoring a connection between the institutions and the European street.
“We’ll be very active in that but this doesn’t mean that we are neglecting for a second our nearest neighbours, those with whom we have cooperated in so many different areas and that will continue but that depends on a positive outcome and a positive attitude from the negotiations that will be clarified.”