New Irish president has reputation as left-leaning human rights activist

By Muriel Kane
Sunday, October 30, 2011 20:51 EDT
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Following a campaign that The Independent describes as “notable for mud-slinging and unprecedented volatility among voters,” Irish Labour Party candidate Michael D. Higgins was elected Friday as president of Ireland.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial position, with the prime minister being the head of government, but the prestige of the office enables the president to influence policy, particularly on humanitarian issues. This is likely to play to the strengths of Mr. Higgins, who according to the Guardian “is a recipient of the Seán MacBride international peace prize, campaigned against the Iraq war and spoke up for the victims of regimes in Pinochet’s Chile and in Cambodia.”

“I feel a little overwhelmed,” Higgins stated after the results of the election were announced. “I’m very, very happy. It is something I prepared for, something I thought about for a long while. I hope it will be a presidency that will enable everybody to be part of and proud of.”

Higgins will be inaugurated on November 11, and there is speculation that actor Michael Sheen, known as known as a close friend and “huge fan” of the new president who has worked with him on human rights issues, is likely to attend.

Higgins began the campaign leading in the polls, but in a year when Irish voters are profoundly disenchanted with the major political parties, he fell behind an independent candidate, television personality Sean Gallagher, who ran on his reputation as “an entrepreneur, and the founder and CEO of Ireland’s largest home technology company.”

In a dramatic last-minute reversal of fortune, however, Gallagher floundered during a television debate when he was accused of still being intimately connected with his former party, Fianna Fail, which is widely blamed for Ireland’s financial meltdown and which he had refused to criticize during previous appearances.

In the video below, Higgins can be seen speaking passionately a year ago against a proposal to reduce the minimum wage.

This video is from the Irish Labour Party and was uploaded to YouTube on December 15, 2010.

Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane is an associate editor at Raw Story. She joined Raw Story as a researcher in 2005, with a particular focus on the Jack Abramoff affair and other Bush administration scandals. She worked extensively with former investigative news managing editor Larisa Alexandrovna, with whom she has co-written numerous articles in addition to her own work. Prior to her association with Raw Story, she spent many years as an independent researcher and writer with a particular focus on history, literature, and contemporary social and political attitudes. Follow her on Twitter at @Muriel_Kane
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