Michael D Higgins

A victory for hope over fear, says re-elected president

President Michael D Higgins and his family celebrate his re-election.

President Michael D Higgins and his family celebrate his re-election.

Michael D Higgins has welcomed his re-election as president of Ireland as a vote for hope over fear.

The 77-year-old poet, professor and campaigner secured his second term in office with a landslide margin of more than 55% of the vote.

Speaking in Dublin Castle after he was re-elected, Mr Higgins said: "The people have made a choice as to which version of Irishness they want reflected at home and abroad.

"It is the making of hope they wish to share rather than the experience of any exploitation of division or fear."

He said his version of Ireland is one which draws on traditional genius and contemporary creativity.

"The presidency belongs not only to any one person but to the people of Ireland.

"I will be a president for all the people, for those who voted for me and those who did not.

"I am so proud of this country, I am proud to be a president for all of you and with all of you, and I look forward with joy and hope to all that we will achieve together."

Mr Higgins, who has served at almost every level of politics, is a fluent Irish speaker and a long-time campaigner for equality.

He made history in 2014 when he became the first Irish president to undertake an official state visit to the UK.

There were loud cheers as the father-of-four embraced friends and supporters as he celebrated his victory.

Ireland's premier Leo Varadkar hailed Mr Higgins's re-election as an "historic victory".

"You secured 822,566 first preference votes which is the highest first preference vote by any candidate," he said.

"That is an extraordinary endorsement of the last seven years of your presidency and a really strong mandate for the next term of office over the next seven years."

Businessman Peter Casey, initially an outside contender whose last-minute surge in the polls following critical comments about the Travelling community saw him propelled into second place, got 23% of the vote.

In his speech, Peter Casey congratulated President Higgins.

"It's been amazing, it's been a real experience the past six weeks or so," he said.

"I'd like to congratulate President Higgins and wish Sabina a wonderful seven years.

"I'm sure the sentiments you described so wonderfully there, I'm sure they are shared by everyone here - wishing you all the very, very best."

Gavin Duffy, who gained just 2% of the votes, said: "Was I disappointed? Yes. Did I have regrets? No."

Sinn Fein faced a disappointing result, with candidate Liadh Ni Riada gaining half of the support achieved by the late Martin McGuinness in 2011.

After receiving 6% of the vote, she said it was important the election was held, rather than allowing Mr Higgins to return to office unchallenged.

"The people of Ireland spoke today and spoke with a resounding yes to put Michael D Higgins back in office," she said, congratulating the president.

Mrs Ni Riada also said she hopes voters in Northern Ireland would soon be able to vote in Irish presidential elections. A referendum on the issue is anticipated next year.

In her speech, Joan Freeman, who received 6% of the vote, singled out the president's wife Sabina.

"I'm so happy for you Sabina," she said.

"The people who voted for me - thank you for that."

In the longest speech of any of the defeated candidates, Sean Gallagher, who gained around 6% of the vote, expressed pride in the campaign he and his team had run.

"Together we put forward ideas that can shape the future and today is not the end of those ideas," he said.

Mr Higgins has long championed an ethical Republic and has repeatedly addressed issues surrounding memory, commemoration, identity and the conflicting traditions on the island.

The refugee crisis in Europe and the plight of migrants has been a favourite topic, as well as the importance of the arts and Ireland's great literary tradition.

Presidential honour for Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson at Aras an Uachtarain with President Michael D Higgins and wife Sabina. Picture: Laura Hutton

Liam Neeson at Aras an Uachtarain with President Michael D Higgins and wife Sabina. Picture: Laura Hutton

Ballymena actor honoured by President, speaks out on #metoo 'witch-hunt'

AN emotional Liam Neeson has received an award from the President of Ireland for his contribution to the country and humanity.

Receiving the honour, the Irish actor revealed that he was wary of giving public addresses. “My fear, and it’s a genuine fear, is public speaking.

“Everyone says ‘oh, you’re an actor, you should be good at that.’ It’s just not true,” he said. Neeson was presented with the Presidential Distinguished Service Award by President Michael D Higgins. The award highlights the outstanding work by Irish people living overseas across a range of areas, from sport to science, charity or community support.

Neeson, who appeared slightly emotional as he received the award, said he was “honoured” and “very humbled”. He said he would continue to “fly the flag for Irish arts” and the charity Unicef, of which he is a goodwill ambassador. President Higgins described the Ballymena native as a “splendid Irish man abroad” and a “worthy recipient” of the award. “We started the awards in 2012 to give recognition to the contribution of Irish people living abroad who have made a distinguished contribution, not just to Ireland, but to humanity in general. And indeed, that is the case in the case of Liam Neeson”, he said.

Mr Higgins added: “I think our reason for having the award is to be able to say the Irish family isn’t defined by national borders or territories. “It is defined by care, compassion, a shared culture and heritage, a common sense of responsibility, a consciousness of our historic experience and also the importance of Ireland contributing dynamically to a future that would be humane and more compassionate and just. Liam Neeson qualifies by all of this criteria”.

Of the sixty awards presented to date, only two have been awarded to Irish Australians, the late Jim Stynes and author Tom Keneally. The citation for Neeson’s award reads: “As an extremely gifted and internationally renowned film actor, Liam Neeson has helped to raise Ireland’s profile and awareness of Ireland and Irish artists around the world, especially in the United States where he is based.

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Harassment scandal now witch-hunt

LIAM Neeson says that the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal has sparked “a bit of a witch-hunt”. Asked about the issue on the Late Late Show, Neeson, 65, said: “There is a bit of a witch hunt happening too.

“There’s some people, famous people, being suddenly accused of touching some girl’s knee or something and suddenly they’re being dropped from their programme....” He said that he was “on the fence” about allegations levelled at Dustin Hoffman.

“When you’re doing a play and you’re with your family, other actors and technicians, you do silly things. You do silly things and it becomes superstitious. If you don’t do it every night you think it’s going to jinx the show,” the Irish star said. “I think Dustin Hoffman... I’m not saying I’ve done similar things like what he did. Apparently he touched a girl’s breast and stuff... it’s childhood stuff.”

Last year, actress Anna Graham Hunter alleged Hoffman groped her and made inappropriate comments when she was a 17-year-old intern on the set of the 1985 TV movie Death Of A Salesman. Playwright Cori Thomas accused him of exposing himself to her in New York in 1980, when she was 16.

In response to Hunter’s allegations, Hoffman issued a statement saying the incident “is not reflective of who I am”. Neeson said of the #MeToo movement: “It’s healthy and it’s across every industry. The focus seems to be on Hollywood at the minute, but it's across every industry."