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Ringing endorsement for Michael D Higgins

Michael D Higgins has been a hugely respected Irish first citizen for the last seven years and the weekend confirmation that, by a significant majority, he is to serve a second term was richly deserved.

Mr Higgins has represented his country with distinction both at home and abroad, and has repeatedly demonstrated that he understands the views of ordinary people from all parts of Ireland, north and south.

He has accepted his declaration in 2011 when he was first nominated that he would not seek re-election was an error of judgment, and, with his health excellent at 77, he was fully entitled to change his mind and run again.

No other candidate came close to Mr Higgins, who attracted almost 56 per cent of the vote but there will still be concern over some of the views offered by the Derry-born businessman Peter Casey during a controversial campaign in which resulted in a much stronger than anticipated showing and a second place finish with over 23 per cent backing from the electorate.

Mr Casey's comments on the Travelling community in particular were poorly chosen and had more than a hint of the tactic of targeting vulnerable minority groups which has been so relentlessly exploited by Donald Trump.

It has been reported that Mr Casey intends to join Fianna Fáil, and regards himself as a potential Taoiseach, although it remains to be seen whether his performance was a one-off protest vote or part of a wider trend.

Regardless of the direction in his political career proceeds, it is essential that he takes a much more measured and responsible approach to his public interventions.

The other main talking point from the election was the relatively poor showing of Sinn Féin's Liadh Ní Ríada, who had been predicted by many commentators to fill the runners-up slot which eventually went to the unheralded Mr Casey.

Ms Ní Riada had previously made a positive impact as an MEP, and, as a younger woman and a southerner, was widely portrayed as the new face of her party.

However, although Sinn Féin has regularly been sitting well ahead of 20 per cent in the opinion polls, she managed less than a third of this level and fell well behind the performance of the late Martin McGuinness seven years ago.

All the main parties will be closely studying the constituency by constituency break-down of the results in the context of a general election which could be only a matter of months away, but the overall result must go down as an overwhelming endorsement of Mr Higgins.

There will also be growing hopes that, when the next presidential contest takes place, Irish citizens on both sides of the border will be given the opportunity to participate.

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