Who is Michael Higgins?
Michael Daniel Higgins is a politician from Ireland who has served as the country’s president since 2011. Born into a family with close ties to the Irish Revolution, Higgins got interested in politics during his university days. At his alma mater, he served as the president of the students’ union. After further studies, Higgins initially worked in academia, teaching political science and sociology as a lecturer. But he later decided against continuing a career in academia to dedicate himself entirely to politics. He started his political career with two unsuccessful bids to enter Dail Eireann as a Labour candidate. His upward spiral began in 1981 when he was elected as a Teachta Dala to the Dail Eireann (senator in the lower house). A decade later, he was elected as Mayor of Galway and was soon appointed the Minister for Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht. He was also instrumental in establishing an Irish language television station, and his role in promotion of the Irish culture won him accolades across the political spectrum. He was nominated as Labour’s presidential candidate in 2011, which he won. He went on to win a second term seven years later in 2018. Higgins’s unassuming nature and charm helped him sculpt a career defined by tangible achievements. The president also has to his name multiple poetry anthologies. He is equally known for his artistic skills as much as for his political achievements.
Childhood & Early Life
Michael Higgins was born on April 18, 1941 in Limerick, Ireland. His father John Higgins worked as a lieutenant in the Irish Republican Army. Higgins grew up with a brother and a twin sister.
Higgins and his younger brother moved to Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare after their father’s health deteriorated. He studied at Ballycar National School and later went to St. Flannan’s College in Ennis.
After school, he began working as a bank clerk before obtaining a loan for further studies from a benefactor. He enrolled in the University College Galway for his undergraduate degree.
In university, he served the role of the vice auditor for the Literary and Debating Society in 1963 and later became its auditor. In his final year, he became the president of the student’s union.
He went to the United States for his higher studies. Higgins graduated with a Master of Arts in Sociology from Indiana University, Bloomington.
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Michael Higgins was an academician early in his career. He worked as a statutory lecturer at the University of Ireland in the Department of Political Science and Sociology. He was also a visiting professor at the Southern Illinois University. However, he resigned from academia to focus on politics.
Higgins’s early tryst with politics took place when he stood as a Labour candidate in both the 1969 and 1973 general elections. He wasn’t elected but was canvassed by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, who later lead the Labour Party. In 1973, he was appointed to the Seanad Éireann, the upper house.
In 1981, he managed to be elected for the Dáil Éireann as the Labour Party TD. He was reelected in February 1982 but lost his seat in November. His opposition to the Eighth Amendment didn’t let him gather many votes. Despite this, he returned to the Seanad after being elected by the National University of Ireland.
Higgins became the Mayor of Galway twice: in 1982 and 1991. He remained a leading figure in the Labour Party throughout the 1980s. Later, he managed to ascend the Dáil Éireann in 1987 and held his post until the general election in 2011.
In 1993, he joined the cabinet as the Minister for Arts, Culture, and the Gaeltacht. Under him, Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act was removed, the Irish Film Board was set up, and an Irish language TV station was inaugurated.
In 2000, Higgins was moved to the front bench of the Labour Party and he remained the party’s spokesman on foreign affairs. Despite expressing his interest in contesting for the presidential election, he was refused candidature in 2004 in preference to Mary McAleese.
In 2010, Higgins expressed his interest to contest for the 2011 Presidential elections. He was subsequently selected as the Labour candidate for presidency on 19 June 2011 in Dublin by Kathleen O’Meara and Fergus Finlay. He was also endorsed by Martin Sheen.
Michael Higgins was declared the winner of the presidential election on October 29, 2011. He set a record after receiving 1,007,104 votes in his favor. He was given a warm welcome by the public on the streets. The press across the world declared this outcome a favorable one given Higgins’s intellect and humility.
Higgins was initiated into presidency on 11 November 2011 in Dublin Castle, Ireland. After entering the office formally, Higgins requested for a 23% reduction in his salary. He travelled to Northern Ireland to commence his presidential duties.
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Over the next few years, Higgins busied himself with meetings, country visits, and other immediate duties. As a staunch advocate for reform, Higgins vocally expressed his support for queer rights and called for an end to racism. In May 2012, he became the Freeman of Galway.
The Habitat for Humanity, Ireland, announced in June 2012 that Higgins would be their sole patron. In the same year, the president travelled to South America. He signed the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Bill into a law in 2013.
In 2013, he decided to participate in a debate about the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. His lack of religious fervor during the Christmas announcements caused a concern among many traditional, established intuitions in Ireland. However, the situation passed.
In 2014, he embarked on his first state visit to the United Kingdom and stayed as the Queen’s guest at Windsor Castle. He met many important dignitaries, including opposition members and Prime Minister David Cameron. Later that year, he visited China for a week.
Higgins’s relatively smooth tenure inspired him to contest for a second term as the president. He won the election with 56% of the votes. He was inaugurated as the president on November 11, 2018 in St. Patrick’s Hall at Dublin Castle.
Apart from his glittering career in politics, Michael Higgins is a lover of the written word. He is a poet, writer, and broadcaster. In his early days, he fervently wrote about politics, religion, and sociology and was published in many journals.
He wrote and presented the TV film ‘The Other Emerald Isle’, which was based on Montserrat, for Channel 4. He has also made a documentary on Noel Browne, which was well received.
His poems, however, are his most famous artistic works. He started writing poems when he was in college and got them published in reputed periodicals. Later, his poems were compiled and published. His works includes ‘The Betrayal’, ‘The Season of Fire’, and ‘An Arid Season’.
Awards & Achievements
Michael Higgins was the first individual to receive the Sean MacBride Peace Prize for his relentless work towards peace and justice in many parts of the world. He was awarded this prize by the International Peace Bureau in 1992 at Helsinki.
He was made the Patron of Clans of Ireland and was given the Order of Merit in January 2012.
Family & Personal Life
Michael Higgins is married to Sabina Coyne. His wife is an actress and hails from Cloonrane. The duo met each other in 1969 at a friend’s party and started dating. They got engaged in 1973 and married within a year.
He has four children with Sabina Coyne: Alice Mary, Daniel, John, and Michael Jr. His daughter has followed in his footsteps and is pursuing an active career in politics.
Michael Higgins is a big fan of football and is a regular at the League of Ireland matches. He once served as the President of Galway United F.C. The Football Association of Ireland introduced the President’s Cup in 2014 in his honor.