Michael D Higgins, Labour-nominated candidate in the presidential election, visited the town where his party was founded, as he launched his campaign with a whistle-stop tour of Munster.
Last Friday evening, the man who is currently leading the opinion polls, greeted friends and supporters in the chamber of Clonmel Borough Council - the very room where the party was founded almost 100 years ago.
As he inspired supporters he also called for a new Ireland, not a return to the years that have gone.
Flanked by Labour councillors from South Tipp, a senator and an MEP, as well as his wife, Sabina, Mr Higgins inspired local supporters to work on his campaign. He said that during the campaign he will do interviews and speak to hundreds of people but “it will be the quality of the local organisation that will be crucial in delivering the result we want.” He urged them to redouble their efforts, but said it would be an easy task as he had been getting a positive response.
He said it would be a very great privilege to be able to return to Clonmel in May to mark the centenary of the foundation of the Labour Party as President of Ireland.
He was “put into the field” by Labour but he said he knows others support him, and he had never denied his background in the party of Larkin and Connolly.
The former TD and senator said he hopes to be a president for all the people of Ireland, including those who are still too young to vote, because their future is at stake, and for the people who have had to leave this country.
The candidate said you sometimes hear people saying they do not want a politician, but there is nothing more democratic than putting your name before the people.
He said no one could be happy at what has happened to our country but he said we need a “get to a new place,” not return to the Celtic Tiger days.
The people that were admired in the last 15 years were the wealthy, because they were buying and selling property. The kind of people who came out of those times “didn’t build opera houses, didn’t write plays, didn’t commission music but they went around the world saying ‘you could be like us.’ People were shocked at this view of Irishness based on radical individuality.” Other candidates are saying we can start up that kind of Ireland again, but Mr Higgins said it is not a society we should seek to recreate.
“That version of the economy has created misery. I’m suggesting we need to get to a new place.” He said this new Ireland should be based on “radical inclusiveness and citizenship” and creativeness in everything we do - the arts, administration, diplomacy and training.
As president, he said, he would not be a “hand maiden of government” but will be “inspirational.”
The occasion was marked by a presentation by Mayor Darren Ryan, Labour councillor, who presented Mr Higgins with a pen set with the logo of Clonmel Borough Council. He said he had every faith in Mr Higgins to be an inspiring president and a president the country could be proud of.
Also in attendance were Senator Denis Landy, who said Mr Higgins had been inspirational to all those in the party and outside it all his political life; MEP Phil Prendergast, Cllrs Gabrielle Egan and Seanie Lonergan.