Higgins declines to pressure Norris

LABOUR presidential candidate Michael D Higgins refused to call on his rival David Norris to put controversial clemency letters into the public domain.

As he formally launched his election campaign yesterday, Mr Higgins did not want to discuss other candidates.

“I’m not the person to ask him questions I think he will probably be asked,” he said when questioned on whether Mr Norris should publish letters written on behalf of his former lover.

Mr Higgins, who called on Labour councillors not to block the entry of Mr Norris into the race, said he believes he “brings more to the post” than the independent candidate.

He was joined by his wife Sabina, and representatives from the arts, including singer Mary Coughlan, costume designer Joan Bergin and actor Tom Hickey at yesterday’s event.

The 70-year-old laughed off suggestions that his age would effect his ability to fulfil the duties of the office if he is successful.

“There’s not much I can do about that. It isn’t the years in the life, it’s the life in the years.”

He said he has travelled 23,000km since the start of June. “I have no difficulties at all,” he said.

Asked if it was a good thing that Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness was in the presidential race he said “having met the requirements, he is a perfectly legitimate candidate”, adding that Irish people “will be able to make up their own minds”.

He said the next presidency will be “one of transformation” and that, as President, he would support a convention examining changes to the Constitution next spring.

If he wins the October 27 vote, the former minister will only complete one term of office. He previously sought a nomination to run in 2004.

He said if he had been successful in that bid, it’s unlikely he would have beaten Mary McAleese.

However, he believes his candidacy would have “started a discourse” about where the country was at that time.

The former minister and Galway West TD said he would strive for inclusive citizenship, a creative society and a “real republic”.

He said there was a need to “truthfully acknowledge how we came to be in the sorry pass where we are now, having lost so much of our economic sovereignty”.

“There is a huge response in this country for a discussion on the kind of people we want to be, the Irishness we want to create,” he said.

At the launch at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, the Labour Party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore described Mr Higgins as “not only a true Irishman but also a citizen of the world”.

He said his contribution to “progressive politics, human rights and international justice is immense”.

Endorsing Mr Higgins, the author and academic Peadar Kirby said: “This is the most important presidential election we’ve had in the history of the office.”

He said Mr Higgins was the only candidate who could “lay a new foundation for what it is to be a people, a national community, with a sense of pride in what we have to offer the world”.

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