President Mary McAleese tonight pledged to help an evolving Ireland play its fullest role on the world stage during her second term.
The 53-year-old was returned unopposed to the State’s highest office after the noon deadline for nominations passed today.
Mrs McAleese’s success was greeted with widespread political support but prospective opponents claimed the nomination procedure was too restrictive and anti-democratic.
After several candidates had earlier fallen away, former MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon tried in vain up until the last minute to get support but later conceded defeat and wished Mrs McAleese well.
Then Ireland’s eighth president received a standing ovation from those present at the nomination ceremony at Dublin’s Custom House, which included several Government ministers and opposition leader Mr Enda Kenny.
In her acceptance speech, Mrs McAleese revealed she was “very proud and delighted” to be re-elected and said she looked forward to building more bridges between all communities on the island of Ireland.
She added: “The pace of change in our busy, multi-cultural population has been intense in recent years and I will be proud to be president of that evolving, transforming Ireland.”
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern immediately congratulated Mrs McAleese and remarked that her re-election was “in the best interests of Ireland.”
He added: “She is greatly admired by Irish people everywhere for her warm manner, her kindness, her shrewd legal mind and strength of personality. She is truly a president for all of the people.”
He said he looked forward to having a president of “great charisma, strong intellect and exceptional skill” for the next seven years.
Mrs McAleese noted in her speech that the “violence of the Troubles was fading” but that “a solid base of trust and friendship had yet to be completed”.
She later revealed that she “cried with sheer joy” when she saw DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley meet the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs minister in Dublin yesterday.
She said: “I just thought it was wonderful to have lived this long to see Ian Paisley in Dublin talking politics with our Government.”
“It was of the loveliest, quietest miracles in politics, and I have taken great heart from it.”
Later, a disappointed Ms Scallon said that people had been denied the constitutional right to elect their own president.
Unsuccessful Green Party candidate Eamon Ryan also said he was disappointed there wasn’t an contest but wished Mrs McAleese well.
He called for the Constitutional Review Body to look at alternative ways of allowing candidates to seek a nomination to run for the office.
He said: “I think we should have a look at it. Maybe if a candidate has to get 20,000 signatures instead of going to councils or the Oireachtas.
He added: “An election would have been good for the country because we could ask questions about where Ireland is going and where we want to be in the wider world.”
Senator Shane Ross, who indicated he would support Dana, accused the political establishment of “conspiring” to ensure there was no other candidate to oppose President McAleese.
He said: “Dana was a significant independent figure and she couldn’t get out of the traps.”
He agreed that President McAleese’s mandate had been “weakened somewhat” by not getting a fresh endorsement from the Irish people.
Independent TD Finian McGrath said he was “extremely annoyed” there was no election and suggested that two councils or ten senators or TDs should be enough to secure a nomination.
President McAleese will be officially inaugurated at a ceremony in Dublin on November 11.