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President Higgins calls for 'Republic of equality' in thinly-veiled criticism of Peter Casey comments

President Michael D Higgins has used his inauguration speech to launch a thinly-veiled broadside at rival Peter Casey's divisive Traveller comments, insisting "a real Republic is where every person and community is treated with respect".

Mr Higgins made the comments in a pointed speech at Dublin Castle this evening after being officially confirmed as the winner of the presidential race by an historic landslide victory marred by a racism row and the lowest turnout since the State was formed.

After months of bruising debate, Mr Higgins won easily on the first count after receiving 56% of the vote, with the full results being:

  • Michael D Higgins: 56% (822,566 first preference votes)
  • Peter Casey: 23.1% (342,727)
  • Sean Gallagher: 6.4% (94,514)
  • Liadh Ní Riada: 6.3% (93,987)
  • Joan Freeman: 6% (87,908)
  • Gavin Duffy: 2.2% (32,198)

See how each constituency in the country voted

Read More:

While the turnout was the lowest in the history of the State at 43.87% - or 1,492,388 people - Mr Higgins won by a landslide and headed up each of the 40 national constituencies, all age groups and both rural and urban voter groups.

And despite a significant amount of support for Mr Casey - who sparked a national row over his divisive views that the Travelling community is not a separate ethnicity and uses this label to take advantage of the country - Mr Higgins used his speech on Saturday night to underline the Ireland he still believes exists.

"We are in a time of transformation and there is a momentum for empathy, compassion, inclusion and solidarity which must be recognised and celebrated.

"A real Republic is a life lived together and 'together' has been one of those words that has resonated throughout this campaign, as has another word - authenticity.

"Both are so important.

[quote]"Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide. The next seven years will offer opportunities to do things in new ways; including everybody."[/quote]

"That requires identifying and facing exclusions, and more than just eliminating barriers, it means the exercising of new invitations.

"A real Republic is a Republic of equality, of shared vulnerabilities and of collective capacities.


"A real Republic is one where every person is encouraged and supported to participate fully and where every person and community is treated with dignity and respect.

"The presidency can bring together the different strands of our nation, past, present and future.

"The people have made a choice as to which version of Irishness they want reflected at home and abroad. It is the making of hope they wish to share, rather than the experience of any exploitation of division or fear," he said.

While Mr Higgins' inauguration speech did not specifically reference Mr Casey, it was widely interpreted to have deliberately focussed on the need to avoid division in light of his rival's recent Travelling community comments and the ongoing Brexit crisis.

At the same inauguration, other candidates gave shorter speeches where they thanked their supporters, campaign teams and families

Peter Casey, who said he won 14 votes at the Seanad 2016 election, meaning his presidential vote haul "is a 23,000% increase"

Gavin Duffy backed Mr Higgins' call for a fightback against division

Senator Joan Freeman said "victory has spoken and so has the people", before saying the campaign has "scrutinised and brutalised" all candidates.

Sean Gallagher quoted former US president Theodore Roosevelt by saying "it is not the words of the critic that count, but the person in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and blood."

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada said, to applause from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, that this should be the last Presidential Election where people in Northern Ireland are not allowed to vote

Speaking moments afterwards, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar congratulated Mr Higgins before turning to all other candidates and explaining his first foray into frontline politics led in a clear defeat, reminding them: "You learn more from your defeats than your victories."


Despite the landslide victory for Mr Higgins, the presidential campaign figures show it was the lowest turnout in the history of the State.

In the 2018 race just 43.87% of the population chose to vote.

The previous races saw:

  • * 2011: 56% turnout
  • 1997: 47.6%
  • 1997: 47.6%
  • 1990: 64.1%
  • 1973: 62.2%
  • 1966: 65.3%
  • 1959: 58.37%
  • 1945: 63%