Last week Ireland elected its ninth president. Though the role is highly ceremonial, the election campaign was hard fought between 7 candidates: the widest choice in the office's history. At the end of the count, Michael D,* an academic, poet, and long-time elected politician, became the first "political millionaire", with over a million votes. He has a strong track record on fighting for human rights, and is a great orator.
Here's his acceptance speech (skip to 3:00 if you want to leave out the Irish language part and the thank yous):
As a resident of Northern Ireland, I didn't have a vote in the election (extending the franchise north of the border and to the Irish abroad will probably be considered as part of the political and constitutional reform agenda in Ireland). However, over the last 21 years the presidency has allowed Ireland to redefine itself and its identity in a very positive way - in terms of inclusion and the peace process - and Michael D clearly aims to continue this from his platform of inclusive and active citizenship. While people and the media complain that the post has little power, it's highly political role (despite being removed from daily politics and policy) that offers a powerful way for citizens to engage in what their identity is and what their republic means to them. Which is why I think this right to elect the head of state is an important and positive thing, why I take monarchists' claims of unity and symbolism with a certain amount of scepticism, and I look forward to Michael D's presidency.
* He will probably be called Michael Higgins/President Higgins abroad, but he's known by his middle initial in Ireland. What it stands for is a popular pub quiz question (Daniel, if you're wondering).