29 Oct 2011

Former arts minister elected Ireland's president

4:18 pm on 29 October 2011

Michael D Higgins, a poet and former arts minister, has been elected the ninth president of Ireland.

Mr Higgins, 70, won nearly 40% of first-preference votes in the presidential election on Friday, and his victory was ensured once second preferences had been redistributed.

Independent candidate and one-time favourite Sean Gallagher earlier admitted defeat to Mr Higgins. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness finished third.

Turnout was 56.1%, down from about 70% in the general election in February, the BBC reports.

Mr Higgins was an MP for nearly 25 years before retiring from the Dail (parliament) earlier this year. He was arts and culture minister during the 1990s, in which capacity he visited New Zealand.

The president, who serves as a ceremonial head of state, is elected for a seven-year term and can be re-elected only once.