A prominent left-wing poet and peace activist, who campaigned against the Iraq invasion, is to be Ireland’s new President succeeding the incumbent Mary McAleese, the occupant of the largely ceremonial post since 1997 having won two successive seven-year terms, the maximum permitted under the constitution.

Seventy-year-old Michael D. Higgins, who contested on behalf of Labour party, a partner in Ireland’s coalition government led by Fine Gael, polled almost 40 per cent of the first preference votes in the elections held on Thursday.

His rivals conceded defeat even before the results were formally announced.

Mr Higgins, an Irish MP for nearly 25 years until he stepped down earlier this year and a former minister for arts and culture, attributed his success to his clean campaign during which he avoided personal attacks.

He said his presidency, to be inaugurated on November 11, would be inclusive and marked by transformative ideas to overcome Ireland’s economic crisis.

Mr. Higgins, who once wrote a poem called, "When Will My Time Come?’’, said with a touch of understatement that he was "a little overwhelmed’’.

"It is something I prepared for, something I thought about for a long while. I am very glad as well that it is a presidency built on a campaign that emphasised ideas. I hope it will be a presidency that will enable everybody to be part of and proud of," he said.

Mr. Higgins benefited from a late surge after his immediate rival , Sean Gallagher, a high-profile businessman and reality television star, who had been the favourite to win effectively crashed out of the race following damaging allegations of secret fundraising for the widely despised Fianna Fáil party. It was ousted from power earlier this year for plunging the nation into recession.

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, once regarded as an exciting choice, suffered because of controversy over his IRA past and ended up as third.

He said Mr Higgins would "make a fine president’’.

"I wish him well for his seven years in the Aras (presidential home)," he said.

Mr. Gallagher also extended his "full support’’ to Mr. Higgins.

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