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It has been the most dramatic Presidential election ever, with seven candidates finally lining up to go before the electorate. Among them is former Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht Michael D Higgins. So who is the man about whom The Sawdoctors wrote ‘Michael D Rockin In The Dail’? And if he does find favour with the electorate, what kind of presidency can we expect from him?
Olaf Tyaransen, 19 Oct 2011
I remember quite a famous photograph of you with Marlon Brando when you were Minister. Did you have many dealings with him?
Marlon Brando was one of the people I was almost afraid to meet because anyone who is interested in acting and had seen On The Waterfront – and the many other things that he did – knew how extraordinary he was. If you have a figure like that as a kind of icon, meeting them can be disappointing. But I went to see him down in the south when a film – one that hadn’t been certified by the Department incidentally – had fallen apart. He was hoping that it would still happen and I drove down and I remember being entirely overwhelmed by both his intelligence and his grace. It was pouring rain and there had been a young photographer for what would have been the Cork Examiner then and he was getting soaked while camped out looking for a photograph. I told Marlon Brando that there was a young man down at the gate who had been waiting there all day and he said ‘Send him up!’ And he took that photograph, which is now well-known, of Brando and myself talking. Later on, when we went for a meal I remember the incredible charm of him. And then later we began discussing that his grandfather was in the womb of his great-grandmother when they left Ireland and he was interested in discussing possible Irish citizenship.
You met him a few times, didn’t you?
Later when my initiatives in film were being really attacked by the British tabloids on a completely false basis, he turned up to meet me in Santa Monica and because I was having difficulty in getting a cab he came and collected me himself. We went back to his house and we had a long chat about the world of film. He also came to see me privately and we had a meal in The Gray Door and he sang all these songs that a nurse had taught him – songs like ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’ or whatever. He had a great sense of humour..
What do you consider your greatest achievement as a Minister?
Establishing TG4 was one because there were institutional forces against it. The other was rescinding Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act – that was even more important because there was a political atmosphere around. I never believed that it was of any assistance at all in relation to public order. I saw it as censorship and I wrote about that. Conor Cruise O’Brien had a different view to me. In Mary Corcoran’s book on censorship (Political Censorship and the Democratic State: The Irish Broadcasting Ban, published in 2004), you have Conor’s view and you have my view.