The president won’t go quietly

August 9th, 2022 11:40 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

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IT seems that the last term for Michael D Higgins as president isn’t going to run smoothly for him.

You would begin to wonder if there isn’t a small element of good old Irish begrudgery to the amount of times he has been called out for his comments in recent years, with just over three years to go until he has to pass the Áras baton to someone else.

And now we have his wife adding a bit of fuel – whether intentionally or not – to the flame of discontent.

Sabina Higgins’ letter to The Irish Times has certainly ruffled a few feathers. The fact that the letter implied the current conflict was a war over disputed territory between Russia and Ukraine, and not an invasion of the latter by the former, did more than raise a few eyebrows.

Unfortunately, it was embraced by the Russian ambassador, and also by some Irish politicians who have been seen as Russian sympathisers in recent times.

Whether Mrs Higgins was entitled to voice her opinion in the national media is one debate, but the fact that the letter was then subsequently posted on the official Áras an Uachtaráin website is what has really triggered criticism.

Then, a few days later, after a veritable media storm, Sabina Higgins made a statement, which seemed to add to the controversy rather than pour cold water on it.

She said the letter had been posted on her own personal section of the president.ie website and not her husband’s. But, given very few people realised she even had her own page, coupled with the fact that it was still under the ‘President of Ireland’ banner at the top of her page, questions were still being asked about the appropriateness of such a political letter on a site which is taxpayer-funded.

Allowing the president’s wife to comment in public about a political and highly sensitive issue is one thing; endorsing it and giving it authority by aligning the president’s office with it, is quite another.

The President’s office said on Monday that he had always been ‘unequivocal’ in his condemnation of the ‘Russian invasion of Ukraine’. And the president’s wife re-iterated her own stance on the matter when she issued her statment – through the president’s press office – on Tuesday evening. 

‘I have from its outset strongly condemned the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and I cannot be but dismayed that people would find anything unacceptable in a plea for peace and negotiations when the future of humanity is threatened by war, global warming and famine,’ she said.

It is surprising, then, that she allowed the original letter to be sent with such clumsy and even ambiguous language about her view of Ukraine’s role in the war. Either way, it has put yet more focus on the latest suggestions of the politicisation of the Irish presidency, an office which has traditionally kept its nose out of the nasty business of the affairs of state.

It seems the Higginses just cannot help themselves. Or could it be, that as the final furlong draws near, there is a sense of going out in a blaze of glory? Yet, there are three more years left in this presidency. One wonders what could possibly be the next hurdle?

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