I try to be fair, even to such irritating people as Michael D Higgins, Ireland’s president since 2011.
Published: 27 June 2023
But his self-importance, silliness, vanity and sanctimony grate on me, as well as his arrogance and self-aggrandisement in trampling on the conventions of his office about impartiality when it suits him.
I’ve written critically about him on occasion as, for instance, when he has eulogised appalling despots like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez who respectively immiserated Cuba and Venezuela.
But mostly — apart from the familiar responses on Twitter of the “you vile twisted old bigot” variety — such criticism has been regarded by the public as inappropriate (“Ah, sure, why are you going after Michael D. Isn’t he the grand little fellow?”), not least because he plays such popular cards as his (poor) poetry, his sentimental republicanism and his love of racing.
He behaved unwisely, though, in the autumn of 2021, when he insulted a vast range of people — particularly unionists, of course — when he turned down an invitation to a service “of reflection and hope” to mark the centenaries of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland.
The cross-community and cross-border event in Armagh had been planned with great care by religious and political leaders and diplomats, his explanations were weaselly, the Irish government was embarrassed and representatives of every major political party on the island (except Sinn Féin, who gratefully followed the president’s lead) attended.
It was generally accepted that he had made a big mistake, but Higgins is not a man to admit error.
In my article about it, I quoted the sad response of the artist and writer Brian John Spencer, who had spent years trying to understand and connect with southern viewpoints. “This episode has completely turned my view of the Republic of Ireland and all their traditions and norms upside down. I will not be the same sympathetic and curious person.”
Higgins showed no contrition. Increasingly, emboldened by the failure of politicians to stand up to him when he’s been saying embarrassing things about contentious issues like the economy, he’s been pushing his luck.
It may even have run out.
Higgins was affronted because Michéal Martin, Tániste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, set up a four-day consultative forum to reappraise Irish neutrality which until now has been a mantra that enables Ireland to spend almost no money on defence in the knowledge that the UK will continue discreetly to defend it from aggression.
The hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed abroad.
At a time of war in Europe as Russia goes rogue and Chinese espionage is stepped up, the forum’s purpose is to face up to such threats as cyber warfare and the security of vital undersea cables and determine how best to protect the state.
There is also the need to face the nonsense that without the consent of the UN Security Council that includes Russia and China, the UN prevents more than twelve members of the defence forces of a sovereign state from being deployed abroad on a peacekeeping mission. This recently limited the Irish government’s humanitarian mission to rescue 150 Irish citizens from violence in the Sudan.
Higgins’s contribution was a newspaper interview denouncing or sneering at the government’s foreign policy and many of those security experts invited to give evidence.
This encouraged the West-hating hard left to try to disrupt proceedings and smear mainstream politicians as war-mongers and militarists. Michael Higgins Junior joined in with an attack on the forum’s “alarmist tone”.
Among the headlines he won’t like are “Higgins crossed the line as the clock ticks down on his presidency”, “Protesters anything but neutral”, “Assuming Ireland’s national security policy is morally superior is self-delusional”. The most devastating attack came from Lucinda Creighton, a well-respected Fine Gael politician who resigned on principle in 2013 over the easing of restrictions on abortion.
“Higgins has no legitimacy lecturing the government about foreign policy, peace or neutrality when he has spent a political lifetime aligning with such figures [as Castro and Chevaz]”, she said. “Every single statement contained in last week’s interview is either riddled with factual error or completely blinded by his archaic far left Marxist ideology.”
At last, it’s open season on him.