​On Sunday I went with two other gentiles to a rally in Trafalgar Square, London, in support of Israel. I found it almost unbearable to listen to close relatives of some of those murdered or kidnapped, as it has been when I’ve heard at first hand the stories of victims of Northern Irish terrorism.

Published: 24 October 2023

Having a loved one killed is appalling. Knowing it was done on purpose makes it infinitely worse. And hearing they were butchered, perhaps tortured, and their perpetrators hailed as heroes, worse again.

As for having loved ones in captivity at the mercy of the Jew-hating brutal murderers of Hamas, who could possibly imagine the constant terror of that?

There was no talk at the rally of vengeance or punishment. Just of the need for Israel and the civilised world to do whatever is necessary to rescue these poor people — from nine months old to octogenarians — 222 at the time of writing — and decommission Hamas which threatens Israel and, indeed, the world.

Michael Gove, the communities secretary, gave an impassioned speech in which he reminded us that 75 years ago the world had made the promise “Never again”.

“And what did we see a fortnight ago? The biggest, most horrific slaughter of Jewish people since the Holocaust, carried out by terrorists, an act of evil, unparalleled evil and barbarism. We must stand together against it . We must stand for life. We must bring the hostages home.”

The chief rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, thanked the King, the Prince of Wales, and cross-party English political leaders for their support in wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel. “It’s at a time such as this that we discover who our true friends are,” he said, addressing the rally in Trafalgar Square.

Well they sure don’t include the president of Ireland, who once again brings shame on it. The 82-year-old Michael D Higgins, vain and self-righteous, once more, and more grossly than ever, trampled on the conventions of his office about leaving politics to the politicians. He has got away with so much, he thinks himself invincible and continues to flaunt the hard left politics he’s had all his adult life. No wonder Sinn Féin love him.

This time, though, he’s got up the nose of many who hitherto shrugged him off, not only in Ireland but in the EU establishment on whose bounty and goodwill the Irish people have depended for years. It was foolish of him to lament as “thoughtless and even reckless” the words of president Ursula von der Leyen and colleagues expressing their horror at the massacre of Jews on October 7 —at which he had perfunctorily tut-tutted — along with support for Israel.

Under persistent questioning, the patient Israeli ambassador, Dana Erlich, had to admit reluctantly that she didn’t think Ireland was neutral, and that misinformation in Higgins’s remarks have had an inflammatory effect in relation to the Israel-Hamas war.

The Irish Times’s widely admired columnist Stephen Collins denounced him for once again breaching constitutional convention and demeaning his office. Foreign affairs were none of his business.

In the Sunday Times, Allison O’Connor asked: “Will anyone — please tell our president about boundaries?…while you may agree with what the president has said, it remains the case that his role operates outside the political fray. It also sets an uncharted precedent for his successor.”

The president responded to criticism for overstepping his constitutional role at a press conference in Rome, where he’d been lecturing Pope Francis on LGBT rights, by saying, “I’m reflecting the will of the people who put me in Áras an Uachtaráin.” The Irish people, in two years time, would have the opportunity to consider if they wanted “a silent person, a puppet, or whether they wanted a president…Foreign policy belongs to us all”.

“The great achievement of this state since independence a century ago,” wrote Collins, “has been the survival of democracy. That has happened because our politicians have operated within a clear constitutional framework. Democracy is a fragile flower that needs to be protected by strict adherence to constitutional norms. A president repeatedly flouting the rules is not a good omen.”

But then perhaps president Higgins, whose heroes have been tyrants like Fidel Castro, won’t worry too much about that.

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