'It’s incumbent' on President Higgins to speak about issues such as Gaza conflict

'It’s incumbent' on President Higgins to speak about issues such as Gaza conflict thumbnail

It’s “incumbent on the President” to speak about issues such as the situation currently unfolding in Gaza, a Labour TD says.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was speaking after Michael D Higgins compared the current events in the Middle East to what happened in Ireland during the Great Famine.

In a speech at the National Famine Commemoration yesterday, President Higgins said Irish people can “understand so well” the events that are unfolding in the Middle East.

He said: “Evictions are provoking conflicts in States that are entitled to their security but who are violating the basic laws that are the tools of internationally-recognised protection against illegal eviction and destruction of homes of those whose rights are generations embedded, and should be acknowledged, and supported, by all in the international community.”

It’s reignited the familiar debate: should the President of Ireland, often seen as a ceremonial role, weigh in on such issues?

Sunday Times columnist David Quinn and Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin discussed the topic on The Hard Shoulder.

‘It’s incumbent’ on President Higgins to speak about issues such as Gaza conflict – Ó Ríordáin

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Mr Quinn said he believes the President was being “partisan” in his remarks.

He observed: “What he says about illegal evictions and settlements is obviously correct – it does need to be criticised by someone.

“The question is should it be criticised by the President of Ireland, given it’s a largely ceremonial role? I don’t think it should be.”

He suggested people “pick and choose” the facts they mention, including ones that suit their particular political outlook.

He argued: “[President Higgins] doesn’t comment on Hong Kong and the suppression of democracy there… he doesn’t comment on the incarceration of Uighir Muslims in western China by the Chinese government.”

However, he claimed he would also object to the President speaking out about those issues – suggesting that role should instead be taken by the Government and senior ministers.

“He has to challenge all of us”

Deputy Ó Ríordáin, meanwhile, suggested the President was speaking as the “conscience of the country”.

He said: “Michael D is the holder of a political office… everything that the President says is by its very nature political.

“He needs to use that leadership: he has to challenge all of us, and focus our attention on the parallels between the issues that have happened in this country – in this case, the Famine Memorial – and what’s happening internationally.

“To be honest, when you have over 50 children being killed in Gaza… I think it’s incumbent on the President to speak on these issues and to call on the international community.”

The Labour TD argued that people knew “exactly what they were voting for” when they cast their ballots for Michael D Higgins.

He suggested: “It would be a derogation of his responsibility as the President of the country to speak at a Famine Memorial and ignore the fact of what’s happening on Gaza.

“For the President of Ireland not to speak to it I think would have been a huge mistake.”

Main image: President Michael D Higgins. Picture by:  DPPA/SIPA USA/PA Images

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