Irish president’s Castro tribute attacked

Fidel Castro at Shannon, Ireland, during a visit in 1982.
Fidel Castro at Shannon, Ireland, during a visit in 1982.

Conservative figures in the Republic of Ireland have criticised the country’s president for praising the former dictator of Cuba.

Cuban media announced on Friday that Fidel Castro, 90, had died.

He had ruled the country since the late 1950s, until handing control over to his brother Raul in 2008.

Amnesty International Northern Ireland has described him as “both hero and villan”; it said that having brought “health and education for all”, he nonetheless ran a “repressive state”.

Michael D Higgins, president of the Irish Republic, released a statement on Saturday noting under Castro’s one-party rule Cuba had faced a “restriction of civil society, which brought its critics”.

However, the president added that he had learnt of Castro’s death with “great sadness”.

His statement said: “Following the revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro brought significant political and social change to his country, overcoming not just the regime of General Fulgencio Batista but also the economic isolation forced upon Cuba in the years that followed.

“Having survived some 600 attempts on his life, Fidel Castro, known to his peers in Cuba as ‘El Comandante’, became one of the longest serving heads of state in the world, guiding the country through a remarkable process of social and political change, advocating a development path that was unique and determinedly independent.

“Cuba achieved 100% literacy many years ago and built up a health system that is one the most admired in the world.

“With economic growth rates similar to many other Latin American countries, inequality and poverty are much less pronounced in Cuba than in surrounding nations...

“The restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States in 2014 and the visit of Pope Francis, and the response to it, have been ushering in a new period in Cuba’s history, one which seeks to retain the achievements of a social kind with greater freedoms in the civil society.

“Fidel Castro will be remembered as a giant among global leaders whose view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet.”

In response, independent senator Ronan Mullen (who was described in an interview with The Journal in Ireland as “one of the few outspoken social conservative politicians” in the Republic of Ireland), said: Castro’s communist party has spent the last few decades “ruthlessly suppressing all political dissent and firmly establishing the state in control of media and political life”.

He said: “In the light of the dreadful human rights record of the Castro regime, President Higgins’s fawning tribute is offensive and wholly inappropriate.

“Our President is silent regarding the long catalogue of abuses of power by Castro over his long rule... our President is not entitled to play politics like this.

“He can have his private views about Castro and his communist revolution, but when he releases an official statement as President of Ireland he is speaking on behalf of the people of Ireland.”

Meanwhile, RENUA, a small conservative party in the Republic, said: “President Higgins has demeaned himself, and more importantly the office of the Presidency, by using his position to praise a dictator, a murderer, and a torturer who sought to break the spirit of the Cuban people...

“An entire country suffered under Castro. The man destroyed the free press, jailed and tortured democrats, priests, homosexuals, and anyone who tried to stand against him.

“I, personally, cannot accept that the President speaks for me when he talks of him as a champion of the oppressed and the excluded, when he talks of him as if he was a normal politician who made a few minor mistakes.”