Higgins seems too fast to overlook Castro’s repression

Morning View

Morning View

The tenure of Michael D Higgins as president of the Irish Republic has brought into focus the question of whether it is better to have politically partisan head of state, or an apolitical one.

The Republic’s president is expected not to participate in partisan politics, but Mr Higgins has in some Irish people’s eyes fallen short of that expectation.

This weekend he lavished praise on the legacy of a man as authoritarian as Fidel Castro.

It is not the first time Mr Higgins has been embroiled in controversy. He has made speeches about redistributing wealth which seem innocuous but are highly ideological.

Earlier this year, he came close to scolding unionists, when he told them that they should show generosity about the Easter Rising (there are in fact good reasons why many unionists do not feel generous about the events of 1916 and how it was later used to justify to sectarian terror).

If an Irish president breaches protocol that is a matter for Ireland. But it flags up the advantages of having an impartial monarch. The British head of state is expected to be rigorously so. Queen Elizabeth has lived up fully to that ideal, but there is no guarantee future kings or queens will do the same. If they fail to do so, the monarchy itself will be at risk.

With regard to Cuba Mr Higgins has shown a striking willingness to overlook Mr Castro’s long record of repression, as have other radicals, from Jeremy Corbyn to Gerry Adams.

Communism or hardcore socialism has never survived without such repression, which tells you much about its ability to persuade populations that it is a good way to govern.

There are many people across these islands who still remember the Troubles and who bitterly opposed IRA attempts to bring about what it insisted was ‘equality’ through force. Their sympathies might now be with the Cuban Americans, photographed on the opposite page, celebrating the passing of the Castro era and a repressive form of radical politics.