Ruth Dudley Edwards: Michael Higgins has delighted Sinn Fein by politicising the Irish presidency
Being President Higgins means never having to say you are sorry.
Nothing seems to shake this life-long Marxist’s remarkable and unjustified self-belief.
He’s just dropped two enormous clangers — but he won’t admit it.
He has plenty of form, of course. Has he ever admitted that Hugo Chavaz, whom he eulogised, turned Venezuela into a basket case? Nope.
Or that Fidel Castro, whom he mourned 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,” had been a champion abuser of human rights who had murdered, imprisoned or driven into exile millions of his own people?
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Last year he famously caused deep offence by refusing the invitation to an ecumenical church service in Armagh specifically designed by cross-border Catholic and Protestant clergy to mark — not celebrate — the establishment of Northern Ireland and the strides the churches had made over a century in crossing the sectarian divide.
With the exception of Sinn Féin (which was delighted to be given cover to boycott it), the Irish Communist Party and a few of the hard left, politicians north and south were appalled.
So too were most media commentators other than ultra nationalists.
Did Higgins say he had misunderstood and would in fact be delighted to join in? No. That would have implied that he had made an error. And the monumentally vain President Higgins doesn’t make errors. He is infallible.
June Clanger No 1 was his statement on the atrocity in Nigeria, when as the Pentecostal mass was ending, men with bombs and guns staged a massacre at a Roman Catholic church that left around 40 dead and more than a hundred wounded. As anyone who pays attention to Nigeria knows, it is one of the many countries plagued by anti-Christian violence, but perish the thought that the fervently secular Higgins would blame Islamist terrorists — this time, seemingly, Islamic State West Africa Province.
His baffling climate-change-focused message of commiseration infuriated the bishop of Ondo, Dr Jude Ayodeji Arogundade, who described it as “incorrect and far-fetched”.
“The first two bishops of the Diocese of Ondo were Irishmen,” he said, “the church building in which the attack took place was built by Irish missionaries and some of the people killed were baptised, confirmed and married by many venerable Irish missionaries.”
Victims of terrorism, he added sharply, “and indeed all Nigerians would be thankful if world leaders propose fruitful ideas to the government of Nigeria on how to protect the citizens and make Nigeria a safe place to live. This would be a better way of honouring the victims of hate and putting an end to the increasing killings.”
The People’s Virtue Signaller Higgins says what people want to hear regardless of reality or of unintended consequences. He buried this criticism from the Nigerian bishop by using the time-honoured method of attacking the government on a crowd-pleasing issue. The housing crisis, he explained, in what was a very thinly-disguised anti-capitalist distortion of the truth was “our great great failure” and a “social disaster” that successive governments had failed to address.
Although this intervention on housing has succeeded in making the media forget about Nigeria, if you care about democracy, it is Higgins’s Clanger Number 2.
Not for the first time, he has dangerously politicised the presidency, secure in the knowledge that his personal popularity means politicians are afraid to criticise him. Only a very few brave voices are suggesting that he has now crossed the line that keeps the presidency out of politics.
Sinn Féin and the hard left are cracking open the champagne.
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