Our President has made it his job to be outspoken

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The President is above politics. Well that’s a phrase that we can throw into the bin and put out for the next waste collection. It’s become utterly redundant since Michael D Higgins became president in 2011, particularly during the course of his second term.

He had a real go at EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, this week.

He was in Rome for an international forum on food and, when speaking to journalists on Monday, he let fly.

As it happened, I was in Rome two years ago when the President last visited and on that occasion he defended (very, very strongly) his decision to turn down an ecumenical service in Armagh to mark the 100th anniversary of Partition on the basis that its title was politicised and made the event a political statement.

That was one occasion where some people were of the view the President had become political; in that case, (ironically) to turn down an event on the basis it was politicised.

There was no ambiguity around his remarks in Rome this week.

We all know the background. The final death toll of a single day’s slaughter by Hamas militants was 1,300, the vast majority of them civilians, including children. Almost 300 young people were mown down at a music festival.

As former president Mary Robinson said of the attack: “This was a war crime, we must be very, very clear on that.”

The first tweet from von der Leyen was sent on Saturday, hours after the details of the horror unfolded.

“Today, Hamas terrorists have struck at the heart of Israel, capturing and killing innocent women and children.

“Israel has the right to defend itself – today and in the days to come.

“The European Union stands with Israel.”

Given the context of the moment and the barbarity of the attack, it was understandable and right to say that.

But during her visit to Israel the following Friday and in all her subsequent communications, it became clear von der Leyen was backing Israel and to the hilt and was not prepared to criticise in any way Israel’s response or the impact that might have on Palestinian citizens.

Pictured: President Michael D Higgins: let fly in Rome.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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