The strongest argument made at the last Presidential Election for the re-election of Michael D. Higgins was that he constituted a safe pair of hands. He is, after all, an experienced politician and statesman, who knows the constitution inside out. He has many years of experience in front-line politics, and is well suited to carrying out the basic constitutional functions of the Presidency with respect to Government formation and deciding when to grant a Taoiseach a general election. He owns two lovely dogs, which is an additional qualification, and of course, he writes awful poetry, which is very appealing to the kind of romantic American tourist who likes to think of Ireland as a land of Saints and Scholars.
But of course, none of those things are a substitute for common sense, and President Higgins has just demonstrated, once again, that he lacks any common sense whatever:
President Michael D Higgins has used an interview with an Italian communist newspaper to warn against a return to austerity and praise the response of Cuba to the Covid-19 crisis.
He also said the Irish response to the crisis “seems to be bearing fruit” but warned about “serious problems” if pandemic regulations in Northern Ireland were different to those in the State….
….The President’s interview was carried in an edition of Il Manifesto, described as the “communist daily” although it has no links to any political party. Its reporter spoke to Mr Higgins remotely.
A report on the interview has been circulated among senior officials and Ministers in Dublin, where his views are said to have raised some eyebrows….
…Mr Higgins revisited a theme familiar from the last economic crisis when he warned against any return of austerity policies.
“The price paid for austerity is a situation that must not come up again,” he said. “It is time for a paradigm shift, and this change must take place in the streets of Europe.
“I am in favour of universal basic services with an income that allows people to live, rather than simply a universal basic income that a system prone to exploitation could abuse. Universal basic services and a universal basic income are not contradictory, provided that priority is given to the former.”
“Raised some eyebrows”, by the way, is a polite way of saying “what the hell was he thinking?”
For those of you who don’t know, the Presidency is an apolitical office. That is to say, its holder is expected not to engage in day-to-day political arguments, or to intervene in constitutionally proper decisions taken by the Government. The President has no role, whatever, in foreign policy, and in fact, all statements about foreign policy are supposed to be cleared with the Government.
So it’s unusual then, for the President to give an interview to a foreign communist newspaper wherein he lavishes praise on a communist newspaper.
It’s more unusual still for the President to give an interview to a foreign communist newspaper in which he rules out a particular policy option for the Irish Government.
Supporters of President Higgins, who tend to forgive him every single time he steps across the line, as he has done with increasing frequency, tend to take the view that the President endorsing communist dictatorships or weighing in on policy matters is fine and dandy because, well, they think he’s right. In the first instance, he’s not. But more important than that is that it really doesn’t matter whether he’s right or wrong.
He sought the office of the Presidency fully aware of the constitutional limitations that came with it. In fact, one of the strongest arguments for the President was that he was uniquely suited to it because he was uniquely aware of what he could, or should, and could or should not do.
If this was President Peter Casey, or President Sean Gallagher, there could at least be an argument to be made that the President had no political experience or proper understanding of the constitution, and therefore was always likely to make the occasional embarrassing blunder. But the current President does not have that excuse.
He knows full well what he’s doing, and why it is improper. He’s not the first politician in Ireland to think he’s right and that all of his opponents are wrong. He’s just the first politician to think that he’s so right that the rules don’t have to apply to him.
There are only two possible explanations for his behaviour: Either he’s a fool, or he’s deliberately and consciously undermining the office to which he was elected.
We’ve either got an idiot in the Aras, or someone who thinks the rules don’t apply to him.
We’ll be charitable, then, and assume he’s just a fool.