Credit: Irish Defence Forces Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography CC BY 2.0

The President’s love letter to Lula

Twitterer Alan Hynes sums up the problem here very snappily:

Invitations for state visits are not, customarily, in the power of the President. He formally issues them, certainly, but on the advice of the Government. So, either there was a very quick incorporeal cabinet meeting overnight on Sunday, which nobody heard about, or once again, the President is setting his own foreign policy:

One Lula congratulating another, wrote one wag.

By the way: One worries that the new leader of Ireland’s close friend and ally, Italy, might be sitting in her office this morning wondering where her letter of congratulations is, after her big election win three weeks ago.

If one was sent, it certainly wasn’t released publicly. And Donald Trump certainly didn’t get such warmth when he had his big win, back in 2016.

The pattern is fairly clear: Ireland’s President is a socialist who likes other socialists, and has nice things to say about them. Foreign leaders who are not socialists might, if they are lucky, get some kind of cordial and officious greeting. Fellow Socialists, by contrast, get the full Michael D puppy dog adoration.

All of this would be fine if the President was in a job that suited him: President not of the country, but of, say, NUI Galway. He could do much the same as he does in the Áras: Issue invitations on a whim to left wingers he admires, give speeches about the need for global solidarity, criticise capitalism, write bad poems, and, crucially, receive the uncritical adoration of his legion of fans. He’d live a happy and contented life, with the added benefit of not persistently undermining the institution that he is supposed to protect.

As President of Ireland, though, he is supposed to represent the country, not his own 1970’s beret-wearing Ché Guevara t-shirted view of the world. He refuses to do that.

Not, by the way, that most of the country minds. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s key to his appeal, and not just to his own “side”.

There’s always been a peculiar Irish affinity with socialist revolutionaries, even as socialist revolution is the furthest thing from our own minds. One of the funny things about the Brazilian election, from an Irish perspective, is the sight of perfectly normal self-described centrists cheering on a South American socialist. They’d never – not in a million years – vote for a Lula at home. But there’s something romantic about the idea of proper socialism in other countries that we just can’t get enough of. That’s the whole reason we elected Michael D in the first place: The Presidency is a perfect institution for letting our hearts rule our head.

When Higgins was a front-line politician, he achieved basically nothing of note. Some supports for artists during a brief spell, in the 1990s, as Minister for Culture. That’s it. The Irish people had multiple opportunities – as did his own party – to elevate him to high political office where he could implement a truly socialist vision for the country. At each opportunity, we declined.

But when the opportunity came to elect him to an office where he couldn’t actually do anything? Landslide. Two landslides, in fact.

The Presidency is the perfect office for Michael D, if you’re a country like Ireland which likes cosplaying as the home of the revolution: He can wear his beret, and celebrate Fidel Castro, and denounce capitalism, and thrill the youth, while at the same time having no power to do anything radical, like banning imports of coffee from countries without proper worker protections, or putting taxes on iphones. We get our liberal, global economy, but we also get to pretend that the spirit of Ché lives within us. It’s perfect.

And that’s why the Government won’t do anything about this: The President conducting his own, entirely separate, foreign policy from the Áras is not desirable, but confronting people with the contradictions of their own beliefs is much less so. Michael D is who we want to be. The Government is who we are. If they pick a fight with him, he’ll win, because all he did was smile and suck up to some communists and tell us how great we are. They, by contrast, are responsible for actually running the country.

And so, the rest of us just have to put up with it. It’s pointless, at this stage, writing that the President’s behaviour is disgraceful – though it is – because ultimately, the President just reflects the country. He is what we want to be, in our hearts. Even as we know, in our heads, that he’s a bit of a crank who should never be let near real power.

What does that say about us? A psychologist could have a field day.


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