Former Taoiseach John Bruton has said his suggestion that President Michael D Higgins breached the Constitution by refusing a Northern Ireland centenary invitation was based on media reports he did so without consulting the Government.
President Michael D Higgins has declined an invitation to a church service commemorating the partition of Ireland and foundation of Northern Ireland.
He has said the title of the event was politicised and noted that it would be inappropriate for the head of State to attend an event that commemorates partition.
Speaking this morning, Mr Bruton suggested that President Higgins would have been in breach of the Constitution if he took that decision without first asking the Government.
He noted that the Constitution states the President’s functions shall be “exercisable and performable by him only on the advice of the Government.”
He insisted that accepting or rejecting the invitation as the head of State was an exercise of his functions.
"That's a pretty serious charge, to say that the president of this country, who is, after all, the guardian of the constitution, was acting outside the parameters of the constitution"
— NewstalkFM (@NewstalkFM) September 17, 2021
It has since emerged that President Higgins did consult the Government on the matter – with the Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney noting that his department did not offer him “any clear advice” on what to do.
In a statement this evening, Mr Bruton said he had made his comments, when the “information in the public domain was that the President had acted on his own.”
“This was before a subsequent statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs that the government did have an opportunity to offer advice but did not do so,” he said.
“In light of this, the provisions of the Constitution now do appear to have been fulfilled. I am happy that that is the case and that the matter is now clarified.”
Mr Bruton said he still believes President Higgins should attend the event – and continued to insist he would have been in breach of the Constitution had he not asked for advice.
He said the event is a “valuable opportunity to recognise the present constitutional realities, while pointing the way to a more hopeful future.”
“I do not see any problem with the title of the proposed service which refers to simple realities, namely partition and the creation of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“I commend the church leaders on organising this service, with its emphasis on ‘an honest reflection’ on the past and an acknowledgement of ‘past failures and hurts’.
“This is the sort of honest and humble thinking that should guide our own marking of important centenaries in this jurisdiction. The church leaders have shown brave leadership.”
Speaking in Rome this afternoon, President Higgins criticised Mr Bruton over his “very extraordinary” remarks and said he was “wrong in his interpretation of the constitution.”
The President’s decision has divided opinion on both sides of the border.
The Democratic Unionist Party has criticised the decision, while church leaders organising the event have insisted it was never meant to political.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Labour Party have all come out in support of President Higgins’ stance.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said President Higgins was 'correct' not to attend an event marking the ‘catastrophic’ partition of Ireland.
On The Hard Shoulder meanwhile, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said the decision was a snub to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.
On the same show Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín noted that there isn’t a president in the world that would attend an event celebrating the partition of his own country.