President Michael D Higgins’ scathing remarks about Ursula von der Leyen reflects Ireland's “outrage” at the way Israel is conducting its war against Hamas.
On a visit to Israel last week, the European Commission President said Israel has a “duty to defend its people” and did not publicly ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to follow international law.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the remarks "lacked balance" and President Higgins described them as “thoughtless and even reckless”.
Speaking to The Hard Shoulder, Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said it was a perfectly appropriate intervention from the President.
“To have Ursula von der Leyen going to Israel and only expressing solidarity with one side is absolutely unacceptable,” she said.
“It is not a true reflection of the values, I think, of the European Union.
“She doesn’t speak for Ireland and I think… there has been widespread condemnation of both the Hamas attacks but also of the Israeli acts in Gaza which are threatening to wipe out Gaza.
“I think President Higgins was speaking for many of us in this country when he was expressing his outrage.”
We are friends of Israel.
When friends are under attack, we stand by them.
Israel has the right and duty to respond to Hamas’ act of war.
We call for the immediate release of all hostages taken by Hamas.@Isaac_Herzog @EP_President pic.twitter.com/flJ5wSGy1H
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 13, 2023
Although foreign affairs is not part of the President’s job description, Senator Sherlock said people voted for Mr Higgins on the understanding he would “express views when things needed to be called out.”
'I think politicians are scared of him'
Gript Editor John McGuirk said the Government has given President Higgins “extraordinary” leeway to comment on day-to-day political matters
“Mainly, I think politicians are scared of him but it’s not two years since Michael D Higgins refused to attend a ceremony both to mark the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland,” he said.
“He snubbed the Head of State of our nearest neighbour [who was due to attend it] and unionist people in the North by saying it wasn’t a neutral statement for him to attend politically.
“So, when it suits him, he’s above politics, he is above reproach, he couldn’t possibly intervene.
“Yet, it doesn’t cost him a thought to praise Fidel Castro when he dies; saying he was a great human rights leader when in fact Fidel Castro abused the people of Cuba for generations.”
President Higgins has issued a statement on the deeply reprehensible attacks on civilians and joined with the Irish Government in their concern for all civilians at risk in Israel and in Gaza https://t.co/Yr4FfXvBUd
— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) October 9, 2023
The role of President is sometimes described as ‘above politics’ but Mr McGurik said Mr Higgins was “not neutral politically” in the way he carries out his duties.
“He is certainly not consistent in when he applies his principles,” Mr McGurik said.
“If this is a President who is going to speak out and have a voice on issues, then he should also [let] the press challenge him on his views.”
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Main image: Split of von der Leyen and Higgins