Michael D Higgins’ recent comments on NATO and defence policy were a “dangerous intervention”, Shane Coleman has argued.
Last week, the President told the Business Post Ireland’s foreign and defence policy was currently one of “drifting” and said the country was “playing with fire” in its relationship with NATO.
He also noted that attendees at an upcoming Government conference on defence and security include Dr Louise Richardson of Oxford University, who Mr Higgins described as a woman “with a very large DBE - Dame of the British Empire”.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, former Minister Shane Ross endorsed the remarks and urged Mr Higgins to address the Oireachtas on the matter.
During their time in office, both Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese made addresses to the Oireachtas - but Shane Coleman thinks neutrality would be far too controversial a topic.
“I think he [Shane Ross] is wrong,” Shane said.
“I think for the President to directly criticise Government policy [is wrong] - and Micheal D Higgins did directly criticise Government policy, there is absolutely no doubt about that.
“I think it’s an extraordinary intervention, I think it is a dangerous intervention and for Shane [to say], ‘Sure, well we knew what we were getting with Michael D’, I don’t think that’s good enough.”
Co-presenter Ciara Kelly said she had been surprised by Mr Higgins’ intervention.
“I think we knew that Michael D was a socialist,” she said.
“I didn’t necessarily think that he wouldn’t respect the boundaries of his office.
“So, I wouldn’t have expected him to have spoken out like this - even though I knew his politics before he was elected.”
Most Presidents avoid making comments on Government policy and Shane said there is a good reason for that.
“There is a reason the President is non-party political,” he said.
“The President plays a really important role as guardian of the Constitution; rarely does he have to act on that role but there could be times [when he does].
“For example, after the next election, there could be a hung Dáil; there could be decisions as to whether or not the Dáil should be dissolved or whether there should be another election for it.
“It is really, really important in that scenario that a President is not only neutral but is seen to be neutral.”
Tánaiste Micheál Martin has defended the conference and said it would be a “fundamental mistake” not to re-examine defence policy in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Main image: Michael D Higgins and Shane Coleman