The Irish President acts as a national figurehead: the representative of the Irish people, regardless of their political beliefs, religion, or ethnic background. Immediately after his election, however, Michael D. Higgins made it clear that there were some people he would not be representing. This was his October 2011 interview on the Morning Ireland radio program, where he blamed the heterodox Austrian School of Economics for influencing the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, and, bizarrely, claiming they caused credit to be too cheap during Ireland’s boom period.
An even bigger breach of Presidential protocol came in February of 2012. At a talk at the LSE, Higgins condemned the privatization of services, the day before the Irish government announced a round of privatization measures and the possibility of selling its shares in Aer Lingus. Here, he was very blunt: “[privatization] is the road back to autocracy, in which a hollowed-out state is bereft of anything meaningful to attract the support of the citizen – especially the marginalized excluded from the mainstream of society”.
Now, in the course of two days, Michael D. Higgins has decided to involve himself in two important matters. On the 21st he called for an investigation into the death of Savita Halappanavar. The Irish government has declined to comment. While expressing remorse to victims of tragedy is common enough, Higgins is suggesting a particular course of action in response. I cannot recall Mary McAleese ever doing this, though as we all know she her lapses in conduct.
Today, Higgins has taken up his sword once more, to do battle against “right-wing economists” that supposedly “have created a neo-liberal philosophy that seemingly cannot now be questioned and that leaves control in the hands of a faceless market”.
This is uncalled for, and Higgins should be reprimanded for it. Higgins is no longer a TD. His new role is one that is supposed to be above politics and controversy; a republican equivalent of the Queen of England. It would be shocking for Queen Elizabeth II to express hardline left-wing views on economic policy (as well as right-wing ones for that matter). No President of Ireland had such disregard for protocol. Not even Mary Robinson.
Of course, Higgins does share an important trait with Robinson, in that they are both prominent members of the Irish left. Higgins in particular has far more loyalty to the teachings of Marx, Shaw, and the Webbs that he does to the Irish Constitution. These people have absolutely no respect for existing Irish institutions if they are deemed incompatible with the socialist state they wish to build.
If President Dana Rosemary Scallon were acting in this way, you can be sure it would be making the front pages.
Maybe one day there will be a conservative President who will promote his or her own political views as much Michael D. Higgins. That would not be a good thing. But that person could always point to Higgins for precedent.
With the shadow that will always hang over his election ‘victory’, I would be a lot more careful.