Many people will have many reasons for supporting President Higgins. I would like to highlight one small example which, for me, encapsulates the President’s service to the country – a service that stretches back decades.
At Concern’s Worldwide 50th Anniversary Conference in Dublin in September of this year, the President addressed the issue of the arms trade. And without equivocation he identified the drivers of this immoral activity.
‘ . . . Permanent Members of the Security Council [have embarked] on a new arms race, and the arms industry now exports weapons of death and destruction for use in Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen . . . the five Permanent Members of the Security Council, entrusted with the maintenance of international peace and security, today account for three-quarters of the worlds arms exports.
‘ . . . 22 million Yemenis are now in desperate need of humanitarian aid and protection. Yet even as the United Nations seeks a peaceful political solution, the conflict in Yemen is actively sustained by the sale of arms and by the support of some members of the Security Council. It is a stark example of the triumph of the diplomacy of transaction, and of narrow national interest, over the diplomacy of the common good embodied by the Charter of the United Nations.’
It is not so much what he said, which every right-thinking inhabitant of this planet would applaud loudly. Nor is it that he could have played it safe in front of the audience he was addressing – focusing on the work of Concern. There is a more provocative context.
The Irish government launched its campaign for one of the revolving seats on the UN Security Council in the summer – only a few weeks before the President’s comments above. It is difficult to know what the substance of that campaign is, what platform the Government is putting forward, how it will work for a peaceful and democratic world. The Irish Times was a bit dubious:
'What [the Government] should not do is fall back on style over substance. With that in mind, the decision to launch the bid in New York this week by inviting every ambassador at the UN to a free U2 gig will raise some eyebrows.'
Regardless, the President did not tailor his comments to fit in with a nebulous government campaign. He was direct and unequivocal – it is the UN Security Council’s Permanent Members themselves that are spreading war and devastation despite the Charter they are nominally committed to upholding. I wonder what the reaction in Government circles was.
And this leads to another interesting issue. The Presidency is highly circumscribed and not only in its constitutional powers. The Taoiseach’s department must approve the President’s every speech; he or she is accompanied on every trip by a governmental official. So how did President Higgins get away with his condemnation of the UN Security Council members at the very same time that the Government is trying to win the support of those same members for a seat? Here are two theories:
- First, the Government minders don’t quite get it. Just as dissident writers resorted to code-words, metaphors, and allusions to get their works past the censors in authoritarian countries, it may be that some people in Government circles don’t get what the President is saying (maybe they don’t quite get the powerful juxtaposition of ‘diplomacy of transaction’ and ‘diplomacy of the common good’).
- Or, second, they dare not attempt to thwart a popular and highly-respected President.
Whatever the reason, President Higgins was attacking austerity and neo-liberal policies even as the Government was pursuing these same policies; he has brought attention to the ecological peril the planet faces even as the Government is failing to meet its climate change targets (failing badly); the President has championed the homeless even as homelessness rises under the Government’s ill-conceived Rebuilding Ireland programme.
Whatever the reason, the public get the President and it is clear they want more.
The President’s comment about the arms trade occurred only a few weeks ago. If I were to go back through all the similar initiatives he has undertaken over his first term I’d have to write 24/7 up to polling day and beyond. This is just one example of a President that shows no sign of slowing down.
That is why President Michael D. Higgins deserves to be re-elected on October 26th.