Do you remember Martin McAleese, that very good peace activist? His wife, Mary McAleese, was President of Ireland.
Today, Sabina Higgins is an equally outstanding peace activist. Her spouse, Michael D. Higgins, is the current President of Ireland.
Martin McAleese’s peace activities received universal applause. He brought many loyalist paramilitary leaders from Northern Ireland to Dublin to ‘build bridges’ at a time when his wife was President. The couple worked hand in hand to bring peace and promote reconciliation between North and South, Protestant and Catholic.
Courting paramilitaries hostile to the southern Irish governments was a bold but risky move. The loyalist gangs weren’t mass murderers on the scale of Vladimir Putin, but they did have a gruesome record of sectarian killings and beatings.
Among those cultivated by Martin McAleese were former UDA Commander-in-Chief Andy Tyrie and UDA South Belfast Brigade Commander Jackie McDonald.
Also remember that the UDA had a vicious armed wing known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters. In 1989, McDonald was sentenced to 10 years in prison for racketeering, extortion and intimidation.
Still, McAleese swallowed hard and did a fine job of convincing some UDA commanders that the road to peace was the only way forward. No one has ever accused him, let alone his wife, of providing support, comfort or comfort to loyalist thugs.
Martin McAleese’s motivations were noble. So are Sabina Higgins’s. The spouses of both presidents have made efforts to stop heinous murders and war crimes. McAleese took risks by encountering such unpleasant enemies, while Higgins took a similarly unconventional path in calling for peace talks with both Ukraine and Russia. Her ambitions were perhaps greater than his: she provoked genocide, he tackled a barbaric local pogrom.
Both spouses and presidents have made Ireland proud. Sabina Higgins has been abused in recent days for allegedly expressing views at odds with Ireland’s current official consensus on the Ukraine-Russia war.
Your words in a letter to The Irish Time were cleverly twisted by propagandists from Russia and opponents at home. She has never wavered in her record as a proud anti-war activist, a stance she took long before she met Michael D.
Sabina would no doubt have been better protected from the current attacks if she had gotten her letter past the meticulous mandarins at Iveagh House. Then it wouldn’t have been her letter.
They would have added a cautious preface to their diplomatically incomplete sentences to reassure the people of Ukraine that she still stands shoulder to shoulder with them, which she undoubtedly does. Instead, she addressed a short greeting of peace to both parties.
There were no explicit signals that she was on the side of the Ukrainian oppressed against the Russian oppressors. The Russian ambassador, Yuri Filatov, discovered the gap. He pounced and immediately misrepresented her attitude while greeting the letter with a Soviet bear hug. He condemned her with his applause.
His insincere greetings attached to her letter provided Michael D.’s enemies with a perfect political opportunity to despise the President himself. Ms Higgins is not the real target of local criticism. She’s simply a proxy for a presidential ambush.
Domestic foes of Michael D have been waiting in the tall grass for almost 12 years for him to falter. He is probably the most popular president in the history of the state. For years, its sophisticated performance has been almost beyond any criticism. His approval ratings have made him the envy of former political rivals. His re-election in 2018 was a crowning achievement.
Martin McAleese has never faced such abuse while dining with the devils of loyalty. His wife Mary was President of Fianna Fáil. Despite being a Fianna Fáil nominee, Martin was herself nominated for the Seanad by Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny. The McAleese team had both big parties covered.
A member of the Seanad for a short time while his wife was President, he spoke out on contentious issues going through the House of Lords, including sex education, Northern Ireland, restorative justice and other matters.
Nobody questioned whether his opinion was shared by his wife. It would have been an impertinence for both of them to do so.
It’s no secret at Leinster House that some Fianna Fáil TDs have been outraged by Michael D’s eloquent recent speech on housing.
In June he claimed Ireland’s ongoing housing problem was no longer a crisis but a “disaster”. He demonstratively described it as a “big, big, big failure”.
Government officials were apoplectic, whispering in journalists’ ears that he had gone too far. Neither of them had the bottle to openly challenge him to – partly because he was right, but more likely because he was popular. So they simmered silently in the background, outraged that the President of Ireland had a moral compass.
Last week, when Sabina Higgins appeared to have stumbled, a member or two of Fine Gael lashed out at him, but the majority of his critics came from Fianna Fáil, the party that holds the toxic housing portfolio. Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators wanted to know why her testimony was on the President’s website.
They criticized the content and tried to engage the president in a row, using the Russian ambassador’s intervention as ammunition to fire in Michael D’s direction. Filatov, hiding in his fortress on Orwell Road, must have raised a glass of vodka to Fianna Fáil. Among the members of the party demanding answers from the Áras were former Secretary Willie O’Dea, Secretary Robert Troy, and Senators Malcolm Byrne and Erin McGreehan.
President Higgins answered them comprehensively on Tuesday. He never hesitated in his support for Ukraine and his condemnation of the Russian invasion. His wife followed with a show stopper. For the past eight years, the President’s website has had a dedicated Sabina Higgins section. In all that time, no one had raised an eyebrow. She immediately resigned from the post when she saw opponents using her views to harm the president.
That almost ended it, but not before McGreehan milked one last ounce of publicity from a tweet demanding an apology from the president and, even more absurdly, his resignation if that wasn’t possible.
On Wednesday, Micheál Martin recalled the war dogs from Fianna Fáil. He had allowed them to undermine Michael D for a few days. It was government retaliation for a series of demonstrations in support of independence from the Áras.
No doubt the Fianna Fáil hillbillies will be muttering to one another this weekend that they are “imposing manners” on Michael D. Let’s hope they didn’t.
His willingness to speak out on some of the great grievances of our time – such as homelessness, the invasion of Ukraine, the destruction of our environment, human rights and other shameful national failings – must not be curtailed or stifled, as he risks a fake constitutional crisis.
We should be proud of the work of Peacebuilders Sabina and Michael D, preceded by the efforts of Martin and Mary McAleese.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/sabina-higgins-is-simply-a-proxy-for-an-ambush-of-the-president-41894693.html Sabina Higgins is just a proxy for a presidential ambush