Tuesday 17 October 2017

Business as usual for Michael D in eye of media storm

Michael D meets Susan Jackson (101) at the Aras
Michael D meets Susan Jackson (101) at the Aras
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

ANOTHER week in which President Michael D Higgins was thrust into the spotlight, but it did little to knock him off his stride. On Wednesday, US business magazine 'Forbes' issued a grovelling apology after an article published on its website wrongly described our president as "an acknowledged homosexual".

And then yesterday, Aras an Uachtarain announced that Michael D would consult the Council of State on the abortion bill – the first time he has convened a meeting since taking office in November 2011.

But amid all the kerfuffle, Michael D simply got on with things – and went about a busy schedule of engagements yesterday.

He explained that he had paid close attention to legislative and political proceedings surrounding the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.

"I had been following the Dail debates and the Senate debates and as well as that, I read my way into the previous decisions, including the court decisions, and then I've been following the newspapers and the different commentaries on the legislation," he said.

"So I was well in place when I got the bill that a day was sufficient to decide what I wanted to do, and that is to call the council."

He believed the meeting on Monday would be "very well attended", adding: "After the council meets and I have heard their opinions, I am left with a decision as to how it is best to proceed. That's where it is."

But he declined to be drawn on the 'Forbes' magazine apology. "I'm not commenting on that," he said.

The President was taking a quick breather between a series of diary events in a long day. At 9am he rubber-stamped the appointment of two new High Court judges, Anthony Barr SC and David Keane SC, at a formal ceremony at the Aras.

Watched by the proud families of the new justices, Michael D and the Tanaiste signed the warrants of appointment before the four of them and Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Attorney General Marie Whelan posed for official photos.

Then, after a meeting with representatives from social entrepreneur group Ashoka Ireland, the President took in a football match, travelling the short distance to Tolka Park for the Defence Forces Cup final.

Poignantly, there was a minute's silence before kick-off to mark the accidental death yesterday of 32-year old soldier Patrick Conlon, based in the 28th Infantry Battalion in Co Donegal, who died after a fall from a height at McKee Barracks.

A longtime Galway United and League of Ireland supporter, the President relaxed in the stand as teams from the 6th Infantry Battalion and the 3rd Infantry Battalion fought it out on the pitch. It was a protracted affair, the game scoreless after extra-time, before the Kilkenny-based 3rd Battalion won on penalties.

At half-time Michael D presented a long-overdue winners' medal to 90-year-old Jack Kelly who served in the Army between 1941 and 1945.

Jack also played in the cup final in 1943, but never received a medal. The President rectified the 70-year oversight, then it was a hasty return to Phoenix Park to host a tea party along with his wife Sabina for about 90 senior citizens from around the country.

The most distinguished guest in the room was 101-year old Dubliner Susan Jackson who has lived in the same house near the Guinness brewery since 1926. She was accompanied by her nephew, former Dublin Lord Mayor Vincent Jackson.

Vincent said: "When she met Michael D and Sabina, all she wanted to know was who looks after all the curtains in the place as there are so many of them!"

Michael D, who's 72, reminded his audience that there were plenty of active pensioners about. "Trapattoni is still going strong in his mid-70s – whether he's getting results, we'll have to see," he said to laughter.

The President himself has a big game looming on Monday, when he must decide the fate of the abortion bill and whether or not he should kick it over to the Supreme Court. The ball is now in his court.

Irish Independent

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