Higgins 'happy to meet with Pope'
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins would have "no difficulties" in paying a visit to Pope Benedict following the controversy over the Government's decision to close Ireland's Vatican embassy.
In the aftermath of Taoiseach Enda Kenny's unprecedented attack on the Holy See's role in covering up cases of clerical child sexual abuse, Mr Higgins said he still believed the relationship between Ireland and Rome was "present" and was "a very old one".
"I have no difficulty whatsoever at any time of visiting Rome and visiting the Vatican or responding to any invitations at any time. It presents me with no problem," said Mr Higgins, following a visit to the Pontifical Irish College on the final day of his official visit to Rome.
"There is no difficulty at all about responding at any time as it arises in the future and I look forward to it."
But on this visit to Italy he had concentrated on his meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at the Quirinale Palace, where they discussed unemployment, particularly among young people.
Mr Higgins said he spoke of the consequences of the "disengagement" of young people left out of work with his 87-year-old counterpart.
"You can't continue with these high levels of youth unemployment," he said.
However, the two presidents had not touched on the topic of Italy's elections later this month, with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi promising sweeping tax cuts if his central-right party gets in.
"It is rather like a blast from the past for me to see all these (election) posters around Rome," said Mr Higgins, following his meeting with the director general of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation to discuss world hunger.
The President will visit France later this month as part of Ireland's presidency of the EU.