Sunday 11 December 2016

Higgins was 'blinkered' over Castro

President is accused of 'appalling lack of judgment' in death tribute

Cormac McQuinn and Gordon Deegan

Published 28/11/2016 | 02:30

President Michael D Higgins Picture: PA
President Michael D Higgins Picture: PA

The row over President Michael D Higgins's description of Fidel Castro as "a giant among global leaders" has intensified as a Government TD accused him of an "appalling lack of judgment".

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While Áras an Uachtaráin rejected any suggestion that Mr Higgins sought to play down the Castro regime's human rights abuses, Fine Gael's Ciarán Cannon delivered the stinging criticism, saying he wanted to disassociate himself from the President's comments.

He last night claimed Mr Higgins had delivered a "blinkered assessment" of Mr Castro's legacy, while Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also weighed in, arguing the President's remarks "lacked balance".

Meanwhile, it emerged last night that the Government has no plan to send a minister to Mr Castro's funeral, with the State set to be represented by our ambassador to Cuba.

A spokesman for the President confirmed that he would not attend the funeral but he would sign a book of condolence to Mr Castro at the Cuban embassy today. The spokesman said that Mr Higgins did not seek the Government's approval for his statement which expressed his "great sadness" at Mr Castro's death at the age of 90, as no such approval was required.

Mr Higgins's spokesman insisted that the President did address human rights concerns in his remarks.

Fidel Castro in France in 1995. Photo: Getty
Fidel Castro in France in 1995. Photo: Getty

"The President's statement clearly referred to the price paid for social and economic development in terms of civil society and the criticisms it brought," he said. He added that human rights organisations in Cuba "have always had the support of the President".

"Any suggestion that the President neglected human rights concerns is both unsustainable and unwarranted.

"The President has discussed human rights concerns with representatives of the government of Cuba on every occasion he has had meetings, in Cuba, Ireland and elsewhere," the spokesman said.

Mr Cannon said he was "disappointed" at Mr Higgins's statement, saying that Mr Castro's leadership saw "violent suppression of dissenting views, including the imprisonment of journalists, artists and others who dared to question his authority".

Mr Martin, meanwhile, said he did not agree that Mr Castro was a "giant" among global leaders. "I think the President would have been sympathetic to Fidel Castro - particularly in the context of taking over from the Batista regime, but I think the President's overall statement lacked balance in the assessment of Castro," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said Mr Higgins was "quite entitled to make his views known on the passing of Castro".

The former Cuban leader with Gerry Adams in 2001 Picture: PA
The former Cuban leader with Gerry Adams in 2001 Picture: PA

He told RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' he wasn't "a fan" of the late Cuban leader, but said: "I come from a historically different position than President Higgins."

Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan said he wasn't of the view that Mr Castro's Cuba was "a utopia" but pointed out he did replace the "dreadful Batista regime" that was involved with "gangsters in America".

Read More: Amnesty chief questions Cuban leader's human rights record

He said Mr Higgins was a defender of human rights and was entitled to his view of Mr Castro.

He said his own opinion was that the late Cuban leader should have made greater efforts to introduce democracy.

The Department of Foreign Affairs last night said Ireland would be represented at Mr Castro's funeral by Ambassador Sonja Hyland, who is based in Mexico but is accredited to Cuba.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has announced that he will attend the funeral.

Irish Independent

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