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Friday 29 August 2014

President hits out at ‘personal abuse’ received over lecture

Ed Carty, PA

Published 24/09/2013 | 12:10

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President Michael D Higgins defended a lecture he gave
President Michael D Higgins defended a lecture he gave

President Michael D Higgins has launched an attack on some of his critics for being simply abusive of his office.

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The head of state said he would not name those whom he accuses of being intentionally contentious and insisted he would continue to speak out on issues.

But he referred explicitly to a newspaper article last week in which he was described as the "least bad of the bunch" in last year's presidential election.

"I do think it was entirely wrong to refer to the President as... the best of a bad bunch, or something like that," he said.

"We don't need to go there and I certainly will not go there."

Mr Higgins defended a lecture he gave on ethics and said some of the criticism has been a complete distortion of what he said.

The President said people must be allowed to explore issues and debate them and likened any suggestion of censorship to medieval times.

Vowing to continue to air his views, he hit out at those who disagreed with him for descending into personal abuse.

The President's lecture at Dublin City University almost two weeks ago led to accusations that he was biased in favour of left-wing thinkers and economics.

"It was simply untrue to say that I drew on one group of scholars... it's too easy to say it's either one side or the other," he said.

"What you do if you are an intellectual, if you are trying to do intellectual work - no more than you would in science - you take the model and you ask what assumptions it's based on."

But Mr Higgins scotched any suggestion that there was an agenda to silence him.

"No, there is not at all, that would be ridiculous, it wouldn't work," he said.

"We must be able to be rigorous and tough, and certainly the idea of asking anyone to be censored to just simply go into some kind of enforced silence, those days are gone, that's medieval thinking."

In the DCU lecture, Toward An Ethical Economy, Mr Higgins urged that economic decisions be based on fairness, not wealth.

He said he wanted to encourage debate in the media and suggested that the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis may not lie in a lack of the right answers to a crisis of capitalism but in an absence of the right questions.

It is not the first time during his presidency that Mr Higgins has defended his right to speak out on issues of public concern.

Following the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar after she was refused an abortion as she miscarried, the President urged a thorough investigation and said he hoped women would be safer in the wake of her death.

He also spoke out on the European Union's response to the financial crisis in a speech in May.

Under constitutional rules, the President is obliged not to make political comment.

Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships in Stradbally, Co Laois, the President said he was very aware of what the Constitution allowed him to do and what it barred him from doing.

Mr Higgins said he always refrains from any comment on government policy.

"But I think it is very important as President that I reflect the feeling of the people and I try do that," he said.

"But I try to do it in a way that I'm encouraging an openness and transparency and debate about the assumptions that are behind the different way we might go."

Against the backdrop of global austerity, Mr Higgins reiterated his concerns about the "narrowness" of international economic thinking and said people needed to draw on as many arguments as are available and let the public make up their minds about how to improve lives.

"I stay out of the day to day very deliberately because that is what the Constitution requires," he said.

"But I also know what the Constitution allows and I'm very much using that."

Press Association

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