News Editorial

Saturday 23 August 2014

Let's not rush to censor our presidential leaders

Published 23/11/2012 | 05:00

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WHEN he was elected as President of Ireland, some feared that Michael D Higgins would find the constitutional constraints of that office a source of frustration.

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Had the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar occurred before he took up residency in Aras an Uachtarain, he would, no doubt, have been leading the charge for a full public inquiry.

But his well intended intervention in this sorry saga, calling for a balanced inquiry, has raised eyebrows about whether he has crossed the constitutional line at a time when the State is embroiled in a diplomatic incident with India over Ms Halappanavar's death.

Under the Constitution, the Government must approve all presidential communications, messages or addresses.

Others have struggled with the seen-but-not- heard-too-much constraints of presidential office.

President Mary Robinson, for example, was prevented by the late Fianna Fail leader Charles Haughey from travelling outside of Ireland to give the BBC's Dimbleby lecture.

Her successor Mary McAleese incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church when, as President, she received communion at a Church of Ireland service.

When they do cross the line, presidential interventions can have an enormous impact, so Presidents – from whom we demand great skills of empathy and leadership – must choose their defining moments wisely.

President Higgins's intervention, expressing sympathy with the family of the late Savita Halappanavar, was not a defining moment and we should not rush to censor him.

Irish Independent

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