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President Higgins hits out at remarks by former taoiseach John Bruton

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Pope Francis welcomes President Michael D Higgins at the Vatican. Photo: Vatican Media

Pope Francis welcomes President Michael D Higgins at the Vatican. Photo: Vatican Media

Pope Francis welcomes President Michael D Higgins at the Vatican. Photo: Vatican Media

Pope Francis welcomes President Michael D Higgins at the Vatican. Photo: Vatican Media

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Pope Francis welcomes President Michael D Higgins at the Vatican. Photo: Vatican Media

President Michael D Higgins has hit out at “very extraordinary” remarks by former taoiseach John Bruton around the decision not to attend a commemorative event in the North.

It emerged earlier this week that Mr Higgins would not be in attendance at a centenary church commemoration of partition and the establishment of Northern Ireland scheduled for next month in Co Armagh.

The President denied this was a snub of Queen Elizabeth, who will be in attendance, and said that what was a “religious event” had become a “political statement”.

Yesterday, Mr Bruton said he believed that President Higgins had made the wrong decision.

“I think he is wrong not to attend, and I think there is time for him to change his mind,” Mr Bruton said.

Mr Bruton also claimed earlier that he believed President Higgins may be in breach of the constitution.

The former taoiseach told BBC radio that “it appears he didn’t seek the advice of the Government which he is obliged to do under the Constitution” as to whether or not he should attend the event.

Mr Bruton said: “If he had fulfilled his obligation under the Constitution, which is to take the advice of the Irish Government on this matter, they would have advised him that he ought to go.”

But President Higgins responded that Mr Bruton was “wrong” in his interpretation of the constitution.

Mr Higgins said that Mr Bruton’s remarks suggested that he acted “improperly” and said it was up to Mr Bruton if he wanted to withdraw them.

“With the greatest of respect to the former prime minister, John Bruton is wrong in his interpretation of the constitution,” Mr Higgins told Irish media in Rome.

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“I welcome all of the suggestions but I have to take exception, quite frankly, to people who have suggested I have broken the Constitution.

“I find it a very extraordinary comment from the former prime minister and a member of the Council of State who has always been treated with courtesy by me.”

He also said that it is up to the former taoiseach if he wanted to withdraw his remarks but denied that he was calling on him to do so.

“And I am sure that Mr ­Bruton would want to withdraw his remarks.”

“It’s up to him as to whether he wants to withdraw the remarks he has made about the President, practically suggesting that the President has behaved improperly.”

Mr Bruton later acknowledged that the “provisions of the Constitution appear to have been fulfilled” in relation to President Higgins’ decision not to attend the centenary church service in Armagh.

The President also criticised Mr Bruton’s comments that the commemoration “wasn’t an invitation to the opening of a credit union in Co Kerry”, saying that he cannot think of “any more important” event.

“I think he might want to withdraw his remarks about the significance of a credit union meeting in Kerry because I can’t think of any more important organisation than a credit union movement and it is as important in Kerry as it is anywhere else,” Mr ­Higgins said.

He said that he had been a political scientist for 25 years and that he “understands” the ­Constitution.

Mr Higgins added that if Mr Bruton did not retract his comments “that’s his business. He may want to say stronger things tomorrow. Good luck to him”.

“The reality is what the reality is,” he said.

The President said he had refused to attend the event because he decided it was inappropriate.

He said he had been “considering this” for six months, since being invited in March. “If this event is titled as it is and structured as it is, it would present difficulties and that is the beginning.”

He said that the Irish people had “some confidence” in him to make “an informed decision”.

“We had an election in this country for the presidency, and I was elected. It is still my belief that the people have some confidence in my ability to arrive at an informed ­decision.”

Mr Higgins also clarified that he took issue with DUP leaders referring to him as the President of the Republic of Ireland, not the organisers of the event. He said DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson had a right to free speech and that he wouldn’t be “interfering with his right”.


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