Saturday 23 March 2019

John Downing: Michael D has been self-serving over jet row...but he'll still walk it

 

'President Higgins has glided seamlessly through a reversal of his 2011 promise to seek just one presidential term.' Photo: Tony Gavin
'President Higgins has glided seamlessly through a reversal of his 2011 promise to seek just one presidential term.' Photo: Tony Gavin
John Downing

John Downing

So President Higgins used the Government jet for a visit to Belfast on the advice of his office - not the Police Service of Northern Ireland, as we had been led to believe. It's a detail that may elude many citizens.

It's 160km from Dublin to Belfast and there are well-used protocols for a car and police escort switch on the Border. Alas, we are some distance from a situation where security is not necessary.

Security services on both sides of the Border are hyper-careful to ensure a visiting VIP, from either jurisdiction, faces no threat to their safety. There are a variety of valid motivations for that - not least the need to hold on to the day job.

The journey in a chauffeur-driven State car is a simple one. Going to the airport, getting the plane, transferring to a car at the other end, and repeating those steps, appears more complex. Sending a car from Dublin to meet him off the plane in Belfast also appears excessive.

To the casual reader, this writer going through all this may appear to be nitpicking, maybe even mean-spirited.

But it is not the point. Michael D Higgins is in public life spending taxpayers' money.

In the past, many other public figures have been brought to book for their use of the government jet. And why not? It is not their private facility - it is a tool to help them fulfil their official duties effectively.

Spending by the President's Office should be open to as much scrutiny as social welfare payments to the less well-off, whom he has often laudably championed.

The reality is that some of his answers on these issues have appeared incomplete and self-serving. He has also shown impatience in his approach to dealing with these matters - while in the next breath acknowledging that these are legitimate issues.

President Higgins has glided seamlessly through a reversal of his 2011 promise to seek just one presidential term. He had also promised not to use the office of President to campaign for re-election.

The reality here is that he has used the explanation of official duties to skip certain hustings encounters with his rivals. On official duty, as this newspaper was reminded, there can be no political questions. The President-cum-candidate can be seen - not heard.

We put all that out there again in the spirit of fairness to all the official candidates. All of them should face the utmost scrutiny without fear or favour.

But, yes, hands up, it is also more than likely that Michael D Higgins will win the election next Friday. He will win because he is the best and the other candidates come nowhere near him. For the past seven years, he has represented Ireland at home and abroad with style and panache. He has the political experience and wisdom to, for the most part, use the limited office effectively and correctly.

Sadly for the voters, his five challengers have all failed to enthuse or convince.

Irish Independent

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