Áras an Uachtaráin

 

Most people think it’s not appropriate for Sabina Higgins to make public comments on abortion. We asked the question of our Claire Byrne Live/Amárach Research Smartphone panel and 46% of respondents felt that the wife of President Michael D Higgins should not have said anything about abortion, 42% thought it was appropriate and 12% didn’t know.

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There is nothing in the constitution preventing the spouse of the President from making comments about whatever he or she wants. It has merely emerged over time as convention that they stand beatifically alongside their presidential other half and say pretty much nothing. That Sabina Higgins made a comment in the course of a public debate has led to finger-pointing and claims of foul play by those who don’t agree with her, but the simple fact is that she can say whatever she likes, about whatever she likes, because she is not bound by the office.

In fact, the idea that the President him/herself is entirely non-political is a bit of a stretch. Political parties nominate candidates and and we elect them. We have never, in the history of the State elected an independent candidate. So, are we then expecting that this person, who is there by virtue of the support given to them by a particular party, would then completely forget their political ideology the minute they cross the threshold and enter the Áras.

Maybe our expectations of the Presidency need to become more realistic.  They can’t, of course, take overtly party political stances or continually make statements that clearly clash with Government policy.   But They are politicians, for the most part and are elected because the majority of people like what they hear and see before that person becomes President.

Are we going to extend the somewhat unrealistic expectation that a politician who becomes President should then be completely apolitical to the spouse of the President now? We have the great fortune and privilege to live in a democracy. There are countries where free speech is denied and we rightly condemn those regimes. We should tread carefully in denying any individual the right to free speech, on the basis of decorum and tradition,  even if we don’t like what they say.

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