Higgins wants to extend boundaries of presidency
PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has said he believes the role of his office might be extended without the need for constitutional change.
He also criticised the rigidity of State bureaucracy and “the culture of never being caught with a mistake” which he said “just completely stymies real development”.
The man who has been outspoken all his public life on so many issues said that in his first year in office he had met no restrictions from the Government in exercising his role and might go further than his predecessors in pushing out the role of the office. “No one has asked me to change a speech,” he said.
He said he was very conscious that his predecessors Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson were happy to interpret the text of the Constitution “in a way that made an engagement with the public more fulsome than it had been, and I’m happy to push along with that and I think I can go a bit farther”.
He felt the convention on the Constitution might consider those sections governing the President’s referral of legislation to the Supreme Court. Most difficult for him in the context was the provision whereby a matter “having been referred by the President . . . cannot then be challenged by a citizen”.
Mr Higgins was speaking in a lengthy interview with The Irish Times, marking his first year in office. It is published in today’s Weekend section, with a longer version available online.
There were, where the office was concerned, “matters that are not amenable to precise or prescriptive definition, such as the business of the President’s relationship to the public in terms of the President speaking to the public . . . The President’s discretion is what defines the presidency,” he said.
During the interview he said he was “horrified” at the recent findings by the Inspector of Prisons on St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders. He found it “absolutely challenging, not just to me but to the Irish public.”
Reflecting on the past 12 months he said: “It’s been a very busy year. Sometimes there is hardly any time to reflect on one whole week’s work but it’s been very good and it is very exciting.”
Since November last year, he has received almost 8,000 visitors at Áras an Uachtaráin and made 328 visits to groups and communities around the State.
Last year’s presidential election campaign was for him “an extraordinary, great experience. I feel I got into touch with the people.” However he also felt it “was very wounding on other candidates”. This he attributed to “the highly personalised nature of the coverage”.