President says North’s leaders must condemn recent violence in Belfast
Higgins on London visit says he wants to be ‘a President for all the Irish’
President Michael D Higgins speaking at the Haringey Irish Cultural and Community Centre in north London during a visit to the city yesterday. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
Northern Ireland’s political leaders must “accept their responsibilities” and utterly condemn the violence surrounding the decision to curb an Orange Lodge parade in Belfast, President Michael D Higgins has said.
Speaking in London yesterday, Mr Higgins said the Belfast violence, which began on Friday night, shows that “the toxins of the past haven’t entirely abated, and they threaten much of what has been achieved”.
Displays of sectarianism must “be outrightly and unconditionally condemned”, he said, adding that TV viewers were able to see that the conduct that had led to 70 police being injured was “completely unacceptable”. Given that so much effort has been put into building community ties, Mr Higgins said those “who have influence in Northern Ireland must accept their responsibilities and forthrightly say what is simply not acceptable”.
Leadership needs to be shown by senior politicians who believe in peace, he said. “Peace is much more than signatures on a piece of paper, it is about inter-community relations.”
Speaking in the Haringey Irish Centre in north London, he asked reporters: “How can anyone justify so many police being injured in behaviour that would be unacceptable at any time in any part of the world?”
Caribbean steel band
Mr Higgins was greeted on his arrival at the centre by a Caribbean steel band from Montserrat, a community that has strong ties with London’s Irish community.
Declaring that he wanted to be a President “for all of the Irish”, Mr Higgins said he had made a practice of visiting Irish centres throughout Britain in the weeks before Christmas during his years as a TD.
“When I say that, I really mean it. Half my own family live in England. My nephews and nieces are living in London, Liverpool and Manchester.”
Paying tribute to the Haringey centre, which opened in 1987 with the help of a grant from Labour’s Ken Livingstone before the Greater London Council was abolished, he said it and other centres had done much to help the Irish “when it was not popular to be Irish in London”.
“They manifest that particular virtue of so many Irish people who try to ensure that, when faced with challenges, nobody should ever walk alone.”
Referring to his speeches urging that markets should never dominate people, Mr Higgins jokingly said: “The new pope seems to be saying, more or less, views rather similar to my own, which immensely pleases me.”
Later Mr Higgins said Pope Francis’s speech earlier this month on the Italian island of Lampedusa, in which he questioned society’s “indifference” to the needy, was “a very significant statement”.
He said the pontiff had made a clear connection between “the economy and society” and warned about “the dangers of increasing inequality”.