Q&A: President Higgins on reaction to Savita remarks
President Michael D Higgins spoke to Irish Times London Editor Mark Hennessy in Liverpool today about his comments on the Savita Halappanavar inquiry which have provoked political reaction inside and outside the Dáil.
Q - Mark Hennessy: You have been frank about Ireland's economic difficulties in the past, it would appear judging by the political reaction at home that some people in politics think you have been a little too frank in your comments about the Savita case?
A - President Michael D Higgins: My quotations is exactly, you know, as it is in print. I am not responsible for the editorial uses of it. But it is very straight-forward, I said it was a very great tragedy, a young woman. I expressed my sympathy to her husband and her extended family and I was joining the thousands of Irish people in the streets saying the same thing.
Then on the specific issue of where do we go from here: I said it is very important that [the] investigation be such that it satisfies the genuine concern of the Irish people. That meets in some way - in some small way - in reducing the grief of Savita's husband and her family and then that meets the needs of the State's responsibilities.
It was no more, or no less than that. I know what the President does, the President expresses, as it were, what is a great moment of sadness among the Irish people, and I do hope that it achieves what I have just said, the decisions, the practical sense of decisions then for all those responsible.
Q: But are you expressing any opinion on what the outcome should be, or in what direction it should travel?
A: No, that is not my business. I did say it should be aimed at ensuring the safety of the health of women and I think, surely, that is the greatest consideration. I should say that when the first media inquiries came to me they were ones about, 'did I think it had done [damage] to the image of Ireland'. To be frank, I am far more concerned about the correct response to the correct anxieties that the Irish public have and their anxiety as well that women's health should be adequately provided for in the future.
These are the real concerns. I think it is up then to all those who take decisions in this area to try and meet, as I have said, the genuine concerns of the public as expressed, the deep grief of the family and also then the State as to how it discharges its responsibilities in such a way as tries to meet all of these.
Q: But you do not accept that you in any way extended the role of the President by your comment?
A: Not at all. I can assure you as a political scientist for nearly 40 years I am very well aware of not only the constitutional limits of President, but, also, what the people might correctly expect from their president. If you had so many thousands of people coming out in different places and expressing their sympathy to the family which they did and that is very moving. I obviously take account of that, too, but my office is an independent one. Government has governance duties and it does it and I get on with my business.
Q: Do you see your role in yesterday's comments as giving voice to the anger and sense of tragedy felt by the Irish people?
A: I think my quoted expression is very close to the public. We have freedom of the Press and people are perfectly entitled to edit it in whatever way they wish but I have the greatest faith in my own direct quotation.