President celebrates ‘freedom’ of the arts but gives nothing away on Áras goings-on

Michael D Higgins opens new film school facility in Dún Laoghaire

Whether President Michael D Higgins needs so many advisers has become a talking point in political circles. On yesterday's evidence, he would do just fine on his own.

Addressing students and staff at a new film school building in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, he departed from his prepared script to deliver a characteristically erudite lecture, acknowledging in the process the diplomatic limits of his office and weaving in references to eastern European social theorists as only he can.

Where his staff did come in handy was in getting across the point that he wouldn’t be taking any questions on the recent resignation of his main special adviser Mary van Lieshout. Nor on reports of tensions between her and his executive assistant Kevin McCarthy.

His spokesman held the line that it would be inappropriate to comment, while Ms van Lieshout later issued a statement saying she had left the Áras “on very amicable terms”, adding she hoped this would “clarify matters”.


One issue Mr Higgins did offer an opinion on was why Europe lags behind the US in film production, saying one of his "greatest disappointments" as a former president of the council of European culture ministers was "the loss of opportunities . . . in developing a significant film industry" in the EU.

“No doubt the monopolies and the restrictive practices in distribution in the global industry was one of the principal reasons for that.”

But, he quickly added, “I’m not supposed to go too deeply into these kinds of issues in my current incarnation.”

Arty-types can attract a lot of jealousy and bad press but Mr Higgins celebrated those involved in the creative industries for exercising freedom “in so many aspects of the delivery of themselves: the way they dress, the way they speak . . . it is as if they are in fact celebrating a freedom that is so often denied when people have narrow definitions of employment and work”.

The €7.5 million National Film School at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) contains TV and film studios and high- definition equipment beyond the spec of even some commercial broadcasters.

Asked if such facilities would have helped him as a young film maker, Neil Jordan said, "I'd have had a much better life if I'd had this."

Others attending the opening included fellow director Jim Sheridan and actor Sinéad Cusack.

After a tour of the facilities, Mr Higgins said: “I think you have the title of the institution exactly right. The institute of arts, design and technology; that’s the appropriate order.”

Despite having first-class technical facilities, “you still have to engage with the issues that were engaged with by [Soviet film-maker Andrei] Tarkovsky and others”.