President Higgins responds to criticism by Nigerian Catholic bishop

Higgins condemns Pentecost Sunday massacre at Owo, but rejects claims he linked it to climate change

President Michael D Higgins has rejected claims that he linked the massacre of 40 people at a Catholic Church in Nigeria to climate change.

The attack on Sunday, June 5th at the St Francis Church in Owo district of Ondo’s Catholic diocese, which Nigerian authorities have linked to the Islamic State West Africa Province group, also left more than 126 people injured.

“The President’s comments with regard to climate change related to the plight of pastoral peoples in the region and the President made no link in his statement between climate change and the attack itself,” a spokesman for Mr Higgins told The Irish Times.

“The President has utterly and unequivocally condemned the attack on St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Nigeria and expressed his particular horror that such an attack could happen in a place of worship,” he said.


Mr Higgins recognised “the long connections between Ireland and the diocese of Ondo and once again offers his deepest condolences and solidarity to the families of those who lost their lives in this horrific, indefensible action, and all those impacted by the attack,” the spokesman said.

In a weekend statement on Facebook, the Catholic Bishop of Ondo diocese Jude Ayodeji Arogundade described as “incorrect and far-fetched” climate-change references in President Higgins’s statement on June 7th condemning the massacre.

“Alluding to some form of politics of climate change in our situation is completely inappropriate,” said the bishop. He appealed to “those who are trying to take advantage of this horrific event to project any form of ideological agenda, to desist from such opportunism”.

Condemning the attack in his statement last week, President Higgins expressed “deepest condolences” to the families of the dead and injured.

“That such an attack was made in a place of worship is a source of particular condemnation, as is any attempt to scapegoat pastoral peoples who are among the foremost victims of the consequences of climate change. The neglect of food security issues in Africa, for so long has brought us to a point of crisis that is now having internal and regional effects based on struggles, ways of life themselves.”

He concluded: “The solidarity of us all, as peoples of the world, is owed to all those impacted not only by this horrible event but in the struggle by the most vulnerable on whom the consequences of climate change have been inflicted.”

In his weekend statement, Bishop Arogundade said that, given the historical connection between the Republic of Ireland and the diocese of Ondo, the comments of the President of Ireland were important to him as bishop. “The first two bishops of the diocese of Ondo were Irish men, the church building in which the attack took place was built by Irish missionaries” and some of the people killed had received the sacraments from “venerable Irish missionaries”, he said.

“Irish men and women laid the foundation of the faith for us in this part of the world,” he said. “Comments associating banditry, kidnapping and gruesome attacks on innocent and harmless citizens of Nigeria with issues concerning climate change and food securities are deflections from the truth,” he added.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times