Higgins criticises social media for untruths about presidency

President says people should take responsibility for their words and their language

 President Michael D Higgins: said it would be a good idea to bring out an annual report on  Arás spending.  Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

President Michael D Higgins: said it would be a good idea to bring out an annual report on Arás spending. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

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President Michael D Higgins has criticised the “dark media” of social media discourse for “untruths” in relation to his presidency.

Mr Higgins told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show people needed responsibility for their words and their language.

A spokesman for the President later said Mr Higgins was making a distinction between traditional media, which are regulated and where there is a right of reply and social media and the so-called “dark side” of the net, where it is possible to make statements and take no responsibility for their veracity or impact.

During the interview Mr Higgins again denied he had supplemented the salary of a member of staff.

The President also denied that he avoided media questions. “I’ve been answering questions since 1969. Michael D has been answering questions all his life, at every level of political engagement.”

However, he said, as the incumbent, he was not in a position to “start running around” to address every rumour.

Mr Higgins said the President’s allowance had been the same since 1998 and he had not changed it.

“It is responsible for everything that happens in the Presidency.”

However, he acknowledged changes should be made and he would do so if re-elected.

“I want to do it properly and to take the time to think about it. I don’t think it should be personalised or politicised.”

He said he would have no problem with an audit committee and thought it would be a good idea to bring out an annual report from the Arás.

Constraints

During the interview Mr Higgins said there were constraints on him as President, but that he would deal with issues (of spending) at the proper time, to make things easier for whoever holds the office.

It was absurd that there was a suggestion that he should make himself unpopular to give the other candidates a chance.

Mr Higgins also said he had never booked a hotel as President, referring to the cost of a stay in a hotel in Switzerland.

Mr Higgins said he had stayed in a tent in Somalia and in various types of accommodation with aid agencies in South America, but he never worried about where he would sleep.

He defended his decision to run for a second term of office saying it was in response from encouragement from communities he had met over the years. “They asked me, I said ‘yes’.”

He added: “No one asked me if I was standing for 14 years” in reference to a claim that people would not have voted for him if they thought he was going for a second term.

“I’m sure some of them would have voted for me any way.”

The President said if he met US president Donald Trump he would “observe the courtesies of the office” but would take the opportunity in private meetings to raise the issues of climate change, women’s rights and arms spending.

Responding to claims by other candidates that they would use the office of President to promote Irish business abroad, Mr Higgins said he was already doing that and that the President could also promote the issue of climate change on an international stage as he had done in speeches in Paris and at the UN in New York.

He also denied speculation about “the rate of attrition of staff” in the Arás, saying this was another example of the “dark media” and that it was common for staff to be promoted or to move forward their careers. “I am very happy with my staff.”

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