Higgins stands by comments on Army pay and beef crisis

President poised to address UN General Assembly in New York

 President Michael D Higgins: “There has been a widespread concern for a long time as to where does the actual profit in relation to beef go.”  Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

President Michael D Higgins: “There has been a widespread concern for a long time as to where does the actual profit in relation to beef go.” Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

 

President Michael D Higgins strongly defended his decision to recently intervene on the question of pay for the Defence Forces, saying it is within his constitutional duty as president.

“I knew very clearly what I was saying . . . I said it wasn’t too much to expect that those who serve in the forces might anticipate decent living conditions and so on, and I very much feel that,” Mr Higgins said in New York where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly.

Earlier this month, Mr Higgins said it “should not be too much to expect” that members are paid enough to provide for themselves and their families.

Noting he was the supreme commander of the Defence Forces, he said what he is hearing and seeing from their families and others suggested that he “should be concerned”. “I was concerned and I said it very, very clearly.”

“I can tell you I really have it quite thought-out what I’m doing . . . I am very, very much within the Constitution.”

‘Vulnerability prospects’

He said that while some people might want a president who did not have an opinion on issues like this, “the fact of the matter is that a very, very large number of people in Ireland decided they wanted this kind of president who wouldn’t interfere – but who would be conscious and aware of what I call the vulnerability prospects and hopes of the Irish people.”

Mr Higgins also defended his recent comments on the beef crisis. “There has been a widespread concern for a long time as to where does the actual profit in relation to beef go,” he said, noting the importance of transparency. “Knowing how the product is priced . . . is something that is valuable” to farm families.

At the National Ploughing Championship against the backdrop of the beef dispute last week, Mr Higgins said farmers needed “transparency, protection and a fair system”.

Speaking ahead of his address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Mr Higgins said he believed Ireland has a “good case to make” for securing a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021 and 2022.

Climate change

Noting that a lot of the decision-making is by the five big members of the security council, he said small countries have been able to effect change on the security council. He noted about 100 of the UN member states have populations the same size as or smaller than Ireland. “They are actually the ones who speak on issues like proliferation, cluster bombs, disarmament and climate change,” he said.

Mr Higgins also defended his own practices in relation to climate change, as well as those in Áras an Uachtaráin. He noted that he planned to travel by ship to Athens and Cyprus in October, while he regularly travels to Belfast by train.

Mr Higgins was due to deliver a speech at New York University on Tuesday evening in which he was expected to set out his support for the United Nations.

Outlining how Ireland “believes profoundly” in the UN, the President was expected to highlight how Ireland, like the UN, emerged from conditions of conflict. Ireland’s “long and painful” escape from a colonial past means that it can empathise with so many countries in the UN, he was expected to say.