President Higgins has no plans to attend Castro’s funeral

Michael D Higgins faced criticism for his tribute to the Cuban leader over the weekend

President Michael D Higgins signed the book of condolence for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the Cuban Embassy.

 

President Michael D Higgins has no plans to travel to Havana to attend memorial services for the former Cuban leader Fidel Castro this week.

A spokesman for the President confirmed Mr Higgins would not be travelling to Cuba for any of the memorial events.

Mr Higgins signed a book of condolence for the late leader at the Cuban embassy in Dublin on Monday. He and his wife Sabina Coyne-Higgins were greeted by the Cuban ambassador to Ireland Dr Hermes Herrera Hernandez.

The President faced criticism over the weekend for his tribute to the Cuban leader in the wake of his death, which was seen by some as glossing over the human rights abuses of his regime.

Mr Higgins departed the embassy without speaking to the large media contingent that had gathered. His spokesman earlier said the President had decided not to add further to his statement.

Dr Hernandez said the statement from President Higgins had been very important and it was also an honour that he should be the first to sign the book of condolence.

“I appreciate very much the position of the President in relation to our situation and our sadness,” he said.

The ambassador said he was not surprised at the criticism of the President’s statement. He said the press had presented a very negative view of Cuba in relation to human rights, democracy and other things.

“Unfortunately they present an image of Cuba that is out of step with reality,” he said.

Government sources have indicated no Minister is likely to travel for the funeral.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the President is “entitled to make his comments”. Mr Kenny said Ireland will be represented at the Castro funeral by the Irish ambassador to Mexico, adding that “most countries will be represented by ambassadors or officials”.

The Irish Times understands that Mr Higgins is due to travel on a visit to Cuba next February.

While the President requires the permission of the Government to leave the State, no request from Áras an Uachtaráin to travel was made.

One minister said if President Higgins wanted to go, the Cabinet was unlikely to stand in his way, but the President had a full programme for this week, and there are no plans to change it.

Minister of State John Halligan said President Higgins may have been in error not to mention human rights abuses in his message of condolence to the Cuban people.

But he said Mr Higgins “should be cut some slack” given his record on human rights.

“Nobody can say that President Higgins has not spoken about human rights around the world. I think we should give the President a bit of leeway . . . If you analyse his statement he didn’t pay tribute to Castro or the regime, he spoke about the health and education systems,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Senator Ronan Mullen said the President had let down the people of Ireland with his statement.

“It was terribly poor judgement,” he said.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, who was travelling to Havana to attend Castro’s funeral, said Mr Higgins’ comments had “struck the right tone”.

Mr Adams said he had met Castro on a number of occasions and raised the issue of Cuba’s history on human rights, civil rights, religious rights and democratic values.

“I raised those issues with him and said there was concern in the outside world in reports from NGOs about human rights abuses. He defended their position and rejected some of the allegations made,” he told RTÉ.

Memorial events for Castro will take place throughout the week in Cuba with nine days of national mourning announced following his death on Saturday.

Cubans have also been invited to pledge their allegiance by signing a “solemn oath of complying with the concept of the revolution”. There will also be a mass gathering on Tuesday in Havana.

From Tuesday until Saturday, Castro’s ashes will tour the country, culminating in another mass gathering on Saturday. His ashes will be interred on Sunday in Santiago, in the south east of the country.