President reiterates condemnation of war against Ukraine - but does not address letter controversy

Fine Gael TD calls on President, Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs to clarify letter written by Sabina Higgins

President Michael D Higgins has said he is “unequivocal in his condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine” – but he has again declined to comment on the contents of a controversial letter written by his wife Sabina Higgins.

In a statement, a spokesman for the President said: “The record shows President Higgins has been unequivocal in his condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine from his original statement on 1 March. He has repeatedly condemned what he has described as the illegal, immoral and unjustifiable Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“He has called for an immediate Russian withdrawal and end to the violence. He has voiced his steadfast support for the victims of this terrible conflict and met with Ukrainian refugees in Ireland and the Ukrainian Ambassador many times.

“President Higgins has stressed the importance of using every available ‘chink of diplomacy’.

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“President Higgins has also publically commended and continues to commend people and communities across Ireland for their generosity and solidarity with the people of Ukraine. It is heartening to witness so many people in Ireland and across the globe unite in their support for the Ukrainian people, offering shelter, food, aid and other forms of assistance to those fleeing the war.”

The spokesman included a number of previous statements made by Mr Higgins. The President’s office did not, however, answer specific questions about the letter itself, why it was posted on the Aras an Uachtarain official website, why it was removed, and whether he agreed with its contents.

It comes as a Fine Gael TD and former Government chief whip called on President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Micheál Martin to make a statement clarifying Ireland’s position on the war against Ukraine following a controversial letter written by Sabina Higgins.

Wexford TD Paul Kehoe told The Irish Times on Monday that a statement is needed from Government and the President as well as the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

In her letter, Ms Higgins said the war in Ukraine would continue until both countries agreed a ceasefire and entered negotiations. She criticised an Irish Times editorial published on July 20th, saying she was “disappointed” and “dismayed” that it did not “encourage any ceasefire negotiations that might lead to a positive settlement”.

The letter was published on the Áras an Uachtaráin website but later removed. The Irish Times sought a comment from the Áras throughout the weekend and again on Monday morning but has received no response.

“I was very surprised that such comments came out of Áras an Uachtaráin. This is not just a topic of conversation at Government level, it is a topic of conversation in every household across the country and people see the invasion the invasion of Ukraine and what has happened - when you are dealing with the Russians you are dealing with the devil,” said Mr Kehoe.

I was disappointed that the President appeared at a public event over the weekend and he did not take the chance to talk to the media and to explain the background to the comments, or to apologise or to give some clarity to the comments that appeared on the Áras an Uachtaráin website,” he said.

“This was not just a comment that was made in a letter to the paper, it appeared on the Áras an Uachtaráin official website. That makes it almost officialdom when it appears on the website, albeit that it was removed.

“I would also call on the Government to come out, for the Taoiseach to come out and for the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to come out and to restate Ireland’s position on where we stand on this issue and to clarify the comments and to restate Ireland’s position.”

Mr Kehoe joins a chorus of Government TDs and Senators who have called on President Michael D Higgins to break his silence over the letter.

The President failed to address the matter at the official opening of Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Westmeath on Sunday.

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea said the President needs to address the matter “right now”.

Fine Gael Senator John McGahon warned that the issue “will not go away”.

Fianna Fáil senator Lorraine Clifford Lee also sought clarification. “I think it was highly inappropriate that her letter was published on the Áras website. They need to explain why this was done.”

Fine Gael senator Martin Conway also said: “I believe that President Higgins has a duty to explain why the letter was posted on President.ie, and why it was subsequently removed from the website. He also needs to make a clear and unambiguous statement supporting the Government position on Ukraine.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times