President reflects ‘will of the people’ in statements on foreign issues

Higgins believes himself well qualified to speak ‘as a political scientist, as a sociologist’ and activist for 50 years

President Michael D Higgins has said he reflects the “will of the people” who elected him in his pronouncements, which have received criticism in recent days for overstepping his constitutional role.

It follows accusations that Mr Higgins has broken with the convention that Irish presidents stay above the fray of politics, most recently when he criticised European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for her approach towards the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“I’ve been elected as President of Ireland twice. It’s a deep honour, a deep privilige and a great responsibility. I feel I have a responsibility,” he said. “I think I’m reflecting the will of the people who put me in Áras an Uachtaráin.”

Irish voters will be able to decide when his term ends in 2025 what kind of president they want, he continued.


“In a couple of years time people will be able to resolve this issue themselves, in relation to whether they want a silent person, a puppet, or whether they want a president.”

Mr Higgins said he was well qualified to speak on the matters he comments on “as a political scientist, as a sociologist” and an activist for five decades, and that he was reflecting public opinion.

He suggested the role of the President was not fixed, saying there had been “a debate” about the role over the years and whether it involves interventions on foreign affairs.

“There are practitioners in the practice of foreign policy, and they are directed by those who are in charge of the departments. But foreign policy belongs to us all,” he said.

He added that he believed it was a “rather extreme view” that the President should not intervene at all.

Mr Higgins spoke to reporters on the conclusion of his visit to Rome this week, during which he met Pope Francis and Italian president Sergio Mattarella. He also made speeches on climate change and food security at United Nations institutions.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times