It was only last week that I took a little pleasure in publishing (on Facebook) “that” photograph of A n tUachtarán Michael D Higgins standing, waiting his turn at a ATM (bank cash machine) in Dublin.
It is one of the things that makes us “different”. An elected Head of State (Higgins from the Labour Party) who is above politics. The First Citizen. Little Security ever in evidence.
I am disappointed that he was subject to such abuse by fellow citizens on Friday of last week. The Presidents duties are effectively, three-fold….ceremonial (leading the Nation at events such as Easter Commemoration), governmental (signing legislation) and symbolic (tea parties for the elderly or community groups and visiting towns and villages across the country).
His visit to a school in Finglas, north Dublin was very much a symbolic occasion. Ireland is small enough for everyone to see our President, several times in a lifetime. But a big moment for the children at the Finglas school.
And unusual for the President to be greeting by a demonstration and verbal abuse as he arrived at and left the event. The footage is depressing, unedifying and brings little credit on those who demonstrated and shouted abuse including “midget parasite” at Michael D. I should also add that the Garda (police) looked shocked and they also need some scrutiny.
In the Republic of Ireland, there is currently a controversy around Water Charges…legislation to instal meters in every home and business and charge people for water used. The Coalition Government has struggled against public and Opposition opinion. It is one of those occasions when the junior partner in the Coalition (Labour) will get little credit from their own voters.
Public Opposition has been led by Sinn Féin and assorted left-leaning TDs. There has also been a lot of orchestrated street protest. But inevitably people are registering for the meters despite a year of “cant pay, wont pay” rhetoric.
President Higgins….as his duties demand…signed the legislation. It was never likely that he would refer it to the Supreme Court to rule that it was constitutional. And seemingly this is the reason/excuse for the Finglas protest.
As the footage goes viral on YouTube, it has shocked many. Hard-core opponents of water charges deplore the personal abuse but stop short of condemning the protest itself.
It does not seem that some leftists care, judging that the President is just another trapping of a distant “Establishment”. Yet for Sinn Féin, the Presidency is a cornerstone of the Republic. And for the general population a unifying feature in Irish life.
“Soft” opponents of Water Charges…those who have not yet registered but now looking for a way to comply will legitimately use the insults to the President as a way out. The protestors went too far. And their cause will be damaged.
Others might well say that President Higgins might well be in a non-political role now but he was for much of his career a Labour Party politician, who despite his bookish and artistic demeanour could happily dish out the vitriol himself.
He cuts an unlikely figure as a Commander in Chief. Elderly and walking with a limp.
Most people would be polite and say he is “diminutive”. The protestors say he is a “midget parasite”.
Those of us who are vertically challenged would feel some sympathy. Is being diminutive the last taboo of political acceptability?
In USA there is a black President. We have female Heads of State. We have gay politicians (male and female) working their way thru politics.A black President of USA? It has happened. A woman President of USA? It will happen.
A diminutive President of USA? I doubt it. It is the wrong message. The average citizen of USA does not want to see a Commander in Chief, who is 5ft 3inches tall get off Air Force One in Moscow, Paris and London. Which means that James Madison would never get into the White House in the 21st Century.
If you saw the 2010 British Election Debates, you will have noticed that the three leaders…Cameron, Clegg and Brown were all around the same height…close to 6ft. I daresay the 2015 line up will not feature a man of below average height.
The Glass Ceiling? Women break it. The Class Ceiling? The Working Class break it.
But for some of us…..the Ceiling is very high.