Thundering Disgrace

The President has signed apartheid into law, announcing himself President not of all the people but purely of the Irikaners — those vaccinacted for Covid-19 who seek segregation from those who are not

I still have, somewhere, the typewritten note I received from Michael D. Higgins nearly 39 years ago, when I wrote to request an interview for Hot Press. It ends: ‘And of course it doesn’t matter that you are unable to offer a fee’, a response to my naïve apology — thinking a fee a routine requirement for an interview — for the impecuniousness of both my employers and myself. 

I’d been very interested in the trend at the time in the UK music papers, particularly the NME, of carrying lengthy political articles and interviews, usually with left-wing figures like Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, and others. I had recently started working for Hot Press and decided to undertake a similar series of interviews with Irish politicians who struck me as being in tune with the spirit of the music that preoccupied us, and who perhaps exhibited signs of carrying that spirit into the public life of the nation.

When I first proposed a Michael D. interview to the editor of Hot Press, he resisted the idea, but eventually came back to me and gave the go-ahead. So I wrote to Michael D. and went to interview him in Galway. It wasn’t a great interview. Michael D. talked non-stop for about four hours and I had no idea how to control or edit the material, so the finished interview was all over the place. But it was still, being a first of its kind, regarded as a reasonable success, and Hot Press immediately afterwards hired Michael D as a columnist, a role he continued until he became President in 2011. 

The headline on the published article was ‘Something Better Change’, the title of a Stranglers song. 

Michael D was a hero of mine at that time, when that species was thin on the ground. He seemed to be a shimmering streak of pure intellect in the forlorn landscape of Irish politics, representing the hopes of Irish youth for a future that would be passionate, intelligent and progressive. In January 1983, when I met Michael D. for the first time, Ireland was a deeply conservative place, its public life characterised by greyness, stupidity and a repugnance of youth and spirit. A savage recession was underway. A moralistic Catholicism still held the nation in the vice of its ambiguous embrace. To be ‘moral’ then, in any meaningful sense — or indeed even sensible — you had little choice but to be vaguely left-wing and liberal of outlook. If you had asked me what kept me sane in that monochrome Ireland, I would have said simply: rock ‘n’ roll. 

That January Sunday afternoon, I drove to Galway in my Hi-ace van, with my sister’s two-ton cassette recorder, believing that I was embarking on a voyage into the future. I spent several hours talking to Michael D. in his living room and came away certain that I had met someone who would soon play a central role in changing Ireland for the better.

In spite of occasional differences, he and I have since remained on friendly terms: rarely meeting and then only by chance, but always greeting one another with genuine warmth, even though both of us were growingly aware that we had become widely divergent in our political views. Over the years, like many ‘liberals’, he succumbed to a selective notion of liberal-progressiveness that, in my view, rendered him less and less relevant to the true nature of Irish life. The idea of him as president was one that crept up on us, apparently out of nowhere. What seemed like all of a sudden, the enfant terrible of the Irish left had insinuated himself as a father figure to the nation. I have to admit that, in my wildest dreams of 1983, I did not think such a thing to ever be possible. Had I woken up one Sunday morning in the 1980s, or even the 1990s, to the idea that Michael D. Higgins had just been elected President, I would have felt that the revolution I had been longing for had arrived. I am still unable to think of any other politician in my lifetime whose elevation to First Citizen would have filled me with such expectation and joy at that point in my life. That I became disappointed in him was a cause of no little grief to me, and I am fairly certain that he, for his part, had become pretty disappointed in me. 

I was a roving reporter in the 2011 campaign, and therefore covered several of his events and speeches. I remember one morning attending an event of his at a Dublin hotel. He was being feted by a bunch of feminists at a press conference organised by Ivana Bacik under the heading ‘Women for Michael D. Higgins’. The assembled women include politicians past and present, writers, academics, singers and a former judge of the Supreme Court. The idea, according to Ivana Bacik, was that Michael D. was someone who had always supported women’s rights and had been to the vanguard in various feminist and liberal struggles.

Michael D. was in his element, and delivered a perky, upbeat speech. He declared himself delighted to be there among so many veterans of women’s battles down the years and thanked them for coming out to support him. He recalled coming into the Oireachtas as a senator in 1973 and being overawed and inspired by some of the women before him in the room that morning. At the time, he recalled, Ireland was ‘quite an authoritarian, patriarchal society’. He spoke of the battles they had fought, ‘some of which were lost’, and the ‘terrible sadness’ that followed the first divorce referendum of 1986. These women, he said, had made the case for a real republic.

Having myself been at war with Irish feminism over the previous 15 years or so — about, in particular, its disregard for the mutual rights of fathers and their children — I was keeping my head down and scribbling furiously in my notebook. I had found Michael D., like every other Irish politician of the time, to be deeply hypocritical on the issues I had sought to bring to public attention, in particular the systematic brutalisation of fathers in family law courts. Indeed, more generally, in spite of our sometime friendship, I had found him selective and evasive with regard to innumerable matters that did not drop neatly into the liberal in-basket. 

But this, after all, was an election, and I was here that morning representing the Irish Times and likely to have my report placed in a prominent place in next day’s newspaper, and Michael D. was, in spite of all his professed idealism, a politician to his wisdom teeth. Seeing me crouched over my notebook, he suddenly deviated from his script and, looking straight at me, declared that the battle of rights also included the rights of fathers in relation to their children. ‘It isn’t just women’s issues — it is citizens’ issues’, he said, convinving nobody, least of all me. Then he was on to his core presidential theme: the forging of a ‘radical, inclusive citizenship’, where people would be regarded ‘for their inherent dignity’ rather than their status or possessions. Out of this, he said, would come a more ‘creative’ society, where people would work better because of their sense of being valued for themselves rather for some ‘assumed status’.

I knew that, with that suddent burst of interest in fathers and their situation, he was extracting the Michael, but I still liked him, hypocrisy and all, and gave him a decent enough write-up next day. I faithfully reproduced all his prepared slogans and one-liners, about the ‘appropriate content of a republic’ and the  ‘responsibility of intellectuals’ for protecting this content. ‘I entered the public world because I believed in the power of ideas,’ he declared. 

This is a theme he has continued to claim as his own. 

In his inaugural speech at the start of his second term as President, three years ago, he said:

‘I want to thank you, the people of Ireland, for the honour you have again bestowed on me, an honour I accept with all the energy of mind and heart that is required for the trust your mandate has placed on me. 

‘I will, I have emphasised, be a President for all of the Irish people, wherever they may be and in whatever circumstances, those who supported me and those who were not among that number.

‘Inequalities are deepening and many of our people do not have the necessary securities of adequate housing, shelter, health, education, such securities and supports which would allow them to realise their rights and participate with equality.

‘A real republic requires a wide embrace, inclusive of all its members — in our case, all of our Irish from different generations including those who are abroad — and it must be generous in its reach.

‘We can and must be advocates for the inclusion of diverse peoples, traditions and belief systems in a peaceful world assisted by strong multilateral institutions, themselves supported by a deeper global consciousness, one derived from the irreducible rights of human dignity.’

I confess that, in the tumult of that 2011 campaign, I may have done my little bit to get Michael D. elected in the end. That election became memorable most of all for the sudden emergence of the all but unknown independent candidate Seán Gallagher, who with barely a week to go before polling day, looked like he was suddenly beginning to run away with it. In my 2012 book Was It For This?, I wrote a chapter on this election under the title ‘The Faceless Man’, suggesting that Gallagher had manifested as  kind of blank sheet on which the Irish People suddenly decided to write their dreams and aspirations in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown, the surrendering of our economic sovereignty and the lumbering of our children’s children with unconscionable debt. But Gallagher was subjected to an ambush on television by a pincer movement of the ‘national’ broadcaster and Sinn Féin, and as a result had his candidacy brutally and undemocratically torpedoed. Michael D., who had fallen back into second place, made a late surge, assisted by a wave of broadly supportive articles, including several of mine. 

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When he was duly elected, I welcomed it, writing as follows of how I felt about him, starting from the context of that Hot Press interview, 28 years before: 

‘Much has transpired that we could not have dreamed that January day. The Berlin Wall has come down and the capitalist system stands tottering. Ireland has been revolutionised by —  in no particular order — secularism, feminism, divorce, prosperity, television, cheap air fares, music radio, the global embrace of U2, female presidencies, coalition government, gay rights, immigration and so-called European integration. All these developments, in one way or another, would have seemed in tune with the dreaming and desiring that welled up that early 1980s afternoon between Michael D. and me.

‘One of the things that irritate me about our political conversation today is that so much of it continues as if nothing at all has changed. Generational gridlock ensures that progress and idealism are still defined in terms that would have made absolute sense in 1983 but have no objective coherence today.

‘Things have moved on. From being relatively poor, we became rich, then poor again. The sovereignty we dreamed of for over 800 years is surrendered to a new power. Marriage nowadays is a lesser commitment than buying a car, and to be a Catholic is to be a second-class citizen. The feminist revolution has had its way. As a journalist, I have spent 15 years looking into the pained eyes of men whose lives have been destroyed, and children stolen, by a system acting on some warped instinct of retribution. On radio, there is nowadays a choice between 64 different variations of the same pop pap, punctuated only by the texted banalities of Paddy from Portlaoise. The manager of U2 recently felt moved to reassure fans that the band is not breaking up.

‘I am always fascinated that the word “conservative” is still used as a pejorative. Indeed, for many years, I recall Michael D. Higgins using the word in this way, although I have not heard him do so of late. Others, however, and especially many of the new President’s supporters, continue to use the word as if nothing has changed since 1983.

‘A “conservative” is someone who wants to keep things as they are. To be a ‘conservative’ now is not to be Catholic, “right-wing”, traditionalist or conventional, but rather the opposite. It is to glory in the vanquishing of the core sensibilities of the Ireland we grew up in, and to demand the retention of all the victories of the revolutions of the past 30 years, regardless of the consequences of these in real life. To be a “conservative” now is to oppose any rebalancing of the scales in the aftermath of the successful revolutions that, since the 1980s, swept Ireland from the liberal-left. Those most at risk from discrimination or injustice today are not women or gays, but straight, white, middle-class males — because this is the only category unprotected by the new dispensation of political correctness under which issues of justice and fairness are nowadays decided.

‘I do not doubt Michael D.’s ability or courage, or his capacity to recognize injustice wherever he may find it. But I have been listening very carefully to his speeches of late, both during the presidential campaign and after his election, and it seems to me that, while the old rhetorical flourishes are still present, there is something missing. What I have been looking for is some quality of contemporaneousness that would translate the fundament desires for justice and truth which have defined Michael D.’s public life from the beginning into a language that speaks to the present moment in terms that I recognize. I do not believe that such speeches can come couched in the terms of 1983: left-wing, liberal, secular and self-consciously “progressive”. I think we need a new language to describe the ailments of our society, and that a radicalism that fails this test is unworthy of the name.

‘It is good to hear the new president speak of an “inclusive citizenship”, but what does this mean? Does it include the men whose children are snatched and abducted out of Ireland under the eyes of state authorities who twiddle their thumbs because it is a father asking them for help? Does it include the man I met outside Leinster House the other day, who has had his life turned upside down because he came into conflict with a judge who has recently been promoted by the Government?

‘Michael D. Higgins now inhabits an office with few technical powers but enormous moral and political sway.  He can stand alongside a smug political establishment and bask in the fawning approval of his luvvie supporters, or he can reach out to the unrecognized new margins of Irish society. He can play the nice cop to a Government that robs the people to maintain the “integrity” of past political errors, or he can speak the truth in a way few others are capable of.

‘It is nice to hear our new president condemn “materialism”, but what, precisely, does this mean in a public discussion obsessed with saying and doing things to appease anonymous speculators staring down foreign telescreens in the hope of another killing?

‘What worries me most is that our ninth president may remain a prisoner of the sclerotic forces of Irish ‘progressivism’ to which he owes a considerable debt by virtue of his election. It concerns me that the very language of progress, enlightenment and social evolution is now the ideological property of a class of people who regard reminders of the true meaning of words like “justice” and “equality” as counter-revolutionary and treasonable. I fear that if Michael D. seeks sincerely to redefine the terms of justice or truth in our society, he will find himself confronted by his former left-wing compadres who will loudly lament his retreat into “reactionary” positions. And I fear then that his potential to be a voice for true change will be stillborn.’

Perhaps all this now reads as naïve. Probably it was. But in the week when the great liberal white hope of the young people of 1983 have finally dashed against the rocks of pragmatism, in the week that Michael D. Higgins, the champion of ‘equality’, the here of left-‘liberalism’, the doyen of Irish ‘progressivism’ has signed into law the most shockingly regressive and anti-democratic legislation to pass through the Oireachtas in a century of ‘independence’, I need to purge myself of my last vestiges of innocence concerning the possibility of politics or politicians. Think of it, then, as a confession. I need to set out, as clearly as I can, the scale and meaning of what has occurred, and how it contrasts with the hopes we placed in this man, lest the slime of the corrupt media get to bury what has just happened in legal technicalities and prevarication about ‘health’.

Michael D. Higgins has signed into law an Act of the Oireachtas that introduces apartheid to our beloved country. What might be the consequences of this, aside form the obvious? One would hope that they would include the prospect that, henceforth Michael D. Higgins will desist from making speeches about equality and republics, the evils of authoritarianism, the rights of  citizenship, radical inclusivity, irreducible rights, inherent dignity, the responsibilities of intellectuals and the power of ideas other than ones that are as dark as the ink with which the President signed the Health (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2021 into law on Wednesday July 21st 2021. Another consequence which ought to follow from this signing is that ‘President’ Higgins will henceforth cease to regard himself as ‘a president of all the people’, for now he is the president solely of those who have been injected with the gene therapy masquerading as a vaccine against what is for most people no more than a head-cold, and wish to be segregated from those who are not. In other words, he is President of the Irikaners.

He remains, of course, a’ liberal’.

What is a ‘liberal’? There are many definitions, some of them mutually contradictory, if not entirely mutually exclusive, but the definition has undoubtedly narrowed of late, and now is radically more straightforward than it was two years ago. In the past, we might have started by hazarding that a liberal is someone who believes, as a matter of definition, in the following fundamental human rights: the right to life, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom to walk down the street (or into a shop, cinema, bank or theatre), freedom to earn a living, the right to own property, the right to be let alone, the right to bodily integrity, the right to life-saving treatment — all that sort of thing, now cast into the dustbin of history. That list is not exhaustive, but contains most of the most fundamental rights which any liberal worthy of the name might proudly have subscribed to up to 16 month ago. In the relatively recent decades that list of roughly a dozen rights and freedoms had — though this occurred to not inconsiderable controversy — been augmented by the addition of three more ‘fundamental rights’ — the right of gay people to marry one another, the right of people to squeeze the life out of their own children in the womb, and the right of international corporatations and manipulators to impose unlimited migration on countries regardless of the opinion of their host populations. But now, what do we find? We find that people who no longer believe in the first dozen listed rights and freedoms, and happily appear to insist that that it is no longer necessary to believe in them to qualify as a liberal, are still happy to describe themselves as ‘liberal’ on the basis of believing in the latter three ‘principles’. It is possible, in other words, still to be deemed a ‘liberal’ if you believe only in gay marriage, abortion and coercive population replacement — and jettison the rest. Into the dubious ranks of such liberals, we should now list the name of our former President, Michael D. Higgins, who many times in the past kicked up an almighty stink about the former state of affairs in Afrikaner-ruled South Africa, but whose ‘liberalism’ now does not exclude apartheid.

Now, today, in these darkened sunny summer days, we may begin to perceive the meaning of the electoral contest a decade ago, in which the Faceless Man was beaten at the post by the great left-liberal icon of post-Sixties Ireland. It was as if the gods were sending us a forewarning of disaster, and also perhaps a means of avoiding it, in the form of Seán Gallagher. I say this because I believe that a President Seán Gallagher might not have signed this Bill into law without first referring it to the Supreme Court, which could hardly fail to find it unconstutional, for it most certainly is. Nor do I believe that President Gallagher would in March 2020 have signed into oblivion the Constitution of Ireland, any more than I believe he would have signed our country into coercive segregation in July 2021. I may be wrong about this — after all, had you asked me in 2011 or 2018 if Michael D. Higgins would might be the kind of man to sign off on such unprecedented derogations of the freedoms of humanity in Ireland, I would have suggested you lie down for a while. But there was something about Gallagher that, although it was not obvious at the time — the context not being right — suggests him retrospectively as a man sent precisely because he was not the kind of man who would sign off on such things.  Drawn as we were to him, we did not recognise him at the time for what he might mean in our future lives, and so went along with the plot to scupper him.

In the past 16 months, we have in essence watched helplessly as our country, our birthright, our children’s hopes and futures, the very idea of Ireland as an independent, free republic, have been shredded in front of our eyes by our smirking, venal politicians, supported by the legions of journaliars and provided with air-cover by the rancid occupants of the judicial benches. Michael D. Higgins has been, throughout those 16 months, the Patron Saint of this process of selling-out, signing everything that was placed before him with a view to brutalising and enslaving our nation, a Judas to the power of five million and counting.  

Forty-five years ago, an episode occurred in which the then president, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, in accordance with the presidential prerogative, referred to the Supreme Court an emergency powers bill which involved extending the maximum period of detention without charge from two to seven days. The Supreme Court found the bill not to be in conflict with the Constitution, and the president duly signed it. On the same day, an IRA bomb in Co. Laois killed a member of An Garda Síochána, and Ó Dálaigh's actions were bizarrely deemed by government ministers to have contributed to the killing. The Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan, speaking at a military barracks in Mullingar, attacked the President for referring the bill to the Supreme Court in accordance with the presidential prerogative, reportedly calling him a ‘thundering disgrace’. In fact, in keeping with the euphemistic times, the reported phrase was well known to be a circumlocutory rendition of what Donegan had said, which actually involved a b-word and possibly also an f-word. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh resigned as President ‘to protect the dignity and independence of the presidency as an institution’.

Donegan’s attack was unjust. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh was a fine president and had done no more nor less than his duty in seeking to adhere to his presidential pledge to protect the Constitution from what he — in his time an eminent lawyer — felt might be an unlawful Bill. He did not deserve to be attacked in the manner he was by Paddy Donegan. 

Would, though, that we had a Donegan now to resurrect his phrase of 1976, perhaps even stripped of its euphemistic packaging, and apply it to the present incumbent of Áras an Uachtaráin. Michael D. Higgins deserves to be called a thundering disgrace, for that is what he has finally become. He was the Man of Integrity, the Voice of Reason and Freedom, the Very Soul of Intellectual Principle and Honour, the candidate who wanted to expand the powers of the presidency, the better to protect the people from the excesses of State and Government. But then, when hardy came to hardy, he took his pen from his pocket and signed the death warrant of Irish freedom and Ireland as a republic under God, and placed the blotting paper on his signature so as not to soil his fingers or spoil his handiwork. 

And those of us who once thought him a hero have cause to hang our heads in shame.

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