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Questions remain about Sabina Higgins' letter on conflict in Ukraine, politicians say

A spokesperson for Michael D Higgins said the president has been “unequivocal in his condemnation” of Russia’s invasion.

File image of Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins in Germany in 2019.
File image of Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins in Germany in 2019.
Image: DPA/PA Images

Updated Aug 2nd 2022, 3:28 PM

POLITICIANS HAVE SAID questions still remain over Sabina Higgins’ Ukraine letter after a statement from Michael D Higgins yesterday reiterated the president’s stance on the conflict. 

A statement issued to the Irish Times by a spokesperson for Michael D Higgins said the president has been “unequivocal in his condemnation” of Russia’s invasion.

It follows criticism of a letter about the conflict in Ukraine written by his wife Sabina to the Irish Times and reportedly published on the president’s website for a period of time

In the letter, Sabina Higgins wrote that the war will continue “until the world persuades President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations”. 

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Robert Troy said today on RTE’s News At One that Sabina Higgins “is entitled to her own opinion”.

He welcomed the statement from the president where he condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

Troy said there is no doubt the letter was written with the “best intentions”, however he said it is worrying that the Russian ambassador to Ireland welcomed the intervention by Sabina Higgins.

The minister said it would be “helpful” if the president’s office could clarify how Sabina Higgins’ letter ended up on the official presidential website.

He added that he was not aware of any discussions between the Government and Áras an Uachtaráin on the matter, stating that he was only giving his personal opinion.

Fine Gael Senator John McGahon said on Twitter that the president’s statement yesterday “answers nothing” and that the controversy will continue until there is an explanation about how the letter was put on the official presidential website.

On Saturday, the senator had described Sabina Higgins’ letter as a “slap in the face” to Ukrainian refugees in Ireland.

‘Ridiculous’ 

Former Independent minister Shane Ross told Newstalk Breakfast today that it is “somewhat ridiculous” to expect the president to “come in and defend his wife’s position”.

“She’s entitled to, and does, express her opinion on these views – and if they happen to differ from his, and I don’t know whether they do or not, I don’t think every time they do differ he’s going to come in and say ‘I do differ on this, that and the other’”,” he told the radio station.

But he added that he doesn’t believe the letter should have appeared on the president’s website.

People Before Profit have stated that “Sabina Higgins did nothing wrong”, tweeting that the attacks on the president’s wife for calling for efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Ukraine “illustrate again the warmongering agenda of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil”.

The party said that “very attempt should be made to achieve a ceasefire and an end to Russia’s brutal invasion”.

Speaking to RTÉ radio’s Drivetime programme yesterday, Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne said Sabina Higgins is “perfectly entitled to hold her view” but the website aspect raises “serious questions”.

He welcomed the statement from a spokesperson for Michael D Higgins but said the Áras “still needs to clarify” why the letter was put on the site. 

Byrne’s main criticism of the content of the letter was that he believed it did not have an “unequivocal condemnation” of the actions of Russia.  

“I would have disagreed with the tenor of her letter because it seemed to imply that there was some kind of equivalence between the actions of Russia and Ukraine,” he said.

It did not identify Russia as the aggressor and did not seem to hold Russia responsible for some of the barbaric acts in which it has been engaging.

“It seemed to imply, if you like, that both sides were equally responsible for this war.”

Separately, former Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu said on RTE’s Brendan O’Connor Show yesterday that Sabina Higgins has a long history of trying to encourage peace and that she had every right to offer her opinion on the subject.

While Chu said the message of the letter “may have been taken up wrong”, she said Sabina Higgins’ call for peace “isn’t incorrect”. She added that it would have been better had Sabina Higgins highlighted more prominently in her letter that Russia is the aggressor.

“I don’t think anyone thinks the president and his family does not support Ukraine in this war,” said Chu.

Former Senator Marie Louise O’Donnelly said on the same programme that people cannot watch what they said to the “point of sanitising what you say”.

“You can’t sanitise people that have an opinion” merely because you disagree with it, she added. She also questioned what statement the critics are looking from from the president on the matter.

Michael D Higgins, in a statement on 1 March, described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “completely unacceptable, immoral and unjustified violence”.

The president called on the violence to stop and for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. 

The spokesperson for Higgins said he “has stressed the importance of using every available ‘chink of diplomacy’”.

Presidential website

Speaking to RTÉ’s Nine O’Clock news last night, Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea also questioned why the letter had reportedly appeared on the Áras website.

“I’ve been contacted by a large number of Ukrainians here and people representing the Ukrainian community in this area who are still very hurt and very upset about what has happened. I think they should be reassured,” he said. 

Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan has also given her view on the matter, stating that that president should apologise for the letter being posted on the presidential website.

A Ukrainian MP last week called the letter “underinformed” and said “it is not enough for one side to want peace – it needs to be mutual”.

Kira Rudik told Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder programme on Friday: “When you look at the way how Russia behaved for the last eight years – when you look at the last five and a half months – you would understand that there is no way of peaceful negotiations.”

“These talks are extremely dangerous – because basically what is written in the letter is ‘let’s make peace’ – so we will allow [the] bully, allow aggressive country get away with what they have done,” she said.

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