President Michael D Higgins has responded to former taoiseach John Bruton’s criticism of his decision not to attend a commemorative event in Northern Ireland.
President Higgins said Mr Bruton’s interpretation of the Constitution was “unusual” and he found “extraordinary” the criticism that came from a former prime minister, and member of the Council of State.
Speaking from Rome, Mr Higgins strongly criticised Mr Bruton’s remarks, as reported by The Irish Times.
Mr Bruton had claimed that if Mr Higgins had fulfilled his obligations under the Constitution, which is to take the advice of the Irish Government on this matter, that they would have advised him to attend the event.
“The criticism of former taoiseach John Bruton is wrong and his interpretation of the Constitution may be fine to some legal scholars who may support such an unusual interpretation of Articles 13.8 and 13.9 (of the Constitution) which I think is unfortunate.
“It is up to him as to whether he should withdraw the remarks he has made about the President practically suggesting the President has behaved improperly,” he said.
The service in Armagh, in October, is to mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is due to attend the event.
The President said he had declined an invitation to the event because he viewed the title and its reference to partition as political.
In response to Mr Bruton’s comment that the event was not the opening of a credit union in Kerry, Mr Higgins said: “I think he might (also) withdraw his remarks about the significance of a credit union meeting in Kerry because I can’t think of any more important organisation than the credit union movement.
“I think he is wrong about 13.8 and 13.9 and he is also wrong about the relationship between the Government and the President.”
He added: “I find it very extraordinary coming from a former prime minister, and then a member of the Council of State, who has always been treated with courtesy by me. I am sure that Mr Bruton will want to withdraw his remarks.”
President Higgins said there had been discussions on the difficulties surrounding the title since March.
“In the week before St Patrick’s Day I addressed these words and said (to the organisers) if these words and this title suggested remain it may be that I will have to wish you well.”
Following their meeting at the Vatican earlier, Pope Francis has described President Michael D Higgins as a “wise man of today” during an audience in the Vatican on Friday morning.
During the formal photocall, the Pope said: “Today, I did not just meet a man, a President, I met a wise man of today.
“I thank God that Ireland has such a wise man as its head (of State).”
A statement issued by the Vatican said that after the audience with the Pope, President Higgins met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, accompanied by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.