Security forum speaker describes President’s comments on Louise Richardson as ‘tribalistic’

Higgins ‘let his ideology get in the way of his judgment’, says defence analyst Declan Power

One of the key speakers at the Government’s forum on security has described the intervention of the President in advance of the council as “tribalistic” and ideological.

Declan Power, a security analyst and former officer with the Irish Defence Forces, said President Michael D Higgins had let himself down by making personal remarks about Prof Louise Richardson, the chairwoman of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy.

Mr Power said he was disappointed that the President made the remarks in advance of the conference and not during, or after, it began.

Speaking in the University of Galway where he was a panellist for the second day of the four-day forum, Mr Power said President Higgins made comments that were not relevant to the conference.


Referring specifically to President Higgins’s remarks on “drift”, Mr Power said: “There is hardly any talk about joining Nato at the conference.”

“It is about understanding how we can develop our protective mechanisms and whom we need to talk to. We cannot continue to go it alone and we understand that.

“I think he let himself down when he got personal, because I have been a long-time student of the writings of Prof Louise Richardson.

“It was a very tribalistic pressing of buttons, especially for a man like the President who has been active in reconciliation. He let his ideology get in the way of his judgment.

“On a positive note, and it was possibly an unintended consequence, he has given a lot more spotlight to this conference and I think this is much needed.”

Did the President go too far?

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Dr Renata Dwan, senior consulting fellow at Chatham House and who spent 20 years at a senior level with the United Nations, said the President’s remarks on “drift” obviously reflected his position.

Dr Dwan, who was a speaker at the conference and also chaired a session, said there were many positions and views among Irish people.

A native of Athlone, Co Westmeath, Dr Dwan indicated she had a different viewpoint on drift.

“When I think about drift, I think about how a country navigates the huge changes in the global security environment. It is the case that the world in which Ireland was based – a benign world, a rules-based world, where the focus was on crisis management and Ireland’s proud role in that – that environment is changed.

“If we don’t think about navigating that [new] world and think about what has changed, what it means for Ireland and how we respond, that, in my mind, is drift.”

The President’s son, Michael Higgins, also spoke at the conference. Making a contribution during the sessions examining Ireland’s membership of the UN Security Council, he argued strongly against any change in Ireland’s status as a neutral country.

Mr Higgins worked in the Irish Permanent Mission to the UN during the campaign to get elected to the Security Council. He has also worked at New York University.

“Neutrality was absolutely essential to Ireland getting elected,” he said.

“It was intrinsic to how potent, how influential we were in the United Nations. Small countries have to appeal on a cross-regional level.

“Because Ireland was a small country that did not have vested interests or hidden agenda, it was able to be a bridge-builder.

“We assured a lot of western states we would take an independent line and not be influenced by the ‘Big Three’ [the three western countries: the US, the UK and France, which are permanent members of the Security Council].

“It’s great to have the public debate, but it’s much better when they don’t take place in a fractious or distrustful environment. Because of that, the conspicuous and glaring omission of peace from this forum and the alarmist talk of material associated with it has been unhelpful,” he said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times