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Sabina Higgins letter ‘a slap in the face’ for Ukrainians but President fails to address controversy at Fleadh

A controversial letter about the Ukraine conflict written by the President’s wife has been described as a “slap in the face” for the thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have settled in Ireland.

resident Michael D Higgins has faced calls to state unequivocal support for the Ukrainian cause and oppose Russian aggression amid the furore created by his wife Sabina’s letter.

Mrs Higgins wrote to the Irish Times last week to criticise one of the newspaper’s editorials on the conflict.

In the letter, she said the fighting would go on until the world “persuades President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations”.

Critics have suggested Mrs Higgins was drawing an equivalence between the actions of Ukraine and Russia.

Scrutiny of the letter intensified after it was published for a brief period on the Irish president’s official website. It appears to have been since removed from the site.

Today Mr and Mrs Higgins attended the opening of the Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann but did not address the controversy.

The President did not mention the matter in his speech at the event in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, though he extended a “special” welcome to those who have come to Ireland “to share shelter with us and to seek safety with us”.

“On behalf of myself and my wife, Sabina, I am delighted, and it is a great privilege to be here again as we launch the All-Ireland Fleadh 2022,” he said.

President Higgins and his wife turned down the opportunity to speak to a large group of reporters after his speech, which lasted 20 minutes, and was whisked away to attend the All-Ireland Ladies Senior Football Final.

But meanwhile Fine Gael senator John McGahon called on Mr Higgins to clarify whether he was aware of the letter before it was published or had any role in drafting it.

“She is a private citizen, she is entitled to promote whatever type of view she wants, but she is married to the president of this country, she does live in Aras an Uachtarain (the president’s official resident in Dublin) and she does officiate at official events that are run by the state,” Mr McGahon told RTÉ Radio One’s This Week programme.

“And because of the high-profile nature of her position I believe her views on the Ukrainian invasion are open to critique. I believe they’re open to criticism.”

Mr McGahon claimed the letter made a “moral equivalence” between Russia and Ukraine.

“If you were to read that letter you’d think that this is a dispute between two countries over a contested piece of land,” he said.

“It is Russian tanks that have rolled into Ukraine. It is Russian missiles that have flattened Ukrainian cities. It is Russian soldiers that have murdered women and children in the streets of Ukraine.

“And I think the comments that she has made is a slap in the face to the 47,000 Ukrainian refugees who have come to this island of Ireland to seek safety and seek sanctuary.”

On Saturday, Fianna Fáil senator Malcolm Byrne challenged Mrs Higgins’ position.

“Mrs Higgins is entitled to her personal opinion and to express it, although I believe that she is totally wrong to try to see an equivalence in the positions of Ukraine and Russia,” he said.

“However, the decision to publish the letter on the president’s website raises serious questions.

“It is incumbent on the president of Ireland to now express clearly the strong support of the people of Ireland for the people of Ukraine and that we hold Russia responsible for the war and ongoing barbarism.

“Ireland should rightly be proud of our response to the invasion of Ukraine.”

There has also been support for Mrs Higgins.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett tweeted: “The attacks on & censoring of #SabinaHiggins are disgraceful. Every effort should be made to achieve a ceasefire and an end to the slaughter in Ukraine. The idea any side can win a ‘victory’ in this war is a recipe for tens of thousands more deaths.”

The office of the president has been contacted for comment.

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