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Sabina Higgins ‘dismayed’ by criticism as she defends Ukraine letter

Irish President Michael D Higgins with his wife Sabina. (Brian Lawless/PA)
Irish President Michael D Higgins with his wife Sabina. (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sabina Higgins, the wife of Irish President Michael D Higgins, has defended a letter she wrote which critics claimed drew an equivalence between the actions of Russia and Ukraine.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, Mrs Higgins condemned Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and said she was “dismayed” at the criticism she has received in recent days.

“I have from its outset strongly condemned the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and I cannot be but dismayed that people would find anything unacceptable in a plea for peace and negotiations when the future of humanity is threatened by war, global warming and famine,” she said.

It comes after she wrote a letter to the Irish Times last week to criticise an editorial on the conflict.

The letter 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”.

Government senators and commentators criticised Mrs Higgins for the letter.

Fianna Fail senator Malcolm Byrne said Mrs Higgins was “totally wrong to try to see an equivalence in the positions of Ukraine and Russia”, while Fine Gael senator John McGahon said “interventions like this are seen as a tacit endorsement of the Russian regime”.

In recent days, pressure has been mounting for an explanation why the letter was reportedly published for a brief period on the Irish president’s official website.

Mrs Higgins said in Tuesday’s statement: “For the last 11 years since coming to Aras an Uachtarain (official residence of the Ireland’s president) as the wife of the president, I have continued my longstanding interests on a number of important issues.

“Since 2014, I have had a dedicated section on the president.ie website. This section contains details of activities I have been undertaking including speeches and work towards the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, health issues, breastfeeding, issues affecting the Traveller community, human rights, supporting the arts and a range of other issues.

“Last week I had been asked about my letter to the Irish Times, which I had written in a personal capacity, by a number of people who had missed it, and had not been able to access it online.

“I therefore put it on my dedicated section of the website as I have done for the last number of years. Having put my letter up, I subsequently took it down when I saw it being presented as not being from myself, but from the general president.ie website.”

On Monday, a spokesperson for Mr Higgins issued a statement to the Irish Times reiterating his condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine.

“He has repeatedly condemned what he has described as the illegal, immoral and unjustifiable Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“He has called for an immediate Russian withdrawal and end to the violence. He has voiced his steadfast support for the victims of this terrible conflict and met with Ukrainian refugees in Ireland and the Ukrainian ambassador many times.

“President Higgins has stressed the importance of using every available ‘chink of diplomacy’.”