Sabina Higgins runs afoul of establishment war-mongers

By Michael O’Brien

A letter by Sabina Higgins, wife of President Higgins, to The Irish Times on 27 July, concerning the war in Ukraine, has been seized upon for attack by various Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians and other pro-capitalist establishment types.

Among those exercised by the letter, there was Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan who called on President Higgins to resign if he didn’t disassociate himself from the letter. The Socialist Party has no truck for the institution of the President, however, Senator McGreehan has a particular cheek calling on someone who obtained over 55% of the vote in the 2018 election to resign when she is one of the eleven Taoiseach nominees for the Seanad – in other words absolutely nobody voted for her.

The letter itself espouses basic pacifist sentiments about the human cost of the war on both sides and a desire for a ceasefire and negotiated settlement and is devoid of any real political analysis or condemnation of the brutal and criminal Russian invasion, or, likewise, an attempt at situating the war as a reflection of inter-imperialist rivalries. Fundamentally, there will be no just or democratic solution on the basis of talks that may take place in the future between the imperialist and capitalist forces involved, working-class people will still continue to suffer under their rule. The problem for Sabina Higgins’ detractors in the Irish capitalist establishment is that her letter did not explicitly take the side of the Zelensky administration and his imperialist allies in NATO. 

Reneging on Ireland’s ‘neutrality’ 

This government, and hawkish military commentators, have sought to turn the war in Ukraine into an opportunity to move Ireland away from its traditional position of what is popularly called ‘neutrality’, but can be more accurately described as non-overt participation in military alliances, specifically NATO.

With Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO, Ireland, Austria, Cyprus and Malta, remain the only four EU states outside the alliance. The recently announced increased budget for Ireland’s military should be seen as part of this repositioning. However, much to the chagrin of the government, an opinion poll published in The Irish Times on 15 April showed two-thirds of those surveyed support maintaining a formal position of neutrality.  

The accession of Finland and Sweden also illustrates the price of NATO membership, with both countries having to sign a separate agreement with Turkey by which they must reverse their arms embargo on Turkey and deport Kurdish activists who have claimed asylum in their states. 

The attacks on Sabina Higgins, and President Higgins by association, is more than just about the war. Michael D Higgins is no radical. He fulfills the basic constitutional functions of the Presidency, signing all manner of Bills passed by the Oireachtas into law. He was supported by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the 2018 elections and when he last served as a TD supported the austerity regime of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that was elected in 2011. 

However, he is viewed as ‘off message’ relative to his predecessors. In particular, his recent speech condemning the housing crisis got up the noses of the government parties. They hope that the controversy around the Sabina Higgins letter will be chastening for the President and force him back into his box.

Opposing imperialist war 

The Socialist Party and International Socialist Alternative oppose the war in Ukraine and demand the withdrawal of Russian forces while opposing NATO’s machinations (and standing for its dissolution), including its expansion in Eastern Europe over the last decades, and its ally in the right-wing Zelensky regime. We support the Ukrainian people’s right to self-determination and independence. We oppose Russia’s imperialist invasion and the proxy war that Western imperialism is seeking to wage in Ukraine.  

We support the building of an independent working-class movement from below that will organise the self defence of Ukraine, while ridding the country of the rule of capitalism and imperialism. Such as movement would make an appeal to Russian soldiers and workers to join in a common struggle against war, Putin and the oppressive rule of all capitalist oligarchs. A just and democratic peace in which the rights of all nationalities and minorities are upheld will only come through working people struggling together. It means fighting for a humane, socialist society where wealth, resources, and industry are in common, public ownership, and used for the benefit of all.

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