Irish President hails Castro as ‘giant among leaders’


A bitter dispute in Dublin’s corridors of power over tributes to Cuban leader Fidel Castro lead the 26 County state to snub a funeral at which Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams was a prominent mourner.

The lifelong revolutionary died last weekend at the age of 90. The dispute in Irish political circles began when President Michael D Higgins’s issued an official statement in which he praised Castro’s health and education achievements, despite the prolonged US economic embargo.

He noted that economic and social reforms were “at the price of a restriction of civil society, which brought its critics”, but also that Fidel Castro was “a giant among global leaders” who sought freedom for his own people and oppressed people across the world.

The statement drew a bitter reaction from the government, particularly Fine Gael Minister Leo Varadkar. Ignoring the Cuban revolution, he described Castro as an “unelected dictator”.

Despite a wave of criticism by government figures of the President, Varadkar ironically pointed to what he said was “the long-standing tradition of government ministers not criticising the President because he’s above politics”.

But he added: “What I would say though, when it does come to Castro, the Government, and certainly I as an individual, would take a more nuanced view on Castro’s legacy.”

Fianna Fail and independent politicians also criticised Higgins, with Labour leader Brendan Howlin offering only guarded support, saying his former party colleague was a life-long human rights advocate.

“His comments on the passing of Fidel Castro cannot be divorced from his career-long history of passionate activism for human rights causes,” Mr Howlin said.

A proposal to allow time in the Dublin parliament for tributes to the former Cuban president was deleted from the agenda for the week, even though the Dail has previously allowed expressions of sympathy for figures such as Nelson Mandela, King Hussein of Jordan, Francois Mitterand, Yitzhak Rabin and Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

President Higgins himself rejected the claims that he ignored human rights concerns. “The President has discussed human rights concerns with representatives of the government of Cuba on every occasion he has had meetings, in Cuba, Ireland and elsewhere,” a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, republican groups, including Sinn Fein, Republican Sonn Fein and Saoradh, were among those who paid their respects to the Cuban ambassador in Dulin.

Gerry Adams was the only Irish parliamentarian to attend the funeral in Cuba, where he also visited a memorial to the 1981 hunger strikers.

He said the mood at the service “was almost like a family who had lost a very elderly relative” and regretted more western European leaders did not attend, other than Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.

The TD and Sinn Fein president said it was an “honour” to represent his party at the service. He described Castro as a “great friend to the Irish people”.

“Fidel was a global leader, part of the revolution that liberated Cuba,” he said following the death.

“He lived long enough to see the vindication of his people when President Obama commenced the process of normalising relations between the USA and Cuba. Much more needs to be done. The blockade should be totally lifted.”

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© 2016 Irish Republican News