Uachtaráin Higgins to visit Glasgow and Edinburgh next week
By John Carey
President Michael D Higgins will visit one of Scotland's most ethnically diverse yet poverty stricken neighbourhoods on Monday as part of a three-day tour, it has emerged.
He will attend an event at a community centre in Glasgow's notorious Govanhill district, days before he becomes the first Irish head of state to address the Scottish Parliament.
President Higgins will meet activists and visit a number of local projects funded by the Irish Government, later attending a cultural event at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with the area's MSP, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Govanhill has traditionally been a popular neighbourhood with Irish migrants over the decades and more recently has been home to families arriving from Pakistan and the Roma community.
It is the second official visit by President Higgins to Scotland, his first being an event on Iona in 2013 to mark the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of Ireland’s most famous emigrant to Scotland, St Colmcille.
It also follows the first state visit of a President of Ireland to the United Kingdom, in 2014.
President Higgins, who in previous incarnations has been a poet, writer and sociologist, will be accompanied on the visit by his actress wife Sabina and the Irish minister of state Joe McHugh.
The three-day tour starts on Monday, while the following day the President will be conferred with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws at the Edinburgh University after which its principal Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea will host a dinner in honour of President Higgins.
On Wednesday, the President will address MSPs in the Holyrood chamber, followed in the evening with a speech at a symposium on Irish history, hosted again by Edinburgh University.
He will then leave Scotland for France to attend a commemorative event to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
Welcoming President Higgins' visit to the city, Glasgow Lord Provost Sadie Docherty said: "My parents are Irish and I'm from Castlemilk. And it's no secret I'm very proud of both my Irish and Scottish heritage.
"Many Glaswegians like me are of Irish descent. Indeed the Irish helped build this city. So we are far more than near neighbours. We are Celtic cousins with a rich and shared history."
The tour will be the longest of any Irish president to Scotland and follows a low-key visit by President Higgins' predecessor Mary McAleese in 2007.
Mary Robinson also visted Iona in 1997, late on in her presidency, for the 1400th anniversary of the death of St Columba.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been chairing a meeting of the agencies and bodies with responsibility for the
Waterways Ireland, the OPW, the ESB, Bord na Móna and Inland Fisheries Ireland are among the agencies and bodies that have responsibilities in relation to the Shannon. There are also several local authorities involved.
Representatives from all these groups, along with the Taoiseach, Tánaiste Joan Burton and three Government ministers are at a meeting in Government Buildings to address the impact of the floods and how to address the issue.
Since before Christmas there have been calls for a single Shannon authority to be set up from the Opposition.
It is understood the Government believes this could take considerable time and would require legislative changes which would also have to take consideration of European laws.
Instead Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW Simon Harris has proposed that the taskforce, which will be charged with implementing the flood protection plans, should be given a greater co-ordinating role with all the agencies.
Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Minister For Agriculture and the Marine Simon Coveney said he is not in favour of moving people out of their homes permanently in flood risk areas in the first instance.
However, he said that there may be some areas where there are no comprehensive solutions to flooding.
He also said "if people want to take the option of relocation, I think that will be part of the broader planning, adding that managing the flooding was the first priority.
Mr Coveney said there are a number of supports for homeowners, farmers and businesses who have been severely affected by flooding and urged that people avail of those supports.
He acknowledged that there has been some criticism of the management of the crisis in some parts but said the response to the crisis this time round has been better than in 2009, adding that more resources in the form of the Army and the Civil Defence have been made available as well as the National Co-ordination Group.
Mr Coveney said two plans would be published in the summer that would specifically deal with flooding in the River Shannon catchment area.