President McAleese has been getting a few swipes from different directions in the last year and it seems fashionable almost for people to join the bandwagon. Almost like when a small fight breaks out in a pub and then everyone joins in.
Let's deal with some of the criticisms...
Ian Paisley and some in the DUP don't like her. I'll try to put to one side for now the scores and scores of ridiculous and inciteful statements Paisley has put out over many decades, (e.g. referring to the Pope as the anti-Christ!). His attitude that our president has a deep hatred of Northern Ireland and Unionists is bizarre to put it mildly. The president has worked harder than anyone before her to have unionists groups come to the Aras and has tried to visit so many traditional unionist locations over the years. Her remarks on unionism and Nazism was wrong and she apologised strongly for it. So she has made one hurtful remark against Paisley's countless ones, and he doesn't dream of apologising.
While her remark was wrong, it is true that Mary McAleese grew up in a Northern Ireland where voting arrangements were crazy and there was definite job discrimination against nationalists. It was well known that when a firm interviewed you for a job that they always checked what school you went to. Seemed nice and innocent but it proved which foot you kicked with. There was bigotry and nationalists were burned out of there homes. It's stretching a lot to compare it to Nazism but you can see there are Freudian subconscious pains still coming to the surface from a Belfast Nationalist like Mary McAleese. I'm not condoning what she said and neither does the president, but we must remember how bitter life was in the past. She holds some demons from growing up and it is a little understandable that the pain can surface at times in a flow of conversation. Unionist verbal rage seems to come thick and fast on a scale much bigger than anything our president has ever said. When you don't want inclusiveness and agreement then it's so typical to clutch at anything which will further your cause. But we just listen to the ranting and raving and put up with it. President McAleese is working very hard to build bridges to Northern Ireland and unionists. I pity her task. There is a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar which comes to mind as Mark Anthony describes the slain Caesar to the unruly anti-Caesar mob...."The evil which men do lives after them. The good is often interred with their bones".
Many thought President McAleese wrongly spoke on behalf of the Irish People in condemning the Danish Newspaper cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad. But it was carefully considered Government policy and we elected the Government. Nobody in Government circles, including the President, is condoning the evil exploitation of this event to incite killing and Jihad etc. Quite the opposite and the President went on to say as much. We are simply saying that it was wrong to use blasphemy against a religious tradition which is exceptionally sensitive to their prophet being drawn and ridiculed. We must remember that Islam, although Abrahamic in it's deepest origins, is different to what we are used to in Christianity today. The Koran and Islam is very deeply into fear of God in a way Christians no longer think. If we analyze it all objectively then the cartoon was wrong because it caused great hurt and the Government and the President were right to say so. There is no point saying to someone who is hurt that they are wrong to be hurt. Furthermore as a democracy the president condemning the publication on behalf of Ireland is fine even thought there will be those who still think it was okay to publish it.
The episode in Saudi Arabia in which the President made a speech where women were behind a screen seems easy to defend to me. Firstly you don't come into a foreign country like a bull in a china shop and start publicly shooting up their traditions. Far better to make your points more intelligently. Did nobody spot the brilliant point that was being made without our president even uttering a word? Here was the president of our country, a female, elected by the people (not from a Royal birth right) about to speak freely in their country where females had less rights. That helped the female cause in Saudi Arabia better than causing public anger by refusing to speak at all. And it highlighted the women behind the screens to the television networks everywhere. A Trojan Horse if ever there was one!
There are so many times when our president has articulated very well internationally our nations feelings. Her speeches during national and international disasters are excellent and she can always articulate just the right emotions for the occasion, she shows great humanity. President McAleese is also a great asset to our business community in helping exports as part of trade delegations. Never short of words to say - she could talk for Ireland as they say, and does!
A lesser point, but nonetheless worth mentioning - our president's physical presentation is excellent for ceremonial and media presence events - she is tall, slim and always elegantly groomed. On the occasions our president has stood beside the Queen of England, Her Royal Highness must have felt small and frumpy!
We all make a few mistakes, even leaders. You could argue that Paddy Hillery didn't make any mistakes as president - but that's easy when you stay quiet. Let's be thankful for such a great ambassador in Mary McAleese. Like all of us she has a few weaknesses, but they are greatly outnumbered by her strengths - so let's not throw out the baby with the bath water.