Instead of the expected warm reception for John Howard in Ireland, he was met with a bitter cold blast from Socialist Party MP Joe Higgins. After forcing a debate in the Dail (Irish Parliament) last week calling on the invitation for Howard to address the sitting to be withdrawn, Higgins decided to boycott the speech and was joined by five other deputies.
The deputies had decided not to attend the sitting in protest at Howard’s policies on industrial relations, Iraq, asylum seekers and East Timor’s gas and oil reserves.
The five MPs that joined Higgins were independents Finian McGrath, Catherine Murphy, Jerry Cowley, Tony Gregory and Seamus Healy. A protest that included SP members and other anti war activists was also organised out the front of the parliament buildings to coincide with Howard’s arrival.
John Howard said he was unconcerned by the protest referring to the MPs as dissidents and saying “God bless them”.
Joe Higgins responded by saying “I’m sure he meant to be patronising, we would never be put off by patronising, right wing politicians and I’m sure he would like to belittle us.
“But in reality … despite Mr Howard’s patronising tone, I think that we would represent on some issues far more people than perhaps he does.”
Higgins had not attempted to speak to Howard directly during his visit to Ireland saying “I don’t think Mr Howard is in listening mode. He hasn’t listened to hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of Australians with regard to his policy in Iraq, he hasn’t listened to the hundreds of thousands of Australian workers who marched last year and again this year against his anti-trade union laws,” he said.
When asked to describe John Howard Higgins said ”I would describe him as xenophobic, a war monger and as an anti-trade union representative of Australian and indeed even world big business in his policies of weakening the bargaining power of the Australian working class.”
This quote was played on every television news channel and many radio stations across Australia. Joe was also interviewed on one of Australia’s highest rating morning radio shows by Neil Mitchell on 3AW. Mitchell attempted to portray Joe as some sort of renegade claiming he should get better sources of information about what was happening in Australia rather than Socialist Party members including SP Councillor in Yarra, Stephen Jolly.
Higgins responded by saying that he had visited Australia in 2004 and had discussed with many people about Howard’s anti worker policies. “I would rather take notice of the hundreds of thousands of workers who mobilised in the streets against the IR laws than the views of Howard” he said
The Socialist Party offices in both Dublin and Melbourne have been bombarded with dozens of phone calls and emails from workers thanking Joe for taking the stand.