President Higgins rejects criticism as he prepares to sign Fidel Castro book of condolence

There has been a call for President Michael D Higgins to apologise for remarks he made in a statement following the death of Fidel Castro.

It included a description of the former Cuban President as a "giant among global leaders".

Mr Higgins’ office yesterday insisted any suggestion that the statement neglected human rights concerns was "unwarranted".

President Higgins is expected to sign a book of condolence at the Cuban Embassy on Pearse Street at 9am this morning.

A book of condolence will be opened in the Mansion House in Dublin today and tomorrow for former Cuban president Fidel Castro.

A statement issued on Sunday said: "Any suggestion that the President neglected human rights concerns is both unsustainable and unwarranted.

"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.

"In all of his speeches on human rights the President has emphasised the universality of human rights and has never shirked from the presentation of that view."

On Saturday Mr Higgins said Fidel Castro would be remembered as a giant among global leaders whose "view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet".

His spokesman added: "The President’s statement clearly referred to the price paid for social and economic development in terms of civil society and the criticisms it brought. This obviously and unambiguously included the human rights organisations and activists who have always had the support of the President.

"The President made a further reference to civil society later in his statement in the context of the opportunities provided by restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States, and the response which has come from the visit of Pope Francis. The President was here referring to the release of prisoners.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said President Higgins was "entitled" to make his own views known about Mr Castro.

He told RTE the former Cuban leader was a complex figure with a mixed legacy.

Mr Flanagan said: "I very much respect the right, in the first instance, but also the view of Michael D Higgins.

"If you go back over the last 40 years, no one in Irish politics has done so much work or had such a level of association with Latin American politics than Michael D Higgins himself."

Speaking on the same programme, Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on foreign affairs, Darragh O’Brien, said Mr Higgins’ statement was not as balanced as it could have been.

Gerry Adams meeting Fidel Castro in 2001

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin said it’s President, Gerry Adams, intended to fly to Cuba for the funeral.

Mr Adams said: "Fidel Castro was a global leader and a good friend of the Irish people.

"I am proud and honoured to travel to Cuba to represent Sinn Fein, as we remember Fidel Castro."

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