City councillors voted last night to support Labour Lord Mayor Catherine Clancy’s nomination to confer the honour on the former president of the Labour Party and former Labour minister later this year.
He will become the sixth former or sitting Irish president to receive the freedom of the city.
Ms Clancy said she wanted to honour the President in recognition of his commitment to public service, and his outstanding achievements in advancing civil rights and social justice nationally and internationally.
Fine Gael and Labour supported her nomination but Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party, and the Workers Party all called for a review of the entire freedom system.
“The freedom of the city should be beyond politics,” said Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Martin said.
Sinn Féin councillor Chris O’Leary said the honour should be conferred on someone who has had an impact on Cork. “It shouldn’t be about political affiliation,” he said.
Socialist Party councillor Mick Barry said the honour has been dolled out over the years by parties to political figures associated with those parties.
Workers Party councillor Ted Tynan condemned the main political parties for “abusing” the freedom honour.
Fianna Fáil councillor Ken O’Flynn said the freedom of the city is being given out like confetti, and said it should be taken out of the hands of one person, and decided upon by a committee.
Fine Gael councillor Joe O’Callaghan, who did not confer the freedom during his year as lord mayor, pledged that his party would agree a new system for the granting of the freedom when a new council is formed after the local elections.
President Michael D Higgins, 72, took office on November 11, 2011. A poet, sociologist, author, and broadcaster, he was president of the Labour Party from 2003 until his resignation following his election as President. He previously served as a TD for Galway West and was minister for arts, culture, and the Gaeltacht from 1993 to 1997.
He visited Cork earlier this year in the wake of two city centre flood events and praised the resilience of city traders.
Last year, comedians Frank Duggan and Michael Twomey — the duo behind Cha and Miah — and entertainer Billa O’Connell were made freemen of Cork.
Other recipients include Roy Keane, Michael Flatley, and John F Kennedy.